‘Toy Story 4’ shows a franchise that still knows what its audience deserves

Toy Story 4 (2019)

Directed by Josh Cooley

The “Toy Story” franchise doesn’t seem to know how to mess up. The latest sequel, set only a couple years after the 2010 Best picture nominee “Toy Story 3,” sees the gang still in the possession of Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), who is now old enough for kindergarten. The toys are mostly happy, but Woody (Tom Hanks) has begun seeing his playtime shrink considerably as Bonnie opts for Jessie (Joan Cusack) in the role of Sheriff. When Bonnie makes a new toy out of a spork, a pipe cleaner, and some other garbage, Woody hops at the opportunity to mentor the skittish new addition—Forky (Tony Hale)—and find a renewed sense of purpose. But Woody’s whole idea of life is shaken when he reunites with Bo Peep (Annie Potts) while on a road trip with Bonnie’s family.

Tom Hanks and Tony Hale in Toy Story 4 (2019)

“Toy Story 4” adds to the franchise’s rich reputation of humor and heart. It may be the funniest “Toy Story” movie yet—and without stooping to use current references that would cease to be funny in a few years like a lesser movie might do. Instead, it relies on the vocal talents of its ever-expanding cast. Tony Hale gives what is likely to be the best vocal performance of any animated character this year. I can’t think of anyone who could’ve imbued Forky with the same sense of fright and stubbornness as the “Veep” actor (except maybe Pee Wee Herman). Jordan Peele and Keegan Michael Key join the cast as the first black voice actors to have prominent roles in this franchise. And Bo Peep becomes the franchise’s first confident and independent female character. Much love to Jessie, and Dolly (Bonnie Hunt) is a great leader, but Bo Peep shows us a new type of toy. In her role as the villain Gabby Gabby, Christina Hendricks gets the job done without doing anything notable vocally. Her role calls for more of a straight-forward performance. While Gabby Gabby’s ventriloquist dummy henchmen are actually terrifying, the doll herself is less irredeemably evil than past baddies like Sid, the Prospector, or Lotso. “Toy Story 4” isn’t about an outside antagonist as much as it’s about how these last couple years have changed the characters we’ve loved for nearly 25 years. When “Toy Story 4” explores that, it reveals itself as an animated movie on a completely different level from anything else we’re likely to see this year.

Tom Hanks and Christina Hendricks in Toy Story 4 (2019)

In my mind, “Toy Story 3” remains one of the greatest animated films of all-time, a full emotional journey packed into 100 minutes. But in the same way that I thought “Finding Dory” picked up so well where “Finding Nemo” left off—bringing back certain themes while differentiating itself just enough—I think “Toy Story 4” (while not quite as good as its immediate predecessor, in my opinion), keeps the “Toy Story” story progressing in a natural, seamless path forward. Even nine years later, it feels like a perfect continuation. If “Toy Story” wasn’t already in the pantheon of all-time great film franchises, it must be now.

I ended my “Toy Story 3” review calling for a fourth film, and after seeing “Toy Story 4” I can safely say that as long as they keep making movies that are this good, I don’t want them to stop.

8.5/10

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