It's been nine years since we saw Woody, Buzz and the gang in a tear-jerking end to the "Toy Story" trilogy. The fourth installment (out next Friday, June 21) is premised on the toys pondering the nature of their existence — does it justify its own? Here's what the reviews have to say:
Woody Has A Bit Of An Identity Crisis Spurred By Newcomer Forky And The Return Of Bo Peep
Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) is about to begin kindergarten, and Woody (Tom Hanks) is struggling with the fact that she seems to be losing interest in him. During playtime, he's left in the closet more often than not, collecting dust and growing anxious. Things get no easier when Bonnie actually makes a new friend at school: Forky, who, being made out of objects found in the trash, seeks to return from whence he came. Thus, Woody finds his second lease on life with Bonnie, battling obsolescence by taking responsibility for Forky's well-being.
Forky's arrival sparks a journey that's both geographical and psychological, for Woody and Buzz. With Woody, that comes courtesy of his lost love, Bo Peep, who unexpectedly crosses his path while he's on the hunt for Forky[…] Buzz, meanwhile, has become complacent in his new routine, and when Woody goes missing again, he's forced to step up and take charge – but finds himself doubting his own instincts.
People Will Love The Hell Out Of Tony Hale's Forky
I should probably talk about Forky, because everyone's gonna like Forky[…] Watching him achieve sentience has a wonderful twinge of Frankensteinian horror, as Forky is at first horrified by his newfound existence. He's almost suicidally determined to assume what he believes is his rightful role as mere garbage. Who hasn't wanted to yell "trash!" and throw oneself in the waste bin at some point, as Forky repeatedly does? It's a dark and bracingly good joke, given nutty voice by Tony Hale.
I'll admit it: When I first heard of this Forky, I thought it sounded like something out of an Onion headline. How stupid of me. This is Pixar; of course, they figured out a way to make Forky an endearing, lovable character.
Forky alone is enough to elevate this potential cash-grab into the beautiful and hilarious coda that its long-running series needed to be truly complete. Forky is the hero we need in 2019.
Woody's Storyline Feels Right, Even After The Seeming Finality Of 'Toy Story 3'
There's a subtle weariness in Tom Hanks's performance that speaks to everything Woody has been through over the decades, a sign that this old gunslinger has seen – and lost – too much. That gravitas helps anchor the story, especially when it's set opposite Forky's googly-eyed naivete.
Toy Story 4 wisely feels like less of a new chapter and more like an epilogue, an addendum for Woody that muses on the peculiarities of the symbiotic relationship between toys and humans these movies have long explored.
Bringing Annie Potts Back As Bo Peep Both Does Right By Her Previously Sidelined Role And Deepens Woody's
Now living in the wild as a Lauren Bacall-like "lost toy" with her three-headed Cerberus sheep, Bo has been reborn as Pixar's version of a Miyazaki heroine; using her staff to navigate the human world like the whole planet was designed as her playpen, she moves through the antiques store with the savage grace of Princess Mononoke, pushing Cooley's animators to make this the most fluid and enjoyably kinetic Pixar film since "Ratatouille."
Bo and Woody's reunion is sweet, but then it turns bitter. While he's happy to see her, there's part of him that looks down on the life she lives, making the most of her new circumstances. He can't see himself living as a self-sufficient toy like her, even though we all see the dead-end situation he's in. This rings loud and clear for us, the viewers: The need to let go and say goodbye can be so obvious to everyone except the person who has to do it.
The Other New Toys Are Fine Additions, But They Steal Focus Away From The Rest Of The Ensemble
Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key voice carnival toys who look a tad familiar. Peele's Bunny suggests a bigger-eared Sulley from Monsters Inc, and Key's Ducky is literally an angry bird. Keanu Reeves plays a daredevil Canadian toy, and John Wick star's line readings float like rainbow vapor above an undiscovered waterfall. Still, his stunt-casting is the kind of referential gag Pixar used to avoid: Yes, he Whoas.
While they're all good for a few big laughs, they don't seem like characters who will stick with fans the way one-time newbies like Jesse and Bullseye managed to. The exception, of course, is Forky, who will undoubtedly permanently worm his fuzzy, misshapen arms into all of our hearts and have us wearing T-shirts emblazoned with "I'm trash!" in no time.
