Toy Story 4 Is an Existential Crisis the Whole Family Can Enjoy

4 minute read

We live in an age of sequels upon sequels; we’re up to our ears in reboots and origin stories. No one needs a Toy Story 4, especially considering that the 2010 Toy Story 3, a lovely meditation on the need to move on to new things even when we’re not quite ready for them, would have ended the franchise on a high and perfectly bittersweet note. And yet–even if no one needs a Toy Story 4, it’s here, and the good news is that it’s funny and imaginative and, in places, intriguingly strange. It’s not trying to outdo Toy Story 3, which for many is the gold standard of the series. It’s more like an after-dinner mint of a movie, with some fine new characters. Let’s call it a perfectly acceptable work of superfluousness.

The major action of Toy Story 4 kicks off with an existential crisis of manhood, or at least toyhood. Affable talking cowboy Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks)–along with his other toy pals, including spaced-out he-man Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and cowgirl cutie Jessie (Joan Cusack)–has been outgrown by his former owner and passed along to a new one, Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), who’s about to start kindergarten. Bonnie loves Woody at first, but the novelty wears off. He languishes in the toy closet, becoming slightly miffed when Bonnie grabs the sheriff’s badge from his chest and transfers it to Jessie’s: even in the toy box, the reign of the white man is coming to an end.

But Woody finds a new sense of purpose with the arrival of one very weird homemade toy, Forky (Tony Hale), a clumsy naïf with two googly eyes of different sizes and a misshapen Mr. Bill–style Play-Doh mouth. Forky comes from humble stock: Bonnie made him, on her first, lonely day of school, from a plastic spork and a handful of arts-and-crafts supplies rescued from the trash. At the risk of sounding unkind, I must report that Forky is not the sharpest tine in the plastic-cutlery value pack, and he’s driven by a primal desire to return to the old homestead–that is, the trash basket. “I’m trash!” he chortles with unhinged glee as he runs off, repeatedly, to catapult into whatever garbage receptacle happens to be handy. Sensing that Bonnie is deeply attached to her bizarre plastic creation, Woody appoints himself Forky’s wrangler, kicking his own feelings of obsolescence to the curb.

The adventure that follows involves Woody’s reunion with his old love, lamp figurine Bo Peep (Annie Potts), who’d been shipped off unceremoniously in a cardboard box nine years earlier. There’s also sinister talking doll Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a creation straight out of The Twilight Zone. Gabby languishes in an antiques store because her voice box is broken; she sends her henchmen, a quartet of spooky, clattery ventriloquist dummies, to procure Woody’s–it’s like a riff on those nightmare stories of people who are happily drinking in a bar one minute only to wake up in a strange apartment, minus a kidney, the next.

Toy Story 4 embraces the usual wholesome themes, like the importance of cherishing your friends. (The director is Josh Cooley, working from a screenplay by Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom.) It also introduces one stellar new character, square-jawed Canadian daredevil Duke Caboom, voiced by man of the moment Keanu Reeves. Astride his tiny motorbike, working through his deep psychic trauma at having been tossed aside by his kid (a French Canadian ingrate named Réjean), or conquering his insecurities to save the day (“Yes, I Canada!”), Duke is the sensitive man of action we all need in our lives. If you’ve never had a crush on a toy, Toy Story 4 may open new worlds for you. But you can still take the kids, I swear!

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