There are few decades-long constants in moviegoing. Even the longest-running film series experience casting changes and dud story arcs. Pixar’s Toy Story continues to defy the normal Hollywood decline. Twenty-five years after its debut, the franchise has cranked out yet one more entertaining film.
Toy Story 4 begins with a flashback. Andy’s sister gives Bo Peep and her sheep to another child. After the brief aside, the gang is with current-kid Bonnie. She goes off to kindergarten and assembles Forky (a spork with pipe cleaner arms and popsicle stick feet). The Tony Hale-voiced Forky thinks he is trash. Woody has to convince Forky that he is a toy.
The gang goes on an RV trip with Bonnie’s family. Along the way, Forky and Woody become separated from the group. Woody runs into Bo Peep, who herds Woody throughout the rest of the adventure.
Toy Story 4 keeps a few old reliables. The animation stuns from beginning to end. Foreground action takes up the bulk of any attention, but background minutia from cobwebs to cats continues Pixar’s groundbreaking work. Randy Newman still scores the opening credits. In addition to the return of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, John Ratzenberger, etc., Don Rickles also makes one more appearance as Mr. Potato Head.
The funniest lines of Toy Story 4 go to the new characters. New additions Combat Carl (Carl Weathers), Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), and Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) fit in with the ever-expanding gang. Jordan Peele and Keegan Michael-Key get the biggest share of the laughs as plush toys Bunny and Ducky.
There are also tie-ins with the voice actors that provides additional depth. Tom Hanks’ affinity for typewriters has a moment. Keanu Reeves is perfect as a Canadian motorcycle hero.
Toy Story 4 is more reminiscent of Toy Story 2 than other films in the franchise. The plot is yet another run-in with an older toy (Gabby Gabby) with first-glance sinister motives that become more interesting as the film progresses.
Toy Story 4 does strike a more female-centric chord than previous films. The script is less about Woody and Buzz. Jessie, Bo Peep, and Gabby Gabby are central figures. The well-crafted story fulfills this push on both minor and major levels.
Bonnie is happy to pin Woody’s star on Jessie during playtime. Bo Peep used her experiences to grow as an independent spirit and is the true hero. The film never casts Bo Peep in a weak light, either. She is always strong and the film never paints trauma as a reason for her growth. Bo Peep is instead adaptable and strong in her own right. Essentially, her character has better writing than Game of Thrones’ Sansa Stark.
These changes give the Toy Story franchise a fresh look. Toy Story 4 may not be as great as the odd-numbered films, but it is remarkable that Pixar’s crown jewel produced another adaptable story with broad appeal for 24 years.
It is the first Toy Story film where 1995’s target audience can bring their children to the movies. In a rare feat, different generations can enjoy the same characters, voices, and stories together. That is a valuable in itself, making it a moviegoing experience worth indulging in one more time.