The original crew gets short shrift: You want to see more of them, and what you do see winds up feeling like a distraction. Did development of this movie get lost somewhere between sequeldom and spin-offery, juggling old toys with new stories? Kids won't care, though they will wonder why Jessie gets relegated backwards to seventh banana status.
The Antagonist, Gabby Gabby, Is Appropriately Creepy
On the trip, Woody finds himself in a store called Second Chance Antiques. ("Established 1986," the sign reads, the same year Pixar became an independent company.) Inside lurks Gabby Gabby, a cherubic 1950s doll who sits on a throne of fine china behind locked glass. Gabby Gabby is up to something tricky — and she's uncannily voiced by Christina Hendricks, channeling retro good cheer and horror-movie megalomania slipping into unbearable sadness.
Gabby Gabby's obsession with affection isn't that different from Woody's. But unlike Woody, Gabby Gabby's never experienced it, and that makes her more desperate. Her desperation makes her not only the most extreme villain but also the most relatable and heartbreaking one in the Toy Story series thus far.
It's Definitely The Weirdest 'Toy Story' Movie Yet
I'm all for the studio exploring new concepts and original characters going forward, and setting aside the endless anthologizing of its biggest hits for a good long while. But if I had to get another Toy Story, this is about as strange and beguiling an entry as I could have hoped for.
In my mind, there's no question Toy Story 4 is the weakest movie in the series. But it's also the riskiest and the most pleasantly unpredictable. It also asks more questions — sincere, tough questions — about the nature and meaning of life than almost any "adult movie" I've seen this year.
We see Woody and friends not only chance exposure to the human world, but also interact with it in ways I think are unprecedented for the series. It's a bit jarring, and yet all that flouting of rules and strained suspension of magical disbelief ultimately leads to a worthwhile message. One that, much to my shock, offers a kind of permission to those in the audience who do not—and maybe never will—feel the kind of parental devotion that Woody so ardently premises his existence on.
Animation-Wise, It Showcases Pixar's Stunning Evolution
All of these locales and toys are rendered in astounding animation that I fear is in danger of being overlooked because most of the characters are 20 years old, the setting is relatively mundane, and the key cast addition is literally a plastic utensil. But the character animation in Toy Story 4 — the body language, the movement, the expressions, the "acting" — is astounding.
The most beautiful moments in Toy Story 4 are those between Woody and Bo. From the specific pattern of light cast by the lamp she used to stand on, to the way they come into focus and the background blurs whenever they're together (whereas the rest of the film is relatively clear), the visuals make it clear that the movie, while still a meditation on childhood and letting go, is also a love story.
It's Got Exactly The Kind Of Heart And Message You Expect Of A 'Toy Story' Film, And That's A Relief
While the last movie saw our heroes coming to terms with their own mortality, Toy Story 4 strives for something just as weighty – self-actualization. After years of existing just for the enjoyment of their owners, we start to see what happens when our heroes begin pondering their true purpose, and venturing beyond the roles they've been given.
Woody has always been convinced that he was put on this planet to provide for Andy and Bonnie and whatever kid might have him; he's lawman, and that's his code. But, with Forky's help, "Toy Story 4" takes a step back and forces Woody to re-evaluate his own sense of frontier justice. Yes, he was manufactured for the love that he has to give. But he's only alive because of the love that he's received in return.
While the story is largely an allegory for parenthood and the emotional plight of a soon-to-be empty nester, the sharp pain of rejection that Woody feels is something every one of us has felt at least once or twice. That universality is the hallmark of any Toy Story movie — all of which pull from the same playbook designed to employ zero-hour speeches, nuggets of wisdom about love and friendship, and a nostalgic, plinky Randy Newman soundtrack to force us to work out a few feelings, shed a few tears, and sniffle our way to the funny parts.
It feels miraculous that Pixar could've successfully navigated such a narrative minefield again after the cathartic closure of the last film, but Toy Story 4 is full of the same joy, wonder, and whimsy that we've come to expect from every Toy Story installment.
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