I am so eager for other people — and specifically adults — to see Toy Story 4. Because, WOW. It is … not what I was expecting. I was expecting the same kind of heartstring‐tugging, emotional story that we’ve gotten from the prior three films in the franchise, which culminated with the “how can they possibly top this?” sobfest featuring an all‐grown‐up Andy gifting his toy collection, including favorites like sheriff Woody (Tom Hanks) and space ranger Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), to young family‐friend Bonnie before he left for college.
All the adults around me bawled their heads off at the Toy Story 3 screening in 2010 because they were undoubtedly thinking of children in their own lives who seemed to reach adulthood in the blink of an eye. There was no way Pixar could top themselves. And they knew it. So instead, director Josh Cooley (in his spectacular feature film debut) and screenwriters Stephany Folsom and Andrew Stanton went in a completely different direction.
In Toy Story 4, the focus is no longer on a child’s world. Instead, it’s on the toys. Or, in my humble opinion, it’s on us — the adults —as represented by the toys. Should a child (or “work,” depending on how you see it) be the only thing that gives our life meaning? Is it wrong to want to be fulfilled in other ways? What message might we be sending to kids if we only live to serve them, or our job? WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?
Yeah, it’s intense stuff, and each viewer is going to interpret the movie in a different way that speaks to them personally. The themes and questions about self‐sacrifice, loyalty, dedication, freedom, love and friendship are going to mostly go over kids’ heads, of course. That’s because the aforementioned Deep Thoughts are framed within a fun and exciting road trip that Bonnie and her family take after Bonnie’s kindergarten orientation.
During that orientation, Bonnie feels alone and a little overwhelmed. Woody, who had hidden himself in Bonnie’s backpack to provide emotional support, ends up witnessing the creation of Bonnie’s favorite new craft toy, Forky (Tony Hale, perfectly cast). However, to Woody’s horror, once the spork‐based Forky realizes he’s alive, all he wants to do is fling himself into the nearest trash bin because in his mind, that’s where he belongs.
Woody finds a renewed sense of purpose in trying to convince Forky of the honor and responsibility that come with being a favorite toy, and therefore is determined to retrieve Forky after the confused little guy jumps out of the family’s moving RV. Speaking of the RV, it is but one of the many objects and scenes in the film that I thought might not have been animated. So much of Toy Story 4 looks real — from the amusement park rides, to the RV, to even the grass — I couldn’t believe it. Pixar has always served up jaw‐dropping animation, but this is next level.
It’s this real‐looking road trip adventure that introduces us to antique‐shop toys like Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) and Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves, also perfectly cast — I encourage you to find the clip of him reciting his lines), as well as theme park stuffed animals like Bunny (Jordan Peele) and Ducky (Keegan‐Michael Key). There’s also an old friend who pops up that Woody is especially happy to be reunited with: Bo Peep (Annie Potts). Since they last saw her, Bo has been living a life of freedom — and loving every minute of it.
To divulge any other details would be to spoil the real plot of the film. And that plot does indeed have something valuable to say. It might not pack the same emotional punch as the previous installments, but Toy Story 4 is an amazing feat of creativity and animation that — like Forky and the other beloved characters we’ve come to love since 1995 — definitely has a reason to exist.