Stunning animation and a storyline filled with adventure, comedy, and a few frights (as with any good Disney film) make “Toy Story 4” a welcomed return to the Pixar franchise. Nine years ago, “Toy Story 3” ended with a satisfying conclusion as Andy’s toys got passed on to Bonnie.
Two years later, Woody, Jesse, and Buzz have been replaced by Bonnie’s first Kindergarten craft, a plastic spork with googly eyes, pipe cleaner arms, and popsicle stick feet named Forky. I have a feeling that kids around the world will be making their own version of Forky after viewing the film written by Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom.
New characters, including Keanu Reeves’ Duke Caboom and Jordan Peele’s Bunny, mix with Toy Story favorites in the heartwarming comedy that becomes focused on Woody (Tom Hanks) and Bo Peep (Annie Potts).
Any parent can tell you that no matter how many toys a child has eventually they all get replaced with something created by their child’s imagination.
For some, it may be a simple box and for others a plastic spork as in “Toy Story 4.” The loveable new addition to the franchise is voiced by Tony Hale (“Veep”) as Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) creates the character, with a little assistance from Woody (Tom Hanks) who stows away in her backpack, on her first day of Kindergarten.
Since Forky was a disregarded spork that Woody dished out of the trash can, the new “toy” thinks he’s still trash and continuously tries to throw himself away.
Woody, however, is there to fish him out of the trash every time realizing the importance of Bonnie’s new friend. It’s a lot of work for the disregarded Woody who spends most of his time in the closet with other neglected toys. Before Forky came along, Jessie (Joan Cusack) was the center of Bonnie’s attention. She even removed Woody’s sheriff badge and pinned it on Jessie.
Bonnie’s parents (Jay Hernandez and Lori Alan) decide to take a road trip, so the family heads out on vacation in an RV. Bonnie brings her toys along for the trip setting up the gang for a grand adventure that will take them to a carnival (beautifully animated by the Pixar crew which includes 16 graduates of Texas A&M who now work at the animation studio).
The stunning backdrop featuring all your favorite rides including the Ferris wheel and carousel, is also where we meet new characters Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele), prizes on the midway waiting to be won so they can get their own kid. Key and Peele are funny as the two stuffed toys whose solution to every problem involves exposing themselves and attacking people. Of course, Woody nixes those plans that seem to fall in line with Peele’s new darker persona.
Keanu Reeves makes an appearance as a Canadian motorcycle daredevil toy named Duke Caboom who reminded me of the old Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle Gyro Launcher that I owned as a child.
He appears in a beautifully animated scene that takes place in an antique store located across from the carnival. This is also where we are introduced to Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) a doll with a broken voice box who is surrounded by creepy ventriloquist dummies who don’t speak that serve as her henchman. She basically takes Forky hostage as Woody and Bo Peep (Annie Potts) initiate a rescue with the help of the always funny Buzz (Tim Allen).
You can’t help feeling bad for Buzz Lightyear who was once a central character but here he functions in a supporting role although he gets a few great moments late in the film. Bo Peep has become tough while embracing her new freedom as an outlaw toy with no owner. Former Pixar animator turned director Josh Cooley keeps the film centered on Woody and Bo Peep’s relationship as the two are separated in the opening scene and reunited once Woody’s spots her lamp in the antique store.
“Toy Story 4” looks terrific and there are plenty of funny moments for the entire family. Why question whether we needed a new addition to the franchise, instead just go see the film and bask in all it’s glory as new characters and old favorites unite while Randy Newman’s wonderful songs play in the background.
(3 1/2 stars)