by Charles Kirkland, Jr.
Woody, Buzz and the gang return for another ride with a new child in Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story 4.
When we last saw the Toy Story gang, Andy was going off to school and the saga came to an end, or so we thought. Buzz (Tom Hanks), Woody (Tim Allen) and crew are now the toys of Bonnie. Woody is no longer the lead toy but has not adjusted to his new role. Subsequently when Bonnie goes off to her first day of pre-school, Woody disobeys orders and tags along to help Bonnie. The first day is hard and Bonnie finds herself alone in the class. As a result of her loneliness, Bonnie creates a friend, Forky out of a spork, some eyes, a pipe cleaner, and a broken popsicle stick. Meanwhile, Woody watches Bonnie from safely from the confines of her backpack. At the end of the day, Forky is thrown in the backpack with Woody and taken home. Amazingly, Forky (Tony Hale) comes to life like the other toys. Being made from trash, none of the toys understand the importance of the Forky to Bonnie, except for Woody. Only he can set everybody straight.
With a screenplay written by Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom, Toy Story 4 is the latest installment in the crown jewel of the Disney/Pixar empire. The movie picks up where the last left off and breathes new life into a series that many were sure had come to a natural conclusion. The film welcomes back the voices of Hanks and Allen as well as Annie Potts, Joan Cusack, Wallace Shawn and John Ratzenberger (the Stan Lee of the Pixar universe) and introduces Hale, Christina Hendricks, Jordan Peele, Keegan Michael Key, and Keanu Reeves as new toys. Even the late, great Don Rickles’ voice comes back to join the show. The comedy duo of Key and Peele play Ducky and Bunny two toys sewn together at the hands and Keanu Reeves is Duke Cabooom, an Evel Kneivel-ish action figure complete with a motorcycle.
The good news is that the movie is entertaining. It is great fun to see the whole gang back together again and the movie starts with a typical rescue coordinated by Sheriff Woody. Children will love to see the gang together again as well. In a twist that is reminiscent of Toy Story 2, the villain of the movie is a cute doll named Gabby (Hendricks) who lives in a pawn shop waiting to be adopted. Where Toy Story 2’s Stinky Pete the Prospector’s villainous colors came to life toward the end of the film, Gabby’s motives are clear from the moment she comes on screen. After all, she rides in a buggy that is being pushed by a creepy male doll just called The Dummy.
While children will love this film (it is Pixar after all), Toy 4 is way too adult in some of its themes and content. In the past, Pixar has been able to walk a fine line in bringing films that balances the entertainment for children and adults. This film takes the children for granted and throws in too many adult references (what child knows who Evel Knievel is?) and themes that children may see as cute but have no basis for understanding. There is a love story between Woody and Bo-Peep (Potts) which goes far beyond the cute and flirty things they shared in previous movies. Both the villain and the protagonist have identity crises that are far beyond the understanding of children. To top it all off, Gabby launches into a monologue that would impress Black Panther’s Killmonger in that it changes not just how she is seen but also received.
All in all, rated G with for frightening and intense scenes, Toy Story 4 is an adult mid-life crisis played out through children’s toys. The movie is fun and cute and entertaining but ultimately unnecessary. Toy Story 3 had a nice happy ending that seemed to tie the trilogy up nicely. Toy 4 unravels the bow, opens the box and then clumsily closes it and puts it back on the shelf. It will be a delight for some children but the question is not whether there will be another one movie but who is this movie reaching? In that way, Toy Story 4 seems to have lost its voice.