I admit, I was skeptical about another Toy Story film. Toy Story 3 was a superb send-off for the characters and the franchise, and most people thought it was the perfect end to a near-perfect trilogy. To release another film in the franchise after wrapping up so well just screamed cash-grab, akin to the several live-action remakes of Disney classics that Disney has been making in recent years. That said, I walked out of the theater with a new favorite Toy Story film. Disney and Pixar’s Toy Story 4 is just as magical as the previous films, if not more. It’s heartfelt, hilarious, tear-jerking, and has some existential crises thrown in for good measure.
The film begins with a flashback showing why Bo Peep (Annie Potts) was missing from the third film. Andy’s sister Molly had outgrown the Bo Peep lamp and the family give the toy away. Nine years later, Andy has gone to college and Woody, Buzz, Jessie, and the rest of the gang have been Bonnie’s toys for some time. Woody (Tom Hanks) feels left out during playtime, as Bonnie has been focusing on other toys while Woody stays in the closet with the other toys that Bonnie had outgrown. When Bonnie creates a new toy out of a spork and other assorted garbage, Woody makes it his mission to take care of Forky (Tony Hale), after seeing how much Forky helps Bonnie stay calm. Bonnie and her family then embark on a road trip where Woody and the gang run into new and familiar faces.
Toy Story 4 is also the funniest film in the franchise. Whether it’s Forky’s increasingly neurotic attempts to get himself thrown in the trash, Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key as Bunny and Ducky, a pair of snarky stuffed animals, or Keanu Reeves as a motorcycle stuntman toy called Duke Caboom, this film shines with comedy. A particular favorite for me involved a scene in which Buzz (Tim Allen), Bunny, and Ducky hatch a plan to take a key off an antique store owner to hilarious results.
This fourth entry also sees the return of Bo Beep, who has been on her own as a lost toy for years and thriving. One of the major themes of this film revolves around Bo’s independence. Woody has been afraid of becoming a lost toy since the first film, and his fear is only compounded in this latest film as he becomes increasingly ignored by Bonnie. When Woody reunites with Bo, she’s become a self-sufficient, toughened toy who doesn’t need or want to be owned. “Who needs a kid’s room when you can have all of this?” she asks Woody as they look across the grounds of a local fair. Toy Story 4 is very much a film about finding your purpose and coping with the change it brings, and Bo Peep is here to help shepherd Woody on his journey.
This isn’t the only philosophical theme the film touches on. There’s a dialogue between Woody and Bo throughout the film about what it means to be a toy. Does having a child’s name written on the bottom of your foot make you more of a toy? Does it make you a better example of a toy if you have a child that plays with you? It’s something the characters in this film grapple with, and it’s something that ties into the theme of purpose. Is one’s purpose tied to societal expectations, like Forky assertion that he is not a toy but rather a utensil made to be used once then discarded, or the film’s antagonist, Gabby (Christina Hendricks), aching for a child because that’s what she’s been conditioned to need? Or is one’s purpose something they carve out for themselves, like Bo Peep making a life for herself without the need of a child owning her?
Bring some tissues and be prepared to cry with this movie. I’m not ashamed to admit that the ending made me sob. Hell, even Tim Allen had troubled getting through it. While Toy Story 4 is a children’s movie, and one children will unquestionably enjoy, its themes seem to resonate better with adults, especially with millennials who are trying to find their place in society. Toy Story 4 offers a truly touching tale about finding purpose and coping with change. It is a near-perfect epilogue to an equally near-perfect trilogy.