The gang is back for another adventure, but is "Toy Story 4" worthy of its predecessors, or should Pixar put a fork in it?
It's been nearly 25 years since the first "Toy Story" and its makers at Pixar revolutionized the animated feature-film. It didn't take long for them to green-light a follow-up, and in 1999, just four years later, "Toy Story 2" was released, becoming the rare sequel that was as good - if not better - than the original. 11 years then passed before we were gifted "Toy Story 3," a film that took some surprisingly dark turns but cemented the franchise as one of the best all-around family film series of all-time.
That's why there is obvious hesitation for the new "Toy Story 4." Like, do we really need another Toy Story? It's been nine years since the last chapter, and a trilogy seemed like a logical ending point. Well Pixar was never one to avert from risk-taking, and by gosh, they've done it again. While "Toy Story 4" may be the weakest of the bunch, that's not to say that it isn't better than nearly every other animated film of the past few years. It is. There's no shame in finishing fourth when you are up against the likes of the first three films in this franchise, and it's near-impossible not to compare 4 in some way to the previous movies...even if it may not be fair to do so.
So what is Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) up to these days? Gone are the good old days of being Andy's prized possessions, as he's off to college. The whole gaggle of toys (Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, Slinky Dog and the rest) now belong to Bonnie, and Woody finds himself in the unfamiliar position of being an unpopular toy, left to ponder his very existence. But things get interesting when Bonnie returns from school with a new friend she calls "Forky," which is basically a spork with a wire-cleaner tied around it, and googly-eyes for a face. Forky (voiced by "Veep" alum Tony Hale) is destined to become the break-out star of "Toy Story 4," and don't you dare call him trash. He's one of the gang, even if he doesn't know it immediately.
One thing leads to another, and the gang finds themselves on a road trip, where Woody encounters an old friend holed up at an antique store. He gets a glimpse of his own future when he meets the abandoned doll Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) and her pal Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki). Meanwhile Buzz and company come across two stuffed animal prizes at a carnival game, voiced by none other than Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele themselves. Oh, and current legend-in-the-making Keanu Reeves lends his voice to Canada's greatest daredevil toy, Duke Caboom.
Woody learns that everything eventually must end...everything apparently except the Toy Story movies.
This tale just feels different than the previous three, in that it really is a singular story about Woody's development and acceptance of what he is, what he has become, and what he may still be. You've got to hand it to Pixar for its ability to create movies that really work on multiple levels...kids will clearly love the characters, the colors and the fast pace while adults will chuckle at the jokes that fly well over their children's heads. But adults can also appreciate the messages and the deeper meanings that Pixar films often come with. "Toy Story 4" is no different in this regard.
In some ways though, "Toy Story 4" feels a bit...stuck. From a narrative perspective, too much time is spent in the old antique shop, giving us not just one, but two big action pieces in the same setting. But it feels stuck in a different way too: It, like it's characters, seem a bit obsessed with the past. Isn't it time that the "Toy Story" films embrace the "digital age" where most kids find themselves obsessing over video games and electronics? This franchise is still clutching its dollies when the rest of the world seems to have moved on.
Minor quibbles. You'll laugh, you'll cry...you'll probably pay 25-bucks for a spork and some wire cleaner that Disney will package together and sell as "Forky: The Action Figure." "Toy Story 4" defies the odds and becomes a worthy installment in what is a legendary family-film franchise. I'm not sure where Woody and Buzz go from here, but odds are we'll care.
Genre: Family, Adventure, Animation, Comedy.
Run Time: 1 hour 40 minutes.
Starring (voices of): Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Madeleine McGraw, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Ally Maki, Joan Cusack, Bonnie Hunt.
Directed by Josh Cooley (feature-film directorial debut).
"Toy Story 4" opens everywhere Friday, June 21st, 2019.
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