When Toy Story 4 was shown in AMC Theatres nationwide, many in the audience felt that it was the swan song of the series – and it may well be considering that Tom Hanks, who gave his voice to Woody, has said that he won’t be reprising the role anymore. But swan song or not, the fourth installment definitely feels and looks like, well, the Toy Story we’ve all come to love! Indeed, many of us are having separation anxiety from the thought that it may well be the last we will hear of the troops.
Old and New Characters
In the Toy Story tradition, Toy Story 4 introduces a new interesting character to the story while also maintaining its focus on the old characters, particularly Woody and Buzz. After all, what would Toy Story be without these two friends whose friendship grew with each movie installment?
In Toy Story 4, Forky (Tony Hale) is the new character that adds new meaning and purpose, if you will, to Woody’s life. Forky, as his name implies, is a plastic spork with pipe cleaner arms and popsicle stick feet created by Bonnie, Woody’s new owner. Even when he’s a new tory created by Bonnie from various materials, he has an existential crisis – he keeps trying to throw himself into the nearest trash bin because he feels that he isn’t a toy but, well, trash!
But Woody being Woody, he also keeps Forky from staying, much less successfully throwing himself, in the trash. Woody understands that Forky is Bonnie’s new favorite toy and he only wants her to be happy. Forky, on the other hand, apparently feels most comfortable along with the other trash materials because he feels that he has fulfilled his purpose in life.
While Forky is the new character that Woody’s heroic actions are focused on, there are also several other new characters that are just as interesting. Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele) are wisecracking plush collectibles who made friends with Buzz; Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), an Evel Knievel-inspired motorcycle rider and self-styled Canada’s greatest stuntman; and Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a talking doll with a broken voice box who rules over a kingdom of unclaimed toys.
Just as with the three previous Toy Story films, this latest installment has a vaguely sinister villain and Gabby Gabby fills in the role perfectly. But it’s still a family movie because no actual violence, much less blood and gore, is shown on the screen although the adults and teens in the audience can make their assumptions.
Push and Pull Relationship
The push-and-pull dynamics between Woody and Forky becomes alternately funny and poignant, a balance that the Toy Story creators have mastered since the first film. The creators even have the perfect song for the dynamics between these old and new characters, “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away”, as sung by Randy Newman, a favorite of Pixar for good reasons.
The song is appropriate on many levels, too. For one thing, it expresses Woody’s determination to save Forky from the trash bin even as Forky vigorously and continuously resists his efforts. Woody goes to great lengths to make Forky realize that he makes Bonnie happy, and these great lengths make for many entertaining moments in the film.
For another thing, it also express our feelings for the film series that has given us many of the best moments on screen. Every Toy Story film is either excellent or perfect, and it’s reflected in the continued popularity of the film among cohorts that weren’t even born or were too young to see the first film. For nearly 25 years, Toy Story expressed the evergreen love for toys among children and children-at-heart, not to mention that the theme for each movie is different while still maintaining the heart of the series.
Yes, we don’t want the series to end but we also know that there are pitfalls if the series will continue. There’s the risk that the story itself will feel like an obligation to the studio, not an exciting promise of adventure for the audience. There’s also the possibility that the next films will be boring, if not obsolete.
But we’re also open to the possibility that Toy Story 5 will still excite us. Pixar, after all, always seems to have an ace up its sleeve in the surprises department, as well as the uncanny ability to pull at our heartstrings without being heavy-handed about it. Pixar also tells great stories and develops memorable characters.
Toy Story 4, nonetheless, breaks with the Toy Story tradition but subtly. Instead of linear storytelling, the story seems more like an entertaining patchwork of funny scenes, poignant moments, and fascinating characters connected by a shared theme. While it’s an animated movie, there are times when it looks and feels like a Robert Altman film but with modern toys.