This is a spoiler free review
Synopsis: Set after the events of Toy Story 3, Toy Story 4 (dir. by Josh Cooley and written by Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom) picks up with Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) going off to kindergarden. After creating a new friend at school named Forky (Tony Hale), he inexplicably becomes the most important toy in Bonnie’s life. When the gang goes on a road trip with Bonnie and her family, it’s up to Woody (Tom Hanks) to keep Forky safe. However, when Forky gets kidnapped by a doll named Gaby Gaby (Christina Hendricks) in the antique store of a carnival, it’s up to Woody and Buzz (Tim Allen) to get him back. Along the way, Woody reunites with Bo Peep (Annie Potts), who, in the time since she was separated from Woody, has developed a far different view on what it means to be a toy.
When I first sat down to write this review, I was conflicted. I wasn’t sure whether to let my love of the franchise as a whole dictate this review, or my critical perspective of this one movie, regardless of the previous three. I don’t think I’m the only one on the internet who wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of a fourth Toy Story. The third ended the franchise so perfectly, why continue it? Can they really justify a need to continue this story? The short answer is no.
I was debating what to rate this film, and the reason I gave it three rather than two in a half stars is because I do recommend it. While I would have preferred the franchise ended with the third movie, I was never bored. The story had a nice flow to it, the characters (both new and old) are all very likable, the animation is spectacular, and there are plenty of laugh out loud moments.
So let’s start with the characters. I’m sure from the promotional material (and merchandise- at least if you went to Disney World these past few weeks), you can tell there are a lot of new characters. I think for the most part, I enjoyed these character. Keanu Reeves as Canadian daredevil Duke Caboom is a notable highlight and has a lot of fun moments. Gaby Gaby serves as the film’s antagonist, and actually subverted my expectations a bit by being a lot more sympathetic than a lot of the other Toy Story villains, while also serving as an intimidating threat, no thanks to her minions who are all Ventriloquist dummies. The two characters I liked the least were Bunny (Jordan Peele) and Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key). While I think that both actors are great comedic voice talents, the characters didn’t serve much purpose outside of being “comedic relief,” and that wouldn’t be a huge problem if I actually found them to be funny. However, most of the jokes (except for this running gag) weren’t that funny, and they didn’t justify their purpose through the plot, so they didn’t really have a reason to be there. The final new character who I’m sure you’ve seen advertised is Forky (Tony Hale). I thought that the character was very cute, had some good lines, and I like the bond that he and Woody formed. While he was essentially the center of the main plot, which got me worried that Forky would take up most of the film, most of the story is luckily still told from Woody and Buzz’s perspective.
Bo Peep makes her return, and I thought her character and her relationship with Woody was handled really well. It was interesting to see how her perspective on being a toy has changed since she left. While there were plenty of new characters, it was a shame that a lot of the old characters were sidelined and didn’t really have much to do. While, yes, the voice actor who played Mr. Potato-head died and they had to rely on archived recordings, it really was a shame because, especially in the last film, it really felt like a conclusion. Not just because of the grand stakes of the film, but with how all the characters contributed to the main story. The character whom I also think was wasted in this story was Buzz. He had this running gag throughout the movie which I didn’t think was all that funny, nor did it contribute to any character growth. So if I had any main issues with the film, it’s the fact that the story really didn’t know what to do with any of the characters that weren’t Woody, Bo Peep, or any of the new toys, which- as a conclusion to this franchise- I think is a real shame.
As I mentioned before, the animation really is excellent, however, there aren’t a lot of actual set pieces. We mostly stay in the carnival, and while that does provide for a lot of fun scenarios, it makes the movie feel a lot less in scale than say, the toys almost burning alive in a landfill. I don’t know how they could have topped the stakes of the last film, so I guess it was a good idea to have the stakes feel intentionally more intimate. As a finale, I would have liked to have a few more set pieces, but I think for this story it worked out okay. The final thing I was to briefly touch upon is the ending. Whether you’ve seen the film or not, I’m sure you’ve heard mixed things about the way the film ended. While I think the ending works for the message this particular was going for, I think that as a conclusion to the series, it rather undermines the rest of the franchise. It’s more bittersweet than the previous film, but for me at least, it feels rather inconclusive to what the other films aimed for in their endings, though it definitely works here and feels like a good conclusion to the themes of this film.
So does this film really ever justify it’s existence? Not really. That being said, there are a decent amount of heartfelt moments, action, laughs, and good characters to justify it as a decent flick. While it doesn’t meet the emotional climax of the third film, I didn’t think it ever could. So if your looking for another chance to see Woody and the gang go on little adventure, I think you’ll be satisfied.