Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Review: "Toy Story 4"

“Toy Story 4” is like one last rodeo with the old gang, an unexpected revival long after we thought they’d retired. It doesn’t have the energy or emotionality of any of the others, but it’s nice to see the old-timers back up to their old tricks.

A fourth feature for the cornerstone Pixar Animation franchise seems unnecessary. After all, the third one from nine years ago felt like a very conspicuous wrapping of the bow, as the little family of toys who come to life when people aren’t around were passed on from Andy, now all grown up, to adorable pre-K Bonnie.

And yet, here we are.

Not much time has passed since Bonnie became “their kid,” although a flashback to nine years earlier shows us how Bo Peep (Annie Potts), the love interest of Woody the cowboy sheriff (Tom Hanks), disappeared between the second and third movies. It seems she didn’t share Woody’s enthusiasm for “always being there” for their kid, so when Andy’s sister decided to pass Bo on to another child, she was ready to go.

She returns triumphantly, in a much more athletic iteration than we remember. Eschewing her modest shepherdess’ cape and laughing off a broken arm kept attached with tape, Bo swings and swoops all around using her hooked staff and a bottomless reserve of guts. She embraces her status as a “lost toy” free of human constraints.

She’s practically a toy superhero.

When Bonnie’s family goes on a road trip in an RV, it reveals fractures in the toy universe. Woody chafes at no longer being the head toy calling the shots. Even worse, he’s fallen out of Bonnie’s rotation of favored toys, often relegated to the back of the closet during playtime.

Still, his sense of loyalty remains true when Bonnie goes off to kindergarten and creates a toy of her own from a plastic spork and pipe cleaners. Woody and the gang are surprised when the creature springs to life, raising all sorts of metaphysical questions about the Toy Story universe.

Dubbed Forky (voice of Tony Hale), the new tribe member at first is very confused and self-endangering. Since he was made out of spare parts, he insists that he’s trash and keeps trying to escape to the nearest garbage bin, requiring repeated rescuing from Woody.

At first I thought this was an attempt to introduce a mentally challenged toy, which would’ve been an interesting development. But Forky gets wiser with time, and eventually grows to embrace the toy ethos.

Part of his tutelage comes at the knee of Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a vintage toy stuck in an antique shop in the mountain town of Grand Basin. She’s seemingly benevolent, but resents that she’s never had a kid to call her own. She blames it on her malfunctioning voice box, and sets her designs on claiming Woody’s.

Gabby is portrayed as more misguided than evil, though she employs a force of identical ventriloquist dolls who act as her muscle, and are as creepy as all get out.

Other new characters include Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), a Canadian motorcycle daredevil who’s lost his nerve; Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki), a pint-sized police officer who acts as Bo’s shoulder-riding sidekick; and Bunny and Ducky (Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key), a pair of long-suffering plush toys stitched together hand-to-hand who’ve spent an eternity as the top prize at a malfunctioning carnival duck hunt arcade.

Directed by Josh Cooley from a screenplay by Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom, “Toy Story 4” is easily the weakest of the series, but it’s still a fun ride. It seems the sendoff was not their final bow, and they’re destined to keep collecting nostalgia curtain calls.

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