‘Toy Story 4’ is a near-perfect Pixar sequel

Jun 21, 2019, 7:18 AM

Toy Story 3 was such a perfect capper to a perfect animated trilogy, that the very idea of Toy Story 4 seemed wrong. And while still not necessary, the actual Toy Story 4 is near enough to perfection to make me take back my reservations.

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It may not be as tight and purposeful as its predecessors, but it nicely expands the horizons of the franchise, and more than justifies its existence. In fact, I wouldn’t even object to a Toy Story 5 now, so convinced am I of Pixar’s ingenuity and insight.

The fourth installment in the saga finds all of Andy’s toys at home with Bonnie, the little girl Andy bequeathed his prized possessions to when he went off to college at the end of Toy Story 3. Bonnie has a big school day coming up herself, her first day at kindergarten, and she’s terrified. In order to watch over her, Woody (the pull-string cowboy voiced by Tom Hanks) steals away in her backpack on that first day.

Bonnie consoles herself at school by creating a makeshift toy — a spork with googly eyes, pipecleaner arms, and popsicle sticks for feet.

“Everyone, Bonnie made a friend in class!” exclaims Woody.

“Oh, she’s already making friends,” another toy responds.

“No, she literally made a new friend,” Woody notes. “I want you to meet … Forky!”

Forky (voiced by Tony Hale) is a hilariously misshapen character who not only doesn’t want to be a toy, he yearns for the wastebasket from whence he came. Woody coaches him up as best he can.

“Why am I alive?” an oddly existential Forky asks.

“You’re Bonnie’s toy — you are going to help create happy memories that will last for the rest of her life!” answers Woody.

Forky may be completely clueless, but he gives Woody a new lease on life. Woody had been feeling neglected by Bonnie and personally unfulfilled, but now he steps into full parental mode.

His mission becomes to make sure Bonnie always has Forky to comfort her. And since they’re inadvertently separated for most of the movie, Woody spends all of his time trying to save and rescue Forky for Bonnie.

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One of the most elaborate of those rescue attempts involves a new Toy Story toy, a Canadian daredevil named Duke Caboom.

Voiced to uproarious effect by Keanu Reeves, Caboom practically steals the show, as do a couple of other new toys, Ducky and Bunny (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele). They’re stuffed animals on display as carnival prizes at an amusement park, and are both yearning to be “won” and taken home by a lucky child. They resent it mightily when Buzz Lightyear suddenly becomes their rival for a winner’s attention.

“If you think you can just show up and take our top prize spot, you’re dead wrong!” exclaims Bunny.

As laugh-out-loud funny as a lot of the toys are, they’re all looking for the same thing: To be loved. That’s true even of the villain of the piece, an old-fashioned doll named Gabby Gabby, who wants a new voice box at any price. Her fate is as poignant as anyone else’s.

Toy Story 4 could do with fewer elaborate action sequences, and many of the original toys don’t get nearly enough screen time. But in the end, these toy stories always come back to Woody, and Woody continues to grow by sometimes literal leaps and bounds.

Thanks to a chance encounter with long-lost Bo Peep, Woody eventually learns to love for himself and not just for others. I’m even beginning to see the faint outlines of a possible Toy Story 5: Woody as an empty nester.

Tom Tangney on KIRO Radio

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‘Toy Story 4’ is a near-perfect Pixar sequel