Toy Story 4 voice cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Christina Hendricks, Joan Cusack, Madeleine McGraw, Tony Hale, Annie Potts, Keanu Reeves
Toy Story 4 movie director: Josh Cooley
Toy Story 4 movie rating: 3 stars
It’s nearly a quarter of a century since Toy Story 1. That Woody and the gang still look as fresh as they did is the genius of Pixar. But it’s also nine years since Toy Story 3, when that loveable bunch got the perfect send-off. Even for Pixar, this fourth part seems a lazy concession to the exigencies of a profitable enterprise — though the studio with the magic touch does even this better than most.
Passed along by Andy the last time, the toys have spent the last few years with Bonnie (McGraw). But as Bonnie grows up and into kindergarten, Woody (Hanks) again finds himself unneeded by the kid who owns him. Bonnie even hands over Woody’s Sheriff badge to Jesse (Cusack), and soon fashions a toy of her own from some discarded stuff, primarily a fork, at school. She calls it Forky (Hale).
While there could have been an interesting dynamic here of fancy toys vs a toy that a child has made herself, or even toys ganging up against a new kid on the block, Toy Story 4 has an un-engaging storyline that involves Woody trying to retain for Bonnie Forky, who considers itself actually trash and would rather stay in the bin.
In a roundabout way, with the story looping many times around itself, Forky escapes, Woody chases him, Buzz goes after them, Woody finds an old love, Bo Peep (Potts), and the toys roll, trundle and scram through a carnival, antiques store, RV van, abandoned roads and then some.
Bo Peep has found her feet since last time, and is a feisty new thing with her stick, a skunk contraption and her sheep, a heroine befitting the post-Frozen era. And she isn’t the only gender correction for Pixar in this franchise, with strong women driving the story.
But if one wishes Bonnie was part of this change — she makes hardly any impact or leaves any impression, unlike what we hoped for at the end of Toy Story 3 — the void is more than filled by the one truly remarkable toy of this fourth episode. That is Gabby Gabby (Hendricks), a doll capable of immense pain and immense terror, who is biding her time behind a glass case, in an antiques store of forgotten toys, surrounded by a bunch of equally frightening ventriloquist dummies.
The film is as much about Gabby’s search for “love”, by a child, as Bo Peep’s determination for “independence”, irrespective of one. While clearly this takes Toy Story into a dimension it has never explored before, when it is as much the toys who grow up as their owners, the fact that it’s Gabby’s story that grabs us reiterates something else: that what made Toy Story special was how it took us all back to our childhoods.
Perhaps the only ones who need to let go — one of the inevitabilities of growing up — are the film’s creators. At the start, Bo Peep tells Woody, “It’s time for the next kid.” Indeed, it’s time for a new film.