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Movie Review: 'Toy Story 4'

This is the "Toy Story" movie you didn't know you needed.
Credit: Disney / Pixar

Until recently, I didn’t realize how few people were excited about another “Toy Story” movie. Apparently, nine LONG years ago, everyone thought the story wrapped up with Andy giving his beloved toys away to Bonnie. It was the end of the trilogy, but did you really think this was the last we’d see of Woody and Buzz Lightyear?

I, for one, am always excited to see a return to the toy box. I love these characters. And, I think even the most unconvinced fans of the first three films will find a lot to love about this new outing.

It should be a given that “Toy Story 4” will be an awesome time at the movies. It’s coming out in June. We’ve got a stellar cast. There’s the Pixar/Disney pedigree of quality. It’s an instant win, right?

This is not “Cars 3.” This is not even “Incredibles 2.” This is much better.

"Toy Story 4” rewinds the clock a bit, to nine years before the ending of “Toy Story 3.” Little Bo Peep (Annie Potts) is being given away to someone else and Woody (Tom Hanks) is struggling with having to watch her leave without him and the other toys.

Credit: Disney / Pixar

Skip ahead nine years to shortly after Andy gives away Buzz (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack) and Woody to Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), a shy little 4-year-old. Bonnie is starting pre-school and she wants to take a toy with her for her first day. Her parents tell her she needs to leave all the toys at home. Woody, always being concerned with kids and their well-being stows away in Bonnie’s backpack.

During a rough first-day at pre-school, Woody sets into motion the Frankenstein-like creation of Forky, Bonnie’s new favorite toy. Forky (Tony Hale), a googly-eyed spork with pipe-cleaner arms is hell-bent on throwing himself away. He recognizes himself only as trash although Woody knows how important he is to Bonnie. The two are continually at odds about what the heck is actually even happening. The movie is pretty much Woody and Forky’s story. And, Forky, by the way, is absolutely hilarious.

Woody is having an existential crisis about his role in Bonnie’s world and the world in general. Does he need to keep worrying about everyone in his life or is time to worry about himself? Why does Bonnie love a kitchen utensil so much? When did toys get so deep?

First-time director Josh Cooley takes the franchise in a whole new and exciting direction. It feels more intimate and a lot darker than the previous films. The first few minutes are extremely distressing and somber. But, thankfully, it’s probably the funniest chapter of the four. The jokes are so rapid-fire, there are moments when I would have to hold back laughing to catch everything. One scene, in particular, involving a Canadian toy commercial almost took my breath away from laughing so hard. 

Keanu Reeves (Duke Caboom) and especially Keegan Michael Key (Ducky) and Jordan Peele (Bunny), breathe new life into this world of toys and I can’t wait to see more from them. Their characters alone are worth the price of admission. My love for this universe is overflowing.

And, I should also mention another new face, Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks). She’s a forgotten antique doll and one of the most conflicting characters I’ve seen in a while. She’s charming and absolutely horrifying at the same time. Ten-year-old me would have nightmares because of her. And if she didn’t do it, her minor army of ventriloquist dummies would probably keep me awake at night.

Besides the humor and thrills, there’s a lot of emotion in “Toy Story 4.” Not nearly as devastating as the end of three, but expect to get choked up a few times. 

Remember, this is a Pixar movie, so expect the best of everything, including the animation. The visuals on display here are absolutely jaw-dropping. There are atmospheric effects, beautiful lighting, and depth of focus elements which will probably sail over the heads of most audience members. But, those who notice this stuff will be amazed. 

There is a reason for “Toy Story 4” to exist. It doesn’t feel like a cash-grab using popular tried-and-true characters. Heck, Buzz is barely in it. This is an exciting new direction for the “Toy Story” series and potentially an open door to a whole new toy universe. It’s joyous and funny and full of charm. It’s everything you want and nothing you don’t… a perfect Summer-time movie-going experience.

4.5 out of 5 popsicle sticks.