There’s never much guessing about what you’re going to get from a “Toy Story” movie. The plots always involve relationships between toys and their owners, as well as between toys and other toys; toys getting into trouble; toys helping toys in trouble to get out of trouble; and some philosophical analysis of just what it means to be a toy. And there’s always a Randy Newman song or two.
“Toy Story 3” (2010) had a perfect conclusion that neatly and happily tied up everything that had come before it, making it one of the most satisfactory endings of any franchise. There was no need to continue with it. But it made tons of money, audience demand for more was palpable ... you’ve gotta wonder why it took almost a decade to make another one.
Let’s get right to the answer of the obvious question: Yes, it was worth the wait.
A pre-credits flashback scene reveals why Bo Peep (Annie Potts), the love interest of Woody (Tom Hanks) in the first two films, didn’t appear in the third. Then the film leaps into action with the title credits, a bit from the familiar song “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” a quick catch-up sequence of how all the toys switched from being owned by Andy to starting anew with Bonnie, and a new, complicated, often extremely emotional series of plotlines that shoot off into myriad directions and moods (most of them funny).
Shy little Bonnie is being sent, against her wishes, to kindergarten orientation. It’s a good thing that trusty old Woody stows away in her backpack for the first day and clandestinely makes sure everything goes well for her. So well, that she makes a new friend. Or as Woody later points out to his toy pals, she literally MADE a new friend: Forky (Tony Hale), sloppily slapped together out of some trash - a spork, a pipe cleaner, a popsicle stick, some modeling clay. For reasons that are never explained, nor do they need to be, Forky comes alive, is confused about the idea of being a toy, and is strangely attracted to every trashcan he sees, as that’s where he’s from.
Even when Bonnie and her family hop in their R/V and head out on a road trip - accompanied by all of her toys, including her new favorite, Forky - the lure of trash remains strong, and provides the film with gobs of great sight gags.
Things go wrong, Woody and Forky find themselves stuck on the road, not in the R/V, and they get to talking about life and the universe, especially about their all-important relationship with kids. A peak inside the window of an antique store, and the sight of an old porcelain lamp - just like the one Bo Peep was part of - ignite Woody’s memories and imagination. A visit inside introduces Woody and Forky to some denizens of the place: the physically and emotionally damaged doll named Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), and her four creepy ventriloquist doll henchmen, all of them named Vincent.
Then, before you can say, “There’s a snake in my boot,” Woody and Bo Peep are reunited. He’s the same down-to-earth aw-shucks guy he’s always been. But she’s become a strong independent woman who has turned from the life of being owned by a kid to being a lost toy, and loving the freedom of it.
There’s a lot of story going on here, and it never lets up. Forky is kidnapped, Woody is picked up by a strange kid, Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) is held captive by a stoned-out carnival guy. When toys do start helping other toys, and assistance is needed, Bo Peep calls on her motorcycle-riding pal Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), and the constant sight gags are complemented by some verbal gems from him.
The antiques store provides a setting for the wildest action in the series, to date. As always, the toys are more human than the few humans in the film, and an unexpected ending could work equally well as a finale to the franchise or a continuation of it. The ticket-buying audiences will make that decision.
Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at email@example.com.
“Toy Story 4”
Written by Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom; directed by Josh Cooley
With voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves