I’m not afraid to admit when I’m wrong. Back in 2014 when Pixar announced that they were making a film to follow Toy Story 3, a movie I absolutely loved, I thought it was a mistake. The first three Toy Story movies existed as one of those rare trilogies without any missteps. There was no Temple of Doom drop in quality, there were just three amazing movies, culminating in a heartbreaking finale which seemed like the perfect send off.
When Andy gives Bonnie his toys it was the end of an era, it was the end of a childhood. Woody (Tom Hanks) let go, realised he had done all he could for Andy and that while he still loved his kid, Andy was going places he couldn’t follow him. He’d found a new purpose and home for himself and his friends. With such an emotional and satisfying ending, we were in the perfect place to bid farewell to a group of beloved characters.
The follow up shorts worked for me, they were funny little extras. But I worried that going for a fourth feature length adventure would diminish the trilogy, that a weaker new ending could undo Pixar’s triumph. Fortunately, they manage to produce a funny, warm and satisfying addition to the series.
Woody and co. are happy at Bonnie’s, but having been the favourite toy and leader at Andy’s Woody finds himself at a loss. Bonnie has other toys she prefers, and Woody is regularly left in the closet while she plays with others. Dolly (Bonnie Hunt) is the toybox chief here, and Woody occasionally steps on her toes as he forgets that he’s not in charge anymore. When Bonnie starts kindergarten Woody thinks a toy should go with her, but Dolly follows the lead of the parents, worried that taking a toy where they’re not allowed may get Bonnie in trouble.
Woody, however, stows away in her bag, so that he can look after her and help if needs be. Seeing a nervous and shy Bonnie he intervenes, and Bonnie enjoys the craft portion of the day. She makes a crude figure out of a spork and other bits of rubbish and craft equipment, dubbing him Forky, Bonnie enjoys the rest of her day.
Woody is happy, but in the bag on the way home Forky (Tony Hale) comes to life as Bonnie views him as a toy. Forky is less thrilled about this and sees himself as trash, constantly trying to throw himself away. Woody, eager to find meaning and purpose, devotes himself to keeping Forky safe and with the child.
With their family on a road trip in an RV this task becomes harder and eventually Woody and Forky are stranded and have to get back to Bonnie. Woody begins to explain to Forky the important role and duty he has a toy, and all the good things he can do for Bonnie, winning the homemade toy around. However, when they arrive at the town where Bonnie’s family is staying, Woody leads Forky into an antique store after seeing the night light which was home to Bo (Annie Potts), a porcelain figure that belonged to Andy’s little sister before being given away.
The store is also home to Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a vintage talking doll who’s voicebox is broken. She realises Woody has a working one and wants it for herself, taking Forky as a hostage.
Woody winds up at a nearby park and carnival, where a group of lost toys eagerly wait for the day’s visitors to play with them. Here he finds Bo, who helps the other toys by fixing them up and who enjoys the freedom of her new life without a kid. Woody is overjoyed to see her, and their bond remains strong, although Woody wants to get back to Bonnie.
Can Woody save Forky and get back to Bonnie? Will he pick life in the closet over freedom with Bo? Can Buzz (Tim Allen) track down his lost friend and get him home safely? How far will Gabby go to get her voicebox?
I loved this movie because even more than the others we see Woody front and centre here. In each of the earlier films Woody has been the major hero, but one of his defining qualities was a fierce loyalty and faith in Andy. The other toys feared that Andy had thrown them out, but Woody knew it was an accident, and so his decision to donate them to Bonnie was a big deal. Here, we see Woody at a loss, not able to fulfil the job he did for Andy and fearing that he is useless now.
It’s sad to see a character we love in hard times, and I found myself irrationally annoyed with Bonnie for not playing with the sheriff. It’s completely understandable that Woody becomes obsessed with keeping Forky safe, barely resting and exhausting himself as he finds something which makes him feel needed and useful once again.
Reuiniting with Bo we get to see him struggle with a difficult choice, the choice of staying with the toy he loves and lost once before clashing with his loyalty and belief that helping a kid is what he was made for and the best thing a toy can do. It’s handled well, with our hero conflicted over his desire for his own happiness against his sense of duty.
It makes for an engaging central story, and is framed by an action packed and consistently entertaining movie. There’s a real sense of fun here, with thrills and laughs coming fast and some nice touches. Gabby Gabby, the movie’s major antagonist is a fantastic creation, with a slightly creepy vibe and a backstory which adds depth. The story goes in directions I didn’t expect and highlights the major theme, present throughout the series, that toys derive joy from being played with.
Her ventriloquist dummy henchmen are utterly terrifying too.
There are quite a few new characters introduced, and they all work well, adding to the story. There’s a pair of aggressive, loud mouthed carnival prizes Ducky and Bunny (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) who add lots of humour particularly in a section where they try to come up with a plan to get a key from a human.
Forky is entertaining too, managing to be annoying in an amusing way and slowly becoming more likeable as the film progresses and his character develops.
The standout for me was Duke Caboom, a Canadian stuntman toy haunted by being rejected after failing to live up to the advert’s hype. Voiced by Keanu Reeves, Duke is a wonderful creation, a posing, swaggering toy who’s not the brightest and has to face his demons and fears. I loved the ’70s styling and Reeves’ voice work is top notch.
It’s cool to see that Bo gets a bit more development, and her fresh perspective and independent spirit makes her an interesting character. We see her reasons for striking out on her own and the attractiveness of her new life, and why Woody would be drawn to her.
Unfortunately some of the other established characters get short shrift- Jessie (Joan Cusack) is barely present but still a likeable presence, stepping up to the sheriff role when Woody is indisposed. The rest of Andy’s toys don’t get much to do, but it’s still nice to be reunited with some old friends.
Buzz Lightyear’s story is largely played for laughs as he tries to rescue Woody. Woody tells him that his inner voice tells him he has to keep looking after Forky and from then on, not fully understanding, Buzz turns to his prerecorded speech buttons for advice when facing difficult decisions. It’s a nice gag and works well throughout the movie, but he’s relegated to second fiddle here. As I said, Woody has always been the heart of the series, but it’s even more obvious this time around.
Buzz does however clock on to what Woody needs earlier than his best friend, and his actions in the closing stages lead to an ending which while not as heartbreaking as Toy Story 3 still got me rather choked up. And it’s to Pixar’s credit that they manage to add on a satisfying epilogue to the series and succeed in creating a second satisfying ending. It’s a testament to the innovation, skill and storytelling abilities of the team they have that this is an absolute belter of a movie. It’s not the strongest of the four, but it’s yet another home run for the series and a great watch.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.