Nearly a decade after many thought Pixar had closed the book forever on their most famous franchise, Toy Story 4 proves there’s at least one more adventure to be had with Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and the rest of the gang we’ve come to love. Directed by Josh Cooley (in his Pixar feature directorial debut) we’re treated to a sentimental montage of the series’ most poignant moments, from Andy’s younger years to his eventual going off to college and handing over his beloved toys to their new owner, Bonnie.
We also learn just how Bo Peep (Annie Potts) and her triple-headed sheep went missing just prior to the events of Toy Story 3, foreshadowing events to come in this unexpected, yet totally satisfying conclusion to the Toy Story saga. As bittersweet as rewatching these scenes is, they also remind us that life doesn’t wait for anyone – it goes on. Even for toys.
In the present day, Bonnie is about to attend her first kindergarten orientation day, and she’s scared. She asks to take some toys with her, but her father explains that toys have to stay at home. After Bonnie and her parents (Patricia Arquette and Jay Hernandez) leave the room, the toys emerge from the closet and feel it’s a travesty that she isn’t allowed to bring any of them with her to give her comfort and support. Woody (Tom Hanks) is most upset because he understands just how important a toy can be to a child’s mental and emotional well-being, especially on the first day of school. When nobody is watching, he sneaks into Bonnie’s backpack and accompanies the scared little girl on her trip.
Once there, Bonnie finds herself left alone at a table with no art supplies during craft time. Just as she’s about to sulk and sit by herself, Woody sneaks out of her backpack and secretly tosses her some crayons and other odds and ends that were accidentally tossed into a nearby trash can. Not realizing what she’s found is actually garbage, Bonnie excitedly picks it up. Among the debris is a white plastic spork, a pipe cleaner and two Popsicle sticks and mismatched googly eyes, which Bonnie glues all together, literally ‘making a new friend’ she calls Forky (Tony Hale).
It’s love at first sight, and when Forky is introduced to the other toys back home he quickly experiences an identity crisis. Forky has no idea what he is; everyone calls him a toy, but he instinctively feels he’s “trash”, and yearns for the comfort of the trash can. This feels like a callback to the original Toy Story, where Buzz thought himself an actual space ranger and not just a child’s plaything. Woody and the gang do their best to convince Forky he’s more than mere trash; he’s an important toy friend Bonnie needs in order to make it through kindergarten.
The lesson continues as the family takes off on a week-long road trip in their RV. Bonnie, of course, brings all her toys, but is especially attached to her newly crafted friend. Despite the gang’s best efforts, Forky is still convinced he’s trash, leading to one of the film’s most hilarious, albeit unsettling, sequences as they work overtime to keep Forky from escaping to the one place he feels he belongs – the trash bin.
His misguided beliefs even get him and Woody into trouble when they end up separated from the gang and trapped inside an antique store filled with other toys, including Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a vintage talking doll from the 1950s who shares the same pull string voice box as Woody. Only Gabby’s mechanism is broken, a factory defect that’s left her unable to accomplish her namesake feature – to “talk”, a disability she feels has kept her from finding a kid to call her own.
After learning Woody’s voice box is still working, she instructs her army of truly frightening Benson dolls to capture the cowboy – and his working voice box – by any means necessary, even if that means using Forky as a bargaining chip to get it.
While on the hunt to track down Forky in the antique shop Woody has a chance encounter with – you guessed it! – his beloved Bo Peep, now living off the grid with a new group of misplaced toys. After they share a tender reunion Woody asks Bo to help him rescue Forky, which leads to meeting a host of other “lost” toys taking refuge inside an old videogame cabinet. Among them is Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), a 1970s mustachioed Canadian motorcycle stunt racing toy falsely advertised as capable of performing incredible feats, but quickly discarded by his disenchanted owner when the real thing couldn’t perform the impossible stunts promised in the commercials.
Also joining them are Bo’s mini female cop pal Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki) and even a pair of attached carnival booth toys Ducky and Bunny (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) who feel ‘cheated’ after being accidentally freed from a rigged shooting game. Together, Woody and his new friends must rescue Forky and get back to the family’s RV – and Bonnie – before it drives away without them. It won’t be easy as they won’t just have to avoid Gabby and her creepy minions, but also the shop’s resident guard cat, known for destroying toys.
It’s sad how relatable Forky is to so many people. As individuals we try to ‘create’ ourselves from where we come from. So much anxiety, depression, and feelings of inadequacy can be traced back to a poor or abusive childhood, haunted by memories of being told we were worthless, that we’d never amount to anything. Or worse, that we aren’t deserving of happiness. In fact, these feelings of pain often run so deep that, even if we find ourselves in amazing relationships and financial success, it’s all too easy to slip back to that dark place inside ourselves that keeps telling us that we belong – like Forky – in the nearest trash can.
So imagine how wonderful it was, once again, to see our beloved talking cowboy continue to grow and evolve, a refreshing acknowledgement that even a pull string doll can have such a wonderful story arc in not just one, but across four films spanning nearly a quarter century. Compare his jealousy at watching Andy swoon over the ‘space toy’ Buzz Lightyear in the original film to how he learns to deal with the inevitability of Andy growing into adulthood and – eventually – letting go of the past. The gracious way Woody not only steps aside, but also encourages Forky’s position in Bonnie’s life, is a testament to how the world and humanity really ought to be, and how we should strive to act when not consumed by our petty jealousies and differences.
Hearing Tom Hanks voice was like coming home, as was having one more adventure with so many of the toys back on the big screen. So many of us have literally grown up alongside these animated toys, making them part of our actual lives. What a wonderful feeling to share this nostalgia with others as we replay the innocence of remembering the way children see the world – and how adults can just as easily forget.
Toy Story 4 was a fantastic film that kept me captivated throughout as I sat on the edge of my seat at times, wondering how these beloved toys would – once again – get out of the predicaments they found themselves in. Those fearing that Pixar might muck up their most beloved franchise with an unnecessary sequel can rest easy as they’ve done Woody and the gang proud yet again. This is the rare blockbuster that earns every laugh and teary eye, even managing to surprise fans with a romance we’ve been rooting for (but wasn’t quite sure how it would play out). While the ending does leave room for another sequel – always an inevitability when box-office grosses are enormous – it would also revive the dread another Toy Story couldn’t live up to the magic of its predecessors.
What a strange, yet interesting problem for a film franchise to have; to be so beloved that even the thought of having ‘more’ means chancing a practically perfect record. As we’ve learned over the years with Woody, Buzz, Bo Peep and Forky, that’s the risk we take when stepping into infinity…and beyond.