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While Toy Story 3 was an almost perfect swansong for Woody, Buzz, Jessie and the rest of the gang from Andy’s room, Toy Story 4 is not simply a nostalgic cash grab. The movie has a story to tell that is actually worth telling and, if the themes seem slightly revisited from previous installments, no one will be complaining when the lights come up.
As the movie begins, the gang is settled in with a new child and is fulfilling their life’s work of keeping her happy. Within a few moments, though, the audience comes to realize that Woody is in an existential crisis over his purpose as he has been left in the closet for a series of consecutive days. Looking for a way to remain relevant in a changing world, Woody discovers it in a very unlikely place: the new character called Forky.
Forky, an anthropomorphized piece of, well, garbage, is one of the least visually appealing characters ever introduced in the Toy Story films. Colorless, odd looking and weird, this spork is a strange choice around which to build a film but the minds behind Toy Story 4 make the character work and, further, make him the crux of a new story featuring some of the most beloved animated creations of all time.
Bonnie loves Forky and Woody decides that his life’s work is now ensuring that nothing happens to Forky.
Spoiler alert: something happens to Forky. Many somethings happen to Forky.
One of the subversive elements of the Toy Story movies has been the fact that most of the primary motivations of the characters are edgy and Woody’s actions in Toy Story 4 are no exception. As he goes to great lengths to save Forky from various impending dooms, it is never clear whether these actions are purely altruistic or if they come solely from a place of self preservation. The complexity of this dynamic has set these movies apart from other animated fare and the audience can expect no less than this kind of layered story-telling in Toy Story 4.
This is a very good movie. It is visually stunning, actually hewing closer to amazing in many scenes. The rendering is light years ahead of where it was when the original movie hit theaters some 24 years ago (a longer interval than between Star Wars and The Phantom Menace, by-the-way) and it should be. The characters are all the more charming, though, and the action all the more out-of-this-world. That the entire living voice cast returned speaks to the love they have for this world and Pixar does not waste their or the audience’s good will.
Toy Story 4 is a worthy addition to the franchise and the best family summer movie of 2019. While it does not plumb the emotional depths of prior installments, it is far better than most of the movies in theaters today. Provided they are always treated with the kinds of respect this movie affords them, Woody, Buzz, Jessie and the rest of the toy box gang will always been welcome on our screens.
TOY STORY 4 receives FOUR PLASTIC SPORKS out of a possible FIVE