It’s easy to forget when “Toy Story” came out in 1995 it was the first feature-length computer-animated film to hit theaters. In spite of this technical landmark, the movie stands out to this day not because of how it was made, but because of the power of the story it told.
Through two high-quality sequels, we have followed the exploits of a room full of toys led by cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks) and spaceman Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), who navigate the world when humans’ backs are turned.
Through it all, they’ve remained loyal to each other as they strive to fulfill their ultimate purpose of making children happy.
When we last left the group in “Toy Story 3,” they were adjusting to life with their new owner Bonnie, an exuberant five-year-old with a big imagination.
With “Toy Story 4,” which maintains the franchise’s ridiculously high standards of quality and emotion, our favorite toys face new challenges, like kindergarten, a road trip, and, biggest of all, Forky.
Forky (voiced by Tony Hale) is nothing more than a spork Bonnie glues googly eyes onto at kindergarten orientation. With a pipe cleaner for arms and popsicle sticks for feet, Forky has no interest in the title of Bonnie’s new favorite toy and, after coming to life, wants nothing more than to return to the trashcan where he feels most at home.
When a family vacation takes the whole gang on a road trip, Woody, whose status in the toy box is starting to slip, makes it his personal mission to keep Forky safe even though the new toy is hellbent on getting lost.
Along the way, our beloved toys meet some old friends, like Woody’s old flame Bo Peep (Annie Potts) and some welcome additions like antique doll Gabby Gabby (Christian Hendricks) and her creepy army of ventriloquist dummies, motorcycle stuntman Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) and scene stealers Ducky and Bunny (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele), a couple of hilarious stuffed animals with a bit of a dark side.
While all of the “Toy Story” movies have dealt with themes of friendship and finding your place in the world, “Toy Story 4” drives home the fact the toys are emotional avatars for all of the parents in the audience.
When raising a child is your life’s purpose, what happens once you’ve done your job and that child doesn’t need you anymore to function in the world? The result is simultaneously satisfying and heartbreaking, and “Toy Story 4” explores this weighty subject nimbly and beautifully.
In the end, we know life is full of change and all good things must come to an end, but the lesson our plush and plastic friends want us to take away is, no matter what, we should enjoy all of the playtime we can get.
“Toy Story 4” is rated G.