“Toy Story 4”, the latest animation feature film from Pixar Animation Studios, is another entertaining entry of the endearing franchise which has lasted for more than 20 years. While its existence seems rather redundant at first due to that nearly perfect finale in “Toy Story 3” (2010), the film soon comes to delight and entertain us a lot as deftly handling its interesting ideas and colorful characters via sharp wit and good-hearted humor, and it eventually delivers us a substantial amount of emotional power just like its predecessors.
The story begins at the point not long after the ending of “Toy Story 3”. As many of you remember, Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) and his toy friends including Buzz (voiced by Tim Allen) and Jessie (voiced by Joan Cusack) were handed to a young girl named Bonnie (voiced by Madeleine McGraw) when their longtime owner grew up to be a lad leaving for his college, and things have been pretty nice for them as they become more adjusted to their new young owner, but then there comes a new challenge. Bonnie is soon going to have her first day in a local kindergarten, and, like a caring parent, Woody cannot help but become worried about whether she will be fine at the kindergarten without him and other toys, though he has not gotten much attention from her during recent days.
In the end, Woody decides to slip into Bonnie’s backpack while she and her parents are busy with preparing for her first kindergarten day. As witnessing how hard and difficult it is for Bonnie to adjust herself to a new environment, he comes to feel that he must do anything to help Bonnie, and his consequent action induces Bonnie to make a crude stick figure, which actually helps her a lot in interacting well with her teacher and classmates.
As a new toy of hers, that crude stick figure in question becomes alive as soon as it is created. Named ‘Forky’ (voiced by Tony Hale) by Bonnie, he is quickly thrown into panic as quite baffled by his own existence, and we get one of the funniest moments in the film as Woody tries to calm down Forky while hiding themselves from Bonnie and other human figures as much as he can.
Anyway, Woody manages to take Forky safely to Bonnie’s home, and the other toys in Bonnie’s room warmly greet Forky, but he remains to be as confused and frightened as before. When Bonnie and her parents later come to take a road trip together, Forky frequently attempts to escape, and that certainly brings more headaches to Woody and other toys brought along with them.
Of course, Woody subsequently finds himself stuck with Forky when they happen to be separated from Bonnie and other toys, and that is when he eventually finds a way to make Forky accept that he is really something precious to Bonnie. As Woody talks to Forky a bit about his long history, the movie generates some nostalgic poignancy for its audiences, and that is wonderfully counterbalanced by Forky’s endearing goofiness.
However, it turns out that their journey back to Bonnie and their fellow toys is more difficult than expected. When Woody and Forky finally arrive at a carnival where Bonnie and her parents stay for a day, Woody sees something familiar inside a local antique shop, and that leads them to a baby doll named Gabby Gabby (voiced by Christina Hendricks), who wants to take away a certain small object from Woody for attaining what she has desired for years. Although she mainly functions as the antagonist of the story, Gabby Gabby are depicted with a surprising amount of empathy and understanding, and you will feel sorry for her lonely and miserable status.
The story becomes more interesting when Woody later encounters his old girlfriend Bo Peep (voiced by Annie Potts), who, as already shown from the prologue scene, was separated from Woody and other toy figures 9 years ago. While looking as gentle and tender as before on the surface, Bo Peep has been turned into someone as feisty and lively as Jessie, and Woody accordingly comes to depend a lot on her for returning safely to Bonnie and his friends along with Forky.
In the meantime, the story also focuses on Bonnie’s other toys as required, and I must point out that this part is the weakest spot in the film. While I enjoyed a running gag involved with the ‘inner voices’ of Buzz, it eventually became a little tiresome to me, and I was a bit disappointed to see that the other main toy characters of the film are usually more or less than background figures, though it is undeniably fun to see how all of them and some other toy figures including Duke Caboom (voiced by Keanu Reeves) and Ducky and Bunny (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, respectively) work together for Woody and Forky’s safe return during the literally bumpy climax sequence of the film.
Despite its several weak aspects, the screenplay by Stephany Folsom and Andrew Stanton, which is based on the story by no less than eight writers including Folsom, Stanton, and director Josh Cooley, keeps pulling off a series of emotional moments to be appreciated, and the film eventually culminates to the finale as powerful as that tear-jerking one of “Toy Story 3”. I will not go into details here for not spoiling anything, but I can tell you instead that moment is something you have never thought you needed, and you will be touched a lot especially if you grew up along with the franchise like I did. Yes, this is basically another goodbye, but “Toy Story 4” did its job much better than I anticipated, and I am certainly glad for that.