The world was first introduced to Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and the rest of the Toy Story gang back in 1995. It was also the film that introduced us to Pixar, the gold standard when it comes to animated films. There was Toy Story 2 in 1999, then we had to wait eleven years for Toy Story 3 in 2010. They were all incredible and what was most impressive about the films is they managed to appeal to kids while also tackling adult themes. Everyone truly can enjoy these films…that’s a rare feat. The third one ended so emotionally and so beautifully I really didn’t think a fourth film was warranted. Nine years later, here we are with the release of Toy Story 4, and how could I ever have doubted Pixar? It feels as if this chapter was always necessary now that I’ve seen it, and if this is the end, it’s a triumphant, emotional, and epic conclusion to the Toy Story saga.
The film starts out with a flashback to nine years ago (sometime between the events of Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3). While the gang is mounting a rescue operation to save RC from being swept down a storm drain, a man comes over Andy’s house and Andy’s mom sells Bo Peep and her sheep to the man for his daughter. Woody (Tom Hanks) tries to get Bo Peep (Annie Potts) to sneak out of the box and stay with him and the other toys, but she assures him that it’s ok. Another kid needs her now. She tells Woody he can come with her, and although he’s clearly tempted, he decides he can’t leave Andy behind.
Flash to the present day: Woody, Buzz (Tim Allen), and the rest of the gang live at Bonnie’s house now, the little girl Andy gave his toys to at the end of the last film. Most of the toys are content in their new life, but it appears that Woody has been left out of playtime by Bonnie recently. He’s still trying to be optimistic, and he sneaks into her backpack on the day of her kindergarten orientation to try and help out if Bonnie becomes too overwhelmed. She does, and he sneakily places a spork and some supplies in front of her during arts and crafts. She creates a toy-spork she names “Forky”. She takes him home and Woody is shocked to see Forky (Tony Hale) come to life!
Woody introduces Forky to the gang. He believes he is trash and should be thrown away but all of other toys don’t allow him to do this. Bonnie and her parents go on a road trip and take the toys with them. Forky is still going on about being trash and ends up jumping out of the window. Woody thinks Forky is the key to Bonnie’s happiness at the moment and the key to her getting through kindergarten, so he jumps out after Forky to go find him and bring him back to Bonnie. Woody teaches Forky about being a toy and why it’s great on their way to the RV park where Bonnie, her parents, and the other toys are.
When the reach the town the RV park is in, Woody notices a Bo Peep lamp in the window of an antique shop. He drags Forky inside with him to see if Bo is possibly there somewhere. They stumble upon a doll named Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) and the puppets that accompany her. She offers to help Woody and Forky find Bo, but she soon reveals that what she really wants from Woody is his voice box since hers is broken and she believes this is why no children want to purchase her from the shop. Woody and Forky see a potential opportunity to escape and try, but Forky is captured while Woody makes it out in the hands of another kid. Woody is brought to a playground by this little girl, and it’s here that he unexpectedly reunites with Bo! She has no owner anymore and she travels around helping lost toys find owners. They head off together to try and save Forky from Gabby Gabby.
Meanwhile, Buzz is searching for Woody since he never returned to the RV. He seems a bit confused about how to take charge on his own, and he seeks “advice” by pressing the buttons of his voice box and seeing what they say. He ends up at the carnival nearby and somehow finds himself stuck as a prize at one of the game booths. Here he meets Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele), two plush toys who he ends up escaping with.
I don’t want to give away more of the plot from here, but the rest is fantastic. The deeper themes of the film like finding one’s purpose, letting go, and moving on are explored all while our favorite toys figure out how to save the day. Forky, Ducky, and Bunny are all great additions to the cast, as is Duke Caboom, a Canadian stuntman toy voiced by none other than Keanu Reeves. Let that sink in. He’s glorious.
I wouldn’t say it’s the best film in the series, although they’re all top tier films when it comes to quality. The only glaring negative for me is that the classic toys we’ve all come to love throughout the saga don’t seem to have many lines or much importance in this one outside of Woody. Even Buzz has a diminished role. I think it’s important to go into this one knowing it’s Woody’s story. It always has been deep down, but this one is truly his film.
As someone who has grown up with the series (I was six years old when the first one came out), it always amazes me how much they resonate with each stage of my life. They’re truly just as enjoyable for adults as they are for kids, if not more. This one is no different. All of the themes they’ve been exploring with these toys, which mirror many of our own real life complexities and feelings, comes to a head for an emotional ending to the Toy Story journey. It’s a beautiful ending, one that had me and nearly everyone around me in tears. It’s happy, sad, and meaningful all at the same time, and I do hope that this is where they truly leave it be. Yet again, job well done. To infinity, and beyond!