Forky and Woody in Toy Story 4 (Photo: Disney & Pixar)
TOY STORY 4
*** (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Josh Cooley
STARS Tim Hanks, Tim Allen
They should have quit while they were ahead.
The Toy Story trio that stretched from 1995 to 2010 quickly revealed itself as one of the greatest trilogies in film history. All three entries are worthy of four stars, which for my money catapults it above even such fan favorites as The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Dark Knight trilogy. But as Pixar profits continue to hit the high heavens — and with parent company Disney now in the business of doing little else but capitalizing on past successes — it’s not surprising that another entry has made its way to theaters. After all, it’s no coincidence that only one of the first 10 pictures produced by Pixar was a sequel, whereas a whopping seven of the last 11 have been follow-ups.
And so we have Toy Story 4, an enjoyable outing that nevertheless puts a small dent in the overall worthiness of the beloved franchise. In this one, cowboy Woody (voiced as always by Tom Hanks) has gone from being Andy’s favorite toy to new owner Bonnie’s least favorite plaything, relegated to the dusty closet while Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack) and the rest of the gang continue to enjoy quality time with the little moppet. But Woody finds himself with a new purpose once Bonnie builds her own toy in class. That would be Forky (Tony Hale), a spork who insists he’s not a toy but “trash.”
Woody finds himself perpetually having to prevent Forky from diving into the nearest rubbish bin (a great running gag), but matters take a darker turn once Woody and Forky find themselves separated from Bonnie and the other toys. They end up first in an antique store, where they run afoul of a doll named Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) and her army of creepy ventriloquist dummies (lookalikes all named Vincent), and then at a carnival, where Woody finds himself reunited with his lost love Bo Peep (Annie Potts).
The scenes in the antique shop are among the best in the movie, with the dusty old store reimagined as a spooky site where a wooden dummy might pop out of any shadow. The Vincents prove to be almost as menacing as the dolls featured in the Child’s Play and Annabelle franchises, and more sequences built on the inherent creepiness of otherwise seemingly harmless items, particularly children’s playthings, would have made for an interesting sidebar.
Aside from Woody and, to a far lesser degree, Buzz and Jessie, the old reliables are barely utilized, meaning fans of Rex (Wallace Shawn), Hamm (John Ratzenberger) and Mr. Potato Head (the late Don Rickles, resurrected by archival recordings) will be left wanting. In their place are several new characters, running the gamut from interesting to annoying. I could take or leave the Evel Knievel motorcyclist Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), but Forky is a great new addition to the canon. As for the stuffed animals Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele), they’re employed in one uproarious fantasy sequence but otherwise prove to be tiresome additions.
Toy Story 4 is entertaining and eager to please, but what it’s lacking is the gravitas of the previous three pictures, all of which not only beautifully explored the dynamics between child and toy but also worked over our emotions like Muhammad Ali pummeling a lesser opponent (for instance, who could ever forget the incinerator scene from Toy Story 3?). There are moments in this latest chapter that pull on the heartstrings ever so faintly, but for the most part, the filmmakers are more focused on keeping the proceedings popping … and on keeping those cash registers ka-chinging.