Josh Cooley (studio)
1h 40mins (length)
22 June 2019 (released)
20 June 2019
It's rare for sequels to build perfectly on the original, developing themes and introducing new ones, but the Toy Story films have managed it.
From Pixar's groundbreaking 1995 animation that introduced us to cowboy doll Woody (Tom Hanks), and astronaut action figure Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) to 2010's Toy Story 3, the movies dealt with loss of status, fear of decay, and then the inevitable passage of time meaning all toys eventually find themselves discarded as kids grow up.
In director Josh Cooley's new instalment, Woody and his gang of toys, including old favourites Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), Rex (Wallace Shawn) and Slinky Dog (Blake Clark), are living with a new child, Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), who is also growing up fast and getting ready to start kindergarten class.
Woody, who is increasingly marginalised as Bonnie prefers playing with his female counterpart Jessie (Joan Cusack), takes it upon himself to ease her transition to school life and secretly helps her create a new toy out of a spork and some pipe cleaners, dubbed Forky (Veep star Tony Hale), who becomes a beloved playmate. However, Forky doesn't want to be a toy, as he sees his role in life as being trash.
When the toys are taken on a road trip, Forky creates havoc by trying to escape Bonnie's family's camper van, resulting in Woody having to drag him back time and again. While rescuing Forky from another escape attempt, Woody spots a night lamp in an antique store that used to accompany Bo Peep (Annie Potts), his old friend (and possible old flame), who was separated from the rest of the toys before they ended up with Bonnie.
Instead of Bo Peep, Woody and Forky find Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a creepy doll and her ventriloquist dummy henchman, who believe that he, or more precisely his pristine voice box, offer her a path to finding what every toy wants - a loving child as owner.
While each previous Toy Story film felt a necessary expansion and illumination of a lovingly crafted world rather than a Disney or Pixar cash-in, Toy Story 4 feels less essential, as it largely re-treads themes from the past sequels, with Gabby Gabby bearing some similarities to Lots-o'-Huggin' Bear, the villain from the third film.
That's not to say it is not thoroughly enjoyable, as some amusing new characters, soft toy pairing Bunny and Duckie (comedy duo Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key) and the excellent and hilarious Keanu Reeves as inept Canadian stuntman toy Duke, provide plenty of laughs, even if they're not quite as full bodied as in the past. Bo Peep is also reinvented as an independent, feminist maverick, a move that feels like a much-needed update on a franchise, that despite its best intentions, has often reflected Hollywood's gender imbalances by being dominated by male characters.
Forky too is a fascinating character, as a toy who's made by a child and not a corporation, and so experiences existential angst in a way that his expertly designed comrades do not. However, it's a plot point that rather drops in the film's second and third acts to give our old favourites Woody and Buzz more screentime.
As you'd expect, the film is visually stunning - with the antique shop and a fairground providing arresting backdrops for Cooley to play around with the characters and include plenty of nice nods to action classics.
It's in its finale though that we are reminded Toy Story has won so many hearts over the years, if the rest of the film doesn't quite hit the Himalayan heights of the past, its final act certainly does.
It provides a string of genuinely affecting and emotionally satisfying moments that provide an ending that means that if this is the talking toys' final outing, it will be a fitting end to one of the most inventive and beloved movie franchises.