Pixar has set a high bar for itself, particularly within its most successful and longest-running series. Expecting Toy Story 4 to top its predecessors is perhaps too tall an order, but the film still delivers what audiences have come to expect from the multibillion-dollar animation studio.
At the forefront, as usual, is the stunning animation itself — the realistic textures and colors are absolute eye candy. Randy Newman still goofily sings us into nostalgia with “You Got a Friend in Me,” while new characters voiced by the likes of Keanu Reeves, Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key and Christina Hendricks breathe life into a new storyline. Most importantly, the witty humor will get giggles out of viewers both young and old.
And while it is light and funny, Toy Story 4 delves into deep existentialism, tackling questions that plague the human condition: What is my life’s purpose? Can I face and accept change? Who is my inner voice, and how can I listen to it? The film eases us into these questions through a series of existential crises experienced by many of its characters.
The central narrative follows our old pal Woody (Tom Hanks) as he takes painstaking strides to make himself useful to his owner Bonnie, despite being relegated to darker and dustier corners of her closet. During her kindergarten orientation, Bonnie tearfully and anxiously crafts a new Pixar character, Forky (Tony Hale) — an amalgamation of craft supplies and garbage, essentially a spork with pipe-cleaner arms and googly eyes.
From the moment he takes his first horrified breath into existence, Forky steals the show. Hesitant to embrace his new purpose as a part of the cognizant toy community, he repeatedly declares, “I’m trash,” while hurling himself through open windows and into the trash bins from whence he came. He’s easily the most delightful illustration of existential dread the movie has to offer.
The plot follows the colorful cast of playthings as they join Bonnie and her family on an RV road trip. Adventures ensue as toys lose their way, reunite with old buddies, make new friends (and enemies) and, of course, learn heartfelt lessons along the way. While Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and Woody lovingly remind viewers of the series’ nostalgic elements, the slew of new toys we meet — along with the return of a renegade Bo Peep (Annie Potts) — are the driving forces in the film’s character development and humor.
And, most importantly, now we have Forky.