Wed. Jul 17th, 2019

Review: ‘Toy Story 4’

(L-R) Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear, Tom Hanks as Woody, and Christina Hendricks as Bo Peep in Pixar’s TOY STORY 4 (Photo: Walt Disney Company)

I once wrote of BACK TO THE FUTURE that its genius rested in telling a classic joke backwards.  The TOY STORY franchise—covering the exploits of the affable sheriff, Woody (Tom Hanks) and his comically-masculine spaceman sidekick, Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen)— tells the same joke backward, forward, sideways, up, down, and for a good part of the second act of the fourth installment, in a seemingly alternate dimension with a passing resemblance to the Overlook Hotel.

At the end of TOY STORY 3, a grown Andy (John Morris) discharges stewardship of his toys to another family’s preschooler, Bonnie Anderson (Madeline McGraw).  At  summer’s end and school’s start, the Andersons embark upon a road trip.  But before they do, at kindergarten orientation, their creative daughter fashions a friend out of a spork and pipe wire cleaners, whom she names Forky—a salve for her first day jitters at school.

Once home, and alone with the other toys, Forky gains consciousness with a scream, and a question, “Why do I exist?”

Aside from a garbage gag that my managing editor insists runs several beats too long—our annoyance becomes the joke—Forky acts as an existential question mark.  Once sentient, his intellectual curiosity blossoms as he slowly forms words, phrases, ideas.  Yet he stops short when the writers need him to get with the program and focus on the plot.  Perhaps there’s hope for a companion short film.

Back into the plot we go.  Regulars Jessie (Joan Cusack), Mel (Mel Brooks), Rex (Wallace Shawn), Slinky (Blake Carter), and most of the other veteran players are each present.  We know from the film’s opening that Bo Peep (Annie Potts) is likely to return.  Bo is an excellent commentary on the changing times.  When the series began in 1995, she wasn’t given much to do except hang on Woody’s arm.  Since then, social movements striving for inclusiveness and representation pressed filmmakers to write previously marginalized characters conscientiously.

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