I’ll be the first to admit that I am not the biggest fan of the Toy Story franchise. Before you come at me with pitchforks, understand that I do appreciate the films as well the top-notch animation style that has been shown throughout the years. But for whatever reason, the films just didn’t resonate with me as much as they did for a lot of other people I know. With that said, I have always appreciated their ability to create memorable villains which were one of the big reasons I was looking forward to seeing the latest chapter in the beloved franchise, TOY STORY 4.
TOY STORY 4 is directed by Josh Cooley and stars the voice acting of Tom Hanks (Woody), Tim Allen (Buzz Lightyear), Annie Potts (Bo Peep), Tony Hale (Forky), Keegan-Michael Key (Ducky), Madeleine McGraw (Bonnie), Christina Hendricks (Gabby Gabby), Jordan Peele (Bunny), Keanu Reeves (Duke Caboom), Ally Maki (Giggle McDimples), Joan Cusack (Jessie), and Kristen Schaal (Trixie). Woody’s goal in life has always been to take care of his kid – first with Andy and now with Bonnie, Andy’s younger family friend. When Woody realizes that Bonnie is nervous about her first day of Kindergarten, Woody takes it upon himself to make sure she’s happy by giving her the tools necessary during arts and craft class. It’s here that she creates a new toy named Forky; however, when Woody meets him, he must convince Forky that he’s a toy and not “trash”. But when Bonnie takes all the toys, including her new favorite Forky, on a family road trip, Woody and Forky find themselves on an unexpected detour that brings them to an antique store where they run into Woody’s long-lost friend Bo Peep. Happily independent and exploring all that life has to offer, Bo Peep shows Woody that there is more to life than just being someone’s toy. Unfortunately, their time together is cut short when a much bigger problem arises in the form of Gabby Gabby and her ventriloquist henchmen.
What shocked me the most about TOY STORY 4 was how much horror was actually in the film. Look, I’m not a fan of dolls, to begin with, and I’m DEFINITELY not a fan of ventriloquist dolls so seeing a horde of them definitely triggered that fear. Furthermore, one of these henchmen would actually sit on a shelf while his head turned 360-degrees repeatedly like he was Regan from The Exorcist! Even during the screening I attended people in the audience screamed out in abject terror when these dolls from hell would appear. I wish I could say that’s where the horror stopped but surprisingly, it wasn’t! There’s a cat that eats one of the toys, a creepy toy surgery, and some crazy antics from Ducky and Bunny. With that said, one of my biggest gripes with the film had to do with the perceived villain, Gaby Gaby. Each Toy Story film has managed to create a villain that is memorable – the first film gave us Sid, the second film gave us Stinky Pete the Prospector and the third film we got my favorite, Lotso. Unfortunately, I felt like Gaby Gaby, our first female “villain” in the series, wasn’t given the proper dues and instead had a weird arc that left me rather disappointed.
Speaking of Ducky and Bunny, these two characters, voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, respectively, were my favorite parts of the movie and the characters that I think stole the show. Sure, Forky is great, don’t get me wrong, but Ducky and Bunny had me laughing so hard that tears sprung from my eyes. I loved that their performances didn’t match the cute and cuddly image of carnival toys and even though they had a lot of sass they were so adorable together. Plus the relationship with Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele has been one that has spanned decades so their chemistry, even as animated toys, was just as apparent as if this was a live-action film. Also, I have to give a shout out to the man of the year, Keanu Reeves, as Duke Caboom, the Canadian equivalent of Evel Knievel. Reeves is just so dang charming that you can’t help but love him even when he’s playing an action-figure with an airhead personality. As I mentioned above, Forky was terrific and elicited a lot of laughter from the audience. I will admit I liked him more at the beginning of the film when he had a bad case of social anxiety and nervousness but regardless, it’s not too hard to love a walking, talking spork. As for the rest of the characters, we don’t get much interaction with them in the film outside of Woody and Buzz which was kind of a bummer until I realized that this film is about Woody and the path that he must go on.
As with the previous films, there are major themes present, the biggest ones having to do with acceptance, change and loneliness. Kids will love this movie because it’s funny and silly, but adults will find a lot of relatable content within the themes. Toy Story has always been about the journey of Woody – about his love for his kids as well as their happiness. When he runs into Bo Peep, he learns that through her experiences she has been able to experience freedom, something that Woody has never thought of doing. He relies so much on the happiness of his kids and the creature comforts of being their toys that the thought of change or even being a “lost toy” sends him into a tailspin. It’s interesting to see him struggle with the life Bo Peep has made for herself as it ultimately leads to a rather interesting dynamic between the two.
Though I had some issues with the film, mainly towards Gaby Gaby and the shift in her story, I still think TOY STORY 4 is a brilliant addition to the franchise. As a horror lover, I was thrilled with the number of creepy moments throughout the film and loved hearing the audience reactions during those instances. Also, the animation is absolutely superb with scenes that felt photo-realistic, especially during the beginning portions of the movie. Though not as intense of an ending as the third film, I think TOY STORY 4 was the perfect way to wrap up one of the most successful and endearing franchises in history. TOY STORY arrives in theaters June 21, 2019.