Toy Story 4 debuts 24 years after our introduction to Buzz and Woody. The movies in the series have been spaced out and feel targeted to the same group of viewers as they age. I was seven when the first movie came out and was graduating college when Toy Store 3 came out. As Andy was saying goodbye to his beloved childhood toys, I was saying hello to the professional world. Toy Story 4 feels very much targeted to my generation as we continue to move through the real world, start families of our own, and face general uncertainty in the world. The messages in this installment feel way over kids’ heads, but having not revisited the original movie in over a decade, maybe that was always the case.
In true Pixar fashion, your heart strings get tugged immediately. The first scenes effectively summarize the first three movies in ten minutes. Anyone that cried at the end of Toy Story 3 may get glassy-eyed, but the montage isn’t as emotional as a full-length movie. The montage reminds us that Woody is our spirit guide through this journey just as he has been since 1995.
Woody was Andy’s most beloved toy, but now finds himself cast aside by Bonnie. Woody and Buzz’s relationship is also not as strong as it once was. Buzz has adapted to the new status quo while Woody is continuing to exert his will over everyone else despite many objections. The most blatant example is when Woody heads to school with Bonnie. Woody is without a flock to shepherd and finds a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. Fortunately, at school, Woody finds the problem he has been looking for: Forky. Forky is a spork Bonnie recovers from the trash can and transforms into a toy. Once Forky is created, he comes to life like any other toy in this universe. He is voiced by Tony Hale channeling a little Buster Bluth. Since Forky wasn’t originally a toy, he immediately struggles with the concept. He spends most of the movie trying to become trash once again and fulfill his original use.
Forky is used to represent those that feel lost in the world. He has no self-worth as a toy and seeks the comfort of a pre-determined path. Many twenty- and thirty-somethings who grew up with the franchise are at points in their lives where they have to make their own paths. Forky represents seeking direction and purpose in life. Woody is the guiding hand we so often seek out to help us find purpose and direction.
The B plot line revolves around a doll that was defective from her creation; her voice box never worked. Gabby Gabby, the doll, rules over an antique shop with a gang of ventriloquist dummies. The dummies have no voices of their own and set a very creepy mood. Gabby Gabby represents those of us who feel we have always been missing something in our lives. Our own existential dread is manifested in her sadness of never having been loved. Woody is reluctant this time to help Gabby Gabby, someone that truly needs it. To help someone else, Woody needs to give up part of himself. Gabby Gabby came across as a sociopath early in the movie but my perception of her changed as the movie progressed. Her intentions are genuine, but her actions are deceptive.
The funniest parts of the movie are the new characters. Keanu Reeves is in high demand these days, but his character fits in well. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are as hilarious as ever voicing two stuffed animals literally sewn together: Ducky and Bunny. The biggest laughs come from Ducky’s and Bunny’s plans; our theater erupted in laughter. The last scene with Ducky and Bunny may be a little intense for some young viewers, but many found it hilarious during my viewing.
Forky, Duke Kaboom, and Ducky and Bunny were the funniest parts of this movie. They were all used effectively to lighten the mood of a fairly serious movie. This is the same formula that we have had for the last 24 years and it continue to work. The emotional impact of Toy Story 4 is not on the same level as Toy Story 3, but it comes at the right time in my life to relate to. Pixar always hides mature topics and messages in its movies and Toy Story is the blueprint they have been following. Kids will enjoy this movie but the target audience is people around 30 and that is part of why it is so great.