Another Winner from the Creative Team of ‘Toy Story 4’

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CHICAGO – When you’ve brought to life one of the greatest animation series ever produced, there is not much to prove. The “Toy Story” series has relied on the strong and emotional stories since 1995, and after a nine year break comes back for one more intriguing spin for their characters, finding a new path in “Toy Story 4.”

The premise is the promising element in this story, continuing the tale of the Toys from the third (and most emotional) installment. The creative team takes a totally different track in this chapter, allowing the Toys to be more autonomous from their human playmates, while still commenting on the value of toys, especially when one becomes special because it is manufactured from imagination. There is a lovely freedom for one of the Toy characters (Bo Peep), which gives the atmosphere a welcome feminist/humanist vibe. The 1970s of Toyland is also nicely represented, with the Canadian knockoff of a popular Evel Knievel action figure (hilarious). Toys will be toys in this one, “to infinity and beyond.”

Woody the Cowboy doll (voice of Tom Hanks) is feeling a bit left out lately, as his human playmate Bonnie is growing to Kindergarten age and thinking outside the toy box in what she plays with … even making Jesse (Joan Cusack) the new sheriff. The little girl reluctantly transitions to her first school day, and Woody tags along in her backpack, hoping to get back into her good graces.

Last gasp? The Cast of ‘Toy Story 4’
Photo credit: Walt Disney Pictures

He observes the somewhat lonely Bonnie, as she creates a new toy on her own, with Woody’s help. Forky (Tony Hale) is the girl’s new favorite, even though he’s not sure why he’s alive. The whole Toy gang heads out on vacation in an RV with Bonnie’s family, with Forky escaping at his first opportunity. Woody’s new mission is to retrieve the new favorite, explain to him why he exists, and survive an adventure in an antique shop, where toys like Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) and Duke Kaboom (Keanu Reeves) exist to be displayed, but not played.

Lots of excellent comedy in this one, courtesy of Forky. His existential questioning of existence is epic, as he longs to revert to the trash from which he was created. Duke Kaboom is another hilarious character, putting the “can” in Canada, and evoking an era where knockoff versions of popular toys were oftentimes better than the originals (and there is a nice nod to how the “revving” function on those motorcycles never quite worked). It’s the kind of humor that will have you laughing just thinking about it.

The story is all about the Toys, in the sense that they are serving their second human playmate, but the transition away from their necessity is just beginning. The scenes in the antique store conjure a type of purgatory … toys to be displayed but not played. The store is guarded by old timey ventriloquist dolls, and their creep factor is a welcome element in the sometimes sticky sweetness of Toy Story (although the young-uns might have some nightmares). The drama created is ripe for Tim Allen’s Buzz Lightyear, and his revelations become the impetus for this chapter’s emotion.

The Forky (Voice of Tony Hale) on the Road with Woody (Tom Hanks) in ‘Toy Story 4’
Photo credit: Walt Disney Pictures

There is actually a weird sexual tension between Woody and Bo Peep, which again is unexpected and quite appropriate. Peep has been on her own for awhile, realizing her timing for escape. Her Mad Max-ian existence, tempered by the comic relief of her three headed sheep companion, is a brave and crazy nod to all girly girls who need to find their way in a cruel world. Well done.

Is this the end for the Toy Story gang? If this is true then it’s an appropriate end, because freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose … and that’s how the production team approached the installment. It’s an open ended conclusion, achieving beyond infinity in an endless amount of imagined possibilities, living in the minds of the generation that loved those silly little Toys.

“Toy Story 4” opens everywhere on June 7th in IMAX, Dolby RPX, 3D and regular screenings. See local listings for theater format and show times. Featuring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keanu Reeves, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Christina Hendricks and Don Rickles. Screenplay by Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom. Directed by Josh Cooley. Rated “G” senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

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