Talking about the proverbial script that the studio practically invented with the original Toy Story to ensure the success of a fun-filled family adventure film with heart.
Toy Story 4 sees Woody (Tom Hanks) and co. currently under the ownership of Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), who has replaced Woody’s long-time former owner, Andy. Bonnie (literally) makes a new toy out of a spork on her first day in kindergarten, who comes to life and is christened, Forky (Tony Hale). Forky’s realisation that he’s alive sparks an existential crisis from the plasticky new toy who believes he is trash, causing Woody to step in and set things right, with his goal to make Forky understand that Bonnie needs him to fulfil her desire for happiness.
When Bonnie and her parents embark on a road trip, the toys follow, and when Forky jumps out of the moving campervan and gets lost, it’s Woody again who sets out on a mission to find him and reunite him with his loving owner. While out on the road, Woody and Forky come across an amusement park that’s home to an antique toy store. There, Woody finds old flame Bo Peep (Annie Potts), who departed from the troupe some nine years ago. When Forky is kidnapped by a new toy doll, Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), who is longing for an owner of her own, Woody, Bo Peep and a bevy of new characters set out on an adventure to save him and take him back to Bonnie.
Where is Buzz (Tim Allen), Woody’s long-time best-bud in all of this you may be wondering? Well, he’s there, and gets a reasonable amount of screentime in the film, though his character has taken somewhat of a backseat in this one, as director Josh Cooley and his team are content with focusing on the new characters of this fourth instalment of the twenty-four-plus-year-old franchise. It was a bit of a shame to see Buzz (and all of the other original Toy Story faves) in this reduced role, however, the new characters are so well written that audiences are able to enjoy them and go along for the ride without Woody’s oldest cohort.
Christina Hendricks’ Gabby Gabby is a great addition to the cast as the film’s main villain, one with a truly heartwrenching motive. Furthermore, Keanu Reeves’ Canadian daredevil stuntman Duke Caboom and Keegan-Michael Key’s and Jordan Peele’s Ducky and Bunny make for some hilarious comic-relief. Annie Potts’ Bo Peep gets a significant role upgrade as she and Woody take centre-stage in all of the fun-filled adventures the toys have in the film, which was a welcome change and the dynamic between the two characters is handled perfectly.
Toy Story 4 is full of deeper themes which have varied from film-to-film in this particular franchise. This time around, the filmmakers have decided to focus on the fear of loss and abandonment and the toll it can take on an individual. It highlights the positives and negatives of being cast out, ensuring its audience that there is hope even when you feel that it’s lost. The universal nature of these themes that appear in Toy Story and other Disney-Pixar properties is what keeps audiences attached to these characters and films. The filmmakers know how to pull at the heartstrings of their target market to keep them coming back, having essentially set the standard for schmaltzy animated kids films like this one.
By this stage in Disney-Pixar’s long history, audiences know exactly what they’re getting themselves into when they go to see a Toy Story film, or a Finding Dory (2016), a Coco (2017), an Inside Out (2015) etc. It’s this standard that is the studio’s biggest draw but also their biggest flaw. These days it feels like when you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, and Toy Story 4 is no exception. This is a slight detriment to the enjoyment of the film though, and especially for viewers that may not be as susceptible to the emotional rollercoaster they’re being sold. Nevertheless, Toy Story 4 is, as expected, funny, charming, heartbreaking and uplifting, and should please fans of the franchise.
Tom Hanks revealed on The Graham Norton Show that Disney executives forbade him to talk about this film before the film was officially announced by Walt Disney Pictures, because it could influence the stock market value of the company.