Toy Story 4 - Movie Review by Ben Cahlamer

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Directed by: Josh Cooley

Screenplay by: Stephany Folsom and Andrew Stanton

Story by: John Lasseter, Rashida Jones, Will McCormack, Josh Cooley, Valerie LaPointe, Martin Hynes, Stephany Folsom, Andrew Stanton

Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) could have very well gone off in to the sunset with “Toy Story 3” and the world would have been okay.

Pixar had other designs for the characters who filled Andy’s life with joy. “Toy Story 4” continues in that tradition with grace, laughs and a genuine moment of self-reflection.

Many might see another adventure as a ploy to pull on the heartstrings, and the cash, of those who have been with the films since Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” played to audiences’ delight. That theme still resonates through “Toy Story 4.” Andy has gone off to college and to greater things. Bonnie has taken on the responsibility of caring for the toys.

Bonnie, who is at that preschooler age, is preoccupied with her dolls and cowgirls rather than cowboys and astronauts, but is no less aware of the fact that the hand-me-downs from Andy are a part of her life when her introduction to kindergarten is thrust upon her. She is initially resistant, but her parents know what Woody reluctantly acknowledges; that this is a part of the growing process and is ultimately necessary.

What surprised me about “Toy Story 4” is that it expands on what has come before, without changing our perception of what’s come before. The screenplay by Stephany Folsom and Andrew Stanton, story by John Lasseter, Rashida Jones, Will McCormack, Josh Cooley, Valerie LaPointe, Martin Hynes, Folsom and Stanto, treats this story with kid gloves especially as we go along with Bonnie (Madeline McGraw) to her first day. We see the growing pains with trying to integrate, socially, with other kids: we don’t make it easy on one another, which is why we take comfort in our toys.

In a moment of inspiration, Bonnie creates Forky (Tony Hale), who becomes her special friend. The herd is perfectly willing to integrate Forky, but Forky doesn’t understand what it’s like to be loved. It takes a great adventure like a late summer family vacation to make the point stick, which leads us to a whole host of new characters and some familiar friends.

Nothing about “Toy Story 4” is somber. The forward – looking story weaves our existing characters into its threads and themes, and in a very exciting way, so as not to be a continuation of the original trilogy, but as an extension of it. This is Woody’s story and some very adult themes come about as a result. It isn’t overbearing in that regard. We’re happy to see Bo Peep (Annie Potts) make a return in this film, who I found to be the most evolved of the characters, giving Woody a new outlook on what being a toy is really all about.

Forky’s existential crisis is also treated with a light touch, enough so that kids of all ages (yes, even this one) could grasp the concept. In an interesting contrast, where Bonnie was left to fend for herself in the classroom, Woody helped Forky adjust into their world; it was a nice touch that gave Forky more development and allows Woody to discover himself.

Of all the characters for this new film, the grandest was Duke Caboom, voiced by Keanu Reeves. There was cinematic joy in seeing yet another forgotten toy come back to life in a meaningful, and Canadian way. That’s no easy feat for a story where the main human character was missing.

Then again, the heart of “Toy Story” has always been Woody.

“Toy Story 4” is poetic in this regard. It is not a direct sequel to Andy’s adventures with Woody and Buzz, but the incredible storytellers at Pixar managed to cook up something new and brilliant with beautiful animation at its heart.

3.75 out of 4