Toy Story 4 review: A fun adventure with the gang


Toy Story 4 lacks the heart and originality of the original trilogy but it remains a fun distraction with Woody and the gang.

It’s been nearly a decade since audiences last laughed, cried, and (supposedly) said goodbye to Woody the cowboy, Buzz Lightyear, and the gang. Since Toy Story 3 hit theaters, Disney and Pixar have kept the magic alive through a series of short films, giving audiences small doses of their favorite characters while letting saving a few pennies by not having to pay for the entire A-list cast.

The arrival of Toy Story 4 always felt odd; why go back to the well after closing things out so beautifully? With the bar set so high to give anything less than unbridled adulation seems sad but that’s where we’re at with Toy Story 4.

With a plot that feels like a trio of rejected shorts strung together, the movie coasts on its humor and our relationship to the characters. It’s fine, but that shouldn’t be the adjective used to describe a movie in this beloved series.

With a timeline that never fully makes sense Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) and the gang have made a home at new owner Bonnie’s house. Woody, though, feels out of place, no longer the ruler of the room like he was back with Andy. When Bonnie brings home a new friend she’s “made,” named Forky (voiced by Tony Hale) Woody is committed to making sure the two are inseparable. This is the first of a series of storylines that feel more like bridges to get from A to B with little depth beyond that.

Forky is committed to returning to the trashcan; he’s served his purpose as a utensil and maintains he’s not a toy, leading to Woody having to watch him day and night. Hale’s voicework as Forky is delightful, mixing Frankenstein’s stilted curiosity with a humor akin to the Muppets. (His comparison of having friends to living in trash feels oddly relatable.) But despite how heavily marketed Forky is, his plotline extends to getting the gang into Bonnie’s family RV for a roadtrip that takes them to a place called Great Basin.

This is where Toy Story 4 properly becomes its own movie. Woody hopes to reunite Forky with Bonnie, but becomes distracted by a lamp in an antique store that draws him back to Bo Peep (voiced by Annie Potts), whose unexplained absence in Toy Story 3 is finally given resolution. Possibly for reasons of scheduling or budget, Buzz and the gang are either placed into a B-role or not given dialogue at all (Estelle Harris’ Mrs. Potato Head has no dialogue, and the late Don Rickles’ Mr. Potato Head uses recycled dialogue from previous films).

Joan Cusack’s Jessie has yet to receive her due after the amazing short film, Toy Story of Terror and here she’s left to stand in the background. Tim Allen’s Buzz has a fun subplot with two new characters, Ducky and Bunny (voiced by Keegan Michael-Key and Jordan Peele), but even Allen just kicks back and lets the comedians do the (very funny) heavy lifting. Woody is also given new characters to play opposite, the main one being Pott’s Bo Peep.

It’s wonderful to see her character, originally written as Woody’s gingham-rocking girlfriend, get her own plotline. Desperate to see the world and enjoy her independence, Bo is a character to root for, aided by Potts’ empathetic voice work. She’s complemented by the charmingly aggressive voicework of Ally Maki as Giggles McDimples, a Polly Pocket in a police officer’s uniform that’s all plans and loud voices.

Bo’s history on her own also opens up an underground world of toys on permanent vacation, including Keanu Reeves’ “Canuck with all the luck,” Duke Kaboom. Though the character draws heavily on Buzz’s own existential crisis in the first Toy Story regarding false advertising, Reeves is a lot of fun.

The new characters dominate the narrative, and like with Reeves, some feel like stunt casting, having nothing new to add short of their star wattage. The plot that’s been chronically ignored in the marketing is the one that feels reminiscent of the Toy Stories of old: Woody’s interactions with a villain named Gabby Gabby (wonderfully voiced by Christina Hendricks).

Living in an antique shop ripped from someone’s nightmares, Gabby Gabby is a “defective” doll from the ’50s desperate to cannibalize Woody’s voice box. The plotline has some weird parallels to disabled narratives, but Gabby Gabby is such a frightening and compassionate character that she ends up holding the heart the movie is missing.

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Toy Story 4 is good, but that isn’t the word you want to use when describing a movie that’s defined so many people’s conception of adolescence. At times feeling like an experiment of different plots hoping one will stick, the movie remains funny and engaging even if you probably won’t watch it as many times as its predecessors.