Movie Review: Toy Story 4 (2019)
I didn’t think they’d pull it off again. They ended things so neatly in “Toy Story 3,” with Andy off to college, and Woody, Buzz, and the gang resurrected with Bonnie, making us believe, for a moment anyway, that we’ll all be needed and necessary forever.
Why go on from there?
Plus, in the interim, Pixar was bought by Disney and it’s not quite the same studio. Since “Inside Out” it's released:
- 2015: “The Good Dinosaur”—didn’t bother
- 2016: “Finding Dory”—disappointing
- 2017: “Cars 3”—didn’t bother
- 2017: “Coco”—pretty good
- 2018: “Incredibles 2”—potentially subversive but also disappointing
So I was against the idea of a “Toy Story 4” from the beginning. But they kinda pulled it off. It’s sweet, includes redemption of the villain, and, most important, it's funny.
A Toy and a Gentleman
This doesn’t mean there’s not a sameness to it all. Every “Toy Story” contains these two dilemmas:
- How are the toys in danger?
- Why is Woody (Tom Hanks) no longer useful?
The toys are in danger because of: 1) the creepy kid next door; 2) the creepy toy collector; 3) the creepy toys at the orphanage; and, here, 4) the creepy toys at the second-hand store.
And Woody is no longer useful because: 1) Andy prefers Buzz Lightyear (reflecting the historical moment when kids’ heroes stopped being movie/TV cowboys and became real-life astronauts); 2) his arm is torn off; 3) Andy goes to college; and 4) Bonnie prefers Jessie.
Here’s the thing about Woody, though. The less necessary he is, the more of a micromanager he becomes. So even though he’s been relegated to the closet, and his sheriff badge has been pinned on Jessie, he stows aboard Bonnie’s backpack for her orientation day of kindergarten in order to make sure she does OK. He becomes the invisible helpmate, the guiding hand. When another kid just up and takes the supplies Bonnie’s working with, at a table by herself, Woody, saddened and then determined, empties a nearby trashcan to replenish her supplies. From this, she creates a toy out of a plastic fork/spork, some googly eyes, and pipe cleaners for arms, and names him Forky (Tony Hale). This basically sets in motion the rest of the movie.
Forky becomes Bonnie’s new favorite. Except he doesn’t understand his raison d’etre. Or his raison d’etre is something else entirely, since he keeps trying to return to the trash. Only after much struggle from Woody does Forky stop trying to throw himself away.
By this point, Bonnie and her parents are in an RV traveling the country before school starts again; and in historic Grand Basin, which is in the midst of “Carnival Days,” Woody spies the lamp of his one-time flame Bo Peep (Annie Potts) in the window of Second Chance Antiques. “Toy Story 4” cold-opened with the moment she was given away, and how Woody almost left Andy for her, but couldn’t quite do it. But now? With Andy in college and Bonnie relegating him to also-ran status? This is his second chance.
Inside the store, though, he doesn’t find Bo. He finds Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a vintage 1960s-era doll with a busted voicebox, who runs the joint with her creepy muscle, the Benson dolls—basically bow-tied ventriloquist dummies with large, lolling heads and useless arms. Gabby Gabby has never been a child’s toy since she was born with a busted voicebox. She thinks if it’s fixed, or replaced, she’ll finally find a child who will love her. And Woody’s voicebox works just fine.
Ewww. It’s like a doll’s version of organ harvesting—with Woody the target.
He escapes, of course, but, in the manner of “Toy Story” movies (all tentpole movies, really), our principles are scattered to the wind:
- Woody is with Harmony, the granddaughter of the antique store owner, heading through Carnival Days
- Forky, in the clutches of the Bensons, is being used as bait
- Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) is being offered as a prize at a carnival game
How do these small toys reunite in such a big, wide world? Woody meets up again with Bo Peep, who, porcelain aside, has remade herself as a shepherd-staff twirling martial arts action hero; Buzz teams up with two trash-talking fuzzy animals (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele); and all of them converge at Second Chance Antiques, along with the movie’s best new character, Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), a Canadian knockoff Evel Knievel, whose slogan is “Yes, I Can-ada!” and whose dreams of big jumps are forever undercut by the haunting memory of being rejected by his first child, Rejean. “Re-jeeeaaaannnnnn!”
Bo knows all about Gabby Gabby—she was stuck there before going out on her own—but her careful plans are undercut by Woody and his desperate need to retrieve Forky for Bonnie. This leads to his kind of “Officer and a Gentleman” moment, when, like Richard Gere in the rain, he admits he has nowhere else to go. “It’s all I have left to do!” he cries. “I don’t have anything else!”
Bo is actually less sympathetic to this admission than Louis Gossett, Jr. was with Richard Gere: “So the rest of us don’t count?” she asks. Right. Sorry. Next time I won’t pour my heart out to you.
How much is Woody willing to give up for Bonnie? Almost anything—even his voicebox. He submits to the surgery, Gabby Gabby gets it, and, though her chosen child, Harmony, discards her, she eventually finds a girl as desperate for a doll as she is for a girl. Villain redeemed. Happy ending. (Except for those creepy Bensons. What terrors will they unleash in Second Chance Antiques with Gabby Gabby gone?)
Even as Gabby finds a home, Woody loses his. Or he decides to stay with Bo. He becomes a lost toy. Or as Buzz wisely says at the end: “He’s not lost. Not anymore.”
It's a good ending. It's another ending that feels like an ending. But is it? “Toy Story 4” grossed more than $1 billion worldwide—more than any G-rated movie in history—so I’m assuming ... not. Plus it's not like there aren't questions to answer. Woody has always been about loyalty to the kid; so what will he be like without a kid to be loyal to? How will he recreate his own raison d'etre? Either way, they’ll be back. If a franchise keeps making $1 billion at the box office, it’ll keep going. To infinity and beyond.