REVIEW: TOY STORY 4 brings an emotional close to the story of Woody and the gang.


Loyalty to those we care about and knowing when to let go are central themes in this bittersweet entry in Pixar’s signature series.

I think growing up, most people have a toy or blanket or plush that they carried everywhere with them. When I was a kid, I had a small Mickey Mouse plush that was my favorite toy and I took with me everywhere. From the beach, to the doctor, to bed, it was an inseparable companion. One day, my mother and brother and I walked to a local carniceria to pick up some groceries and somewhere along the way back, I lost that doll. I was fairly inconsolable for a period of time, but I still have fond memories of that toy, certainly more so than had I never lost it. Sometimes, these toys are anchors for a child to a world they are just getting to know, a balm to make getting to know the world around you a little easier til something happens and you lose that tether and you jump in and make your way in the world. But you always look back on it fondly.

This is a central idea in director Josh Cooley’s Toy Story 4, a film which kicks off 9 years before the events of Toy Story 3 when Andy is still just a young boy. There’s a rainstorm going on outside and Woody (Tom Hanks) whistles that there’s a lost toy alert. Andy’s RC car is being washed away in the rain gutters. With the help of Buzz (Tim Allen), Slinky Dog (Blake Carl), Bo Peep (Annie Potts), and a barrel of monkeys, they save the car. But just as they do, Andy’s mom starts packing up some of Molly’s things to giveaway, including Bo Peep’s lamp. Woody tries to sneak her back in, but Peep tells Woody it is her time to go and maybe Woody should come with her. But his duty to Andy makes it so he has to let Bo Peep go.

Fast forward to a few months after the end of Toy Story 3. Woody is still getting used to not being the head of the toys in Bonnie’s house. But more than that has changed. While Woody was Bonnie’s favorite toy at the end of Toy Story 3, now Jessie (Joan Cusack) is the favorite toy and Woody spends most of his time in the closet not being played with. At the same time, Bonnie is scared to start kindergarten so Woody sneaks away top try and help her get settled in. Bonnie doesn;t make friends right away and a boy takes the arts and crafts supplies from her, so Woody digs in the trash and tosses some supplies at Bonnie which cheers her up and which she uses to make a new friend, a homemade doll out of a spork, googly eyes and pipe cleaners she names Forky (Arrested Development’s Tony Hale). Forky, animated to life by being treated as a toy, identifies as trash, so Woody’s job becomes to keep Forky from throwing himself away as he becomes Bonnie’s favorite toy, and Forky only wants to return to the warm embrace of the trash can. This comes to a head during a family road trip, where Forky jumps out of the RV and Woody jumps to the rescue, convincing Forky of his worth, but in the same stead, Forky comes to trust Woody because he tells him, they’re the same, discarded trash trying to find a new use for themselves.

This becomes something of a crisis of conscience for Woody. His primary goal has always been to keep his kid happy. He’s doing that now by keeping Forky safe and available for Bonnie, but he himself has become inconsequential to her. As they almost make it back to the RV, he passes an antique store and realizes that Bo Peep’s lamp is in the window, which derails him and Forky on a side mission to try and see if Bo Peep is there. It’s there that they meet Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a cute cupie baby doll from the 50’s who is pushed around the store at night by her ventriloquist butler Benson and several other dummies like him. Gabby thinks Woody is amazing, but really wants Woody’s voice box, so she can capture the heart of a girl named Harmony and free herself from the store forever.

Without getting into any more plot mechanics, this is easily the best of the Toy Story movies. The tone of the film makes it seem initially like it is going to be a standalone film, but as we get into it, we see the film is really about Woody and later Buzz, both maturing. Woody wants to make sure that all the toys understand that sacrificing yourself for a child is the noblest thing a toy can do; this is something he’s always believed. But as he gets to the point where his sacrifice is making sure other toys are loved because he is becoming forgotten, he starts to wonder what is left for him. Here, we meet Bo Peep, who we find has been on her own for 7 years and lives for herself. She’s no longer the meek farmer’s daughter she was, but a fun badass who guides other lost toys to playgrounds so they can still get played with but keep their autonomy. Woody’s arc becomes about whether he can reconcile who he has been or maybe he needs to follow his heart and the will they/won’t they dynamic he always had with Bo Peep and become a free toy with her.

The other real revelation in this movie is the character of Gabby Gabby, who is perhaps the first Toy Story antagonist who isn’t just an out and out villain like Lotso or Stinky Pete. She just wants to be loved and her broken voice box is what she thinks is keeping her from being adopted by a child. Christina Hendricks does a great job with this character and you really empathize with her plight. Director Cooley does a great job of imbibing her and the ventriloquists with just enough of an air of creepiness that you don’t know where they stand, and the introduction to her character, with a certain iconic song from a very recognizable film, immediately puts you at unease about her motivations.

Jordan Peele and Keegan Michael Key’s Duckie and Bunny are also going to be characters that many will feel steal the film, including their solutions to solving problems. But perhaps the film’s best new character is Duke Kaboom, a Canadian Evil Knievel doll knock-off played to aplomb by Keanu Reeves. Kaboom steals every scene he’s in and it’s without a doubt you’ll be quoting his lines for a while after seeing the film.

Overall, the film provides a great close to the Toy Story films as we know them. If they end them here, this is a great denouement for them, though they smartly leave the door open for future adventures. That being said, the crew of Buzz and Woody and the toys from Andy’s closet have their last real hurrah in this film and its a well-earned one in perhaps the best of the Toy Story films, even better than Toy Story 3. Be sure and stay until after the credits, you’ll be happy you did.