Toy Story 4 – a fitting end (?) to the series

“Trash!”

Story: As Woody settles into his new home with Bonnie, he finds things aren’t quite the same as when he was with Billy. When he runs into Bo-Peep after years apart, he struggles with her different perspective on being a toy.

Genre I’d put it in: Lovely Family Film Series Closer

Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Part of the Toy Story franchise. Perhaps the last of the bunch, but who knows?

Gotta say: The Toy Story films are that rare breed of kiddie stories that adults love just as much. But here in 4, we grownups may love this tale more than the wee ones will. I’m not saying that the kiddos won’t enjoy it. Far from it – there’s plenty of giggly shenanigans that kids will lap up.

That’s mostly thanks to the new blood introduced in this installment; Key & Peele’s Ducky and Bunny, and Tony Hale’s Forky. Ducky and Bunny, a carnival prize that’s two stuffed animals joined so’s to hold hands, are fluffy, adorable…and positively bloodthirsty. Needless to say K&P rock the joint whenever they’re on screen. Ditto for Forky, a toy that Bonnie makes from a spork and some odds and ends. Hale channels Arrested Development’s Buster Bluth to deliver a comically confused but touching performance.

As with all other films in this franchise, there are deep themes delivered with an shamelessly obvious yet graceful touch. Who are you, really? What is it that you want from life? What makes you truly happy? This may be the most philosophical film in the Toy Story oeuvre, but I love that it asks these questions. I hope folks will go home and think about that for themselves, and the little ones around them. Kudos to screenwriters Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom for making this fourth film feel relevant, instead of doing the easy thing and popping out something trivial for the kiddies. Director Josh Cooley balances the heavy and light scenes with skill; if you’ve seen his work on Inside Out and Up, you’ll understand the vibe of 4. In fact, this movie would make a great triple feature with these other Cooley films. Just saying. Plan your next sick day accordingly.

Note to folks with very wee ones: there are ventriloquist dummies at an antique shop that gave off creepy vibes even to my world-weary mind. These puppets do a whole lot of “muscle work” during the middle of the film, so kids who spook easily could get anxious. It’s nothing like 3‘s terrifying incinerator scene, but these dummies could frighten some little ones. Weigh your kids’ ability to hang with scary stuff before you head out. Or just re-do the “remember when we talked about real versus imaginary” talk.

Yeah, things got a bit draggy here and there, but I’m sure kids won’t notice one bit. (Oh lawds, the climax where an RV gets commandeered chews the scenery much longer than necessary…) But it’s worth the price of admission to simply hear Keanu Reeves’ motorcycling toy Duke Caboom say “Whoa.” The kids won’t understand why you’re grinning from ear to ear and high-fiving your aisle buddy. But that’s okay.

Grade: A-

#Protip: Stay for the the end credits, as there’s several tidbits strewn about the place, and one final one that’s sweetly hilarious.

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