TOY STORY 4 - She's Just Not That Into You
“Toy Story 4”, ultimately, is a story about letting go after a relationship comes to an end.
It can be crushing to see a lifelong relationship come to an end. Too many memories have been forged and too many good times have been had for it all to just suddenly stop. When one person moves on from the relationship, the other is usually left to pick up the pieces while trying to deal with the heavy emotional toll. They immediately feel lost and try to find a way out of the funk. This can manifest in several ways, but immediately clinging to another a relationship tends to be a popular choice. The person will do everything they can to try and make the new relationship just like the previous one. Unfortunately for them, though, things can never be the same. They are with a different person with different feelings and needs, and problems are certain to develop sooner rather than later. If you’re wondering why I’m opening things this way, it is because I’ve basically just summed up the overall theme of “Toy Story 4”.
The main through line of “Toy Story 4”, which is directed by Josh Cooley, is the fact that Woody (Tom Hanks) is having a hard time coming to grips with the fact he’s now Bonnie’s toy and not Andy’s. With Andy, Woody was the favorite. With Bonnie, though, he often gets relegated to the closet and doesn’t even get to “run the room” like he has been accustomed to doing. Woody does his best to suppress what’s really happening and tries his hardest to help Bonnie, especially when she’s frightened about going to kindergarten.
This leads to the introduction of the film’s newest main character, Forky (Tony Hale). Forky is a decorated spork Bonnie makes as part of an arts and crafts activity. She immediately warms up to it and kindergarten as a whole. Woody, seeing his kid happy, tries to show Forky the ropes, but all Forky wants to do is return to the trash because that is what he is. Forky’s crisis about his identity is one of the funnier earlier parts of the film.
The main plot picks up when Bonnie and her family go on a road trip. Bonnie takes along her assortment of toys, but Forky keeps trying to throw himself away. When he ends up out of the family’s R.V., Woody goes after him and convinces him he needs to be a toy to help Bonnie. The duo happen upon an antique store after Woody spots the lamp that belongs to Bo Peep (Annie Potts). The store is also the home of Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) and her army of ventriloquist dummies. Gabby Gabby is in search of a new voice box to satisfy a potential child in her life, and she sets her eyes on Woody.
Woody manages to escape, but Forky is left behind. Woody ends up actually finding Bo Peep, who now lives a life as a hardened but liberated lost toy. She also helps other lost toys try to find new owners and has quite a different outlook on life than Woody does. At the same time, Buzz (Tom Hanks) leaves the R.V. in search of Woody and ends up at a carnival. This is where he is introduced to Ducky and Bunny (Key and Peele), two stuffed animal prizes. The whole gang ends up getting together, along with the likes of Duke Kaboom (Keanu Reeves), in an attempt to get Forky away from Gabby Gabby and back to Bonnie.
That should be enough of the plot to tell you what’s going on and what to expect without giving away too much of what the film is actually trying to say. We’ve talked about the main theme of the film, or at least what I think is the main theme, but this being a Pixar film, there are some other elements to consider. The re-introduction of Bo Peep as a liberated toy is a breath of fresh air and helps Woody see there can be another way for life post-Andy. It also helps that Annie Potts does a fantastic job of giving her voice a bit of an edge while maintaining a caring spirit underneath.
What it means to actually be a toy is another key thing “Toy Story 4” tries to get us to consider. On one hand, you have Forky. He is created out of literal garbage and that is what causes him to think he’s nothing but garbage. With Woody’s help and even Gabby Gabby’s help, Forky realizes he now has a special place in Bonnie’s life. He is something that is going to bring her happiness and warm memories. Only an actor like Tony Hale could bring a character like Forky to life.
On the flip side, you have Gabby Gabby. All she wants is to be loved by a child, but her “disability” prevents that from happening. She is the film’s antagonist, but I would not call her a flat out villain. She is definitely not a heavy like Lotso is in “Toy Story 3”. The motivation for her actions is understandable, and, frankly, her arc might be the best in the overall film. I will say her resolution is the one that hit me in the emotions harder than any other point of the film. Christina Hendricks does a fantastic job with her voice performance of the character.
The other strong points of the film belong to the new additions to the cast. Keanu Reeves is absolutely perfect in his role as Duke Kaboom, Canada’s greatest stunt-man. He suffers harrowing flashbacks involving an incident with a previous owner, and it’s is the thing that bubbles under the surface of his hilarious posturing. The other two new additions, Key and Peele, well, are what you’d expect from Key and Peele riffing off each other. Laughs will come out pretty much any time they are on screen together.
The film, though, belongs to Woody and his story. This means the other toys, even Buzz, get relegated in screen time and importance. “Toy Story 3” ended with Buzz saying goodbye to Andy and his previous life. Many would argue it was a perfect ending to the film and series as whole. “Toy Story 4” takes the risk of showing what life is like when one person moves on while the other doesn’t. Let’s just say they do so via the metaphor of a lost toy.
It’s not easy, clean, or without strife to move on from something or someone. It forces one to look inside themselves and make hard decisions. I won’t be shocked when reviews compare Woody to a clingy boyfriend, type so scared of what a little distance might bring. Many of those elements can be applied to the film itself. The franchise continues to cling to us even when we thought closure happened. “Toy Story 4” is not perfect, but it does cause us to consider some important ideas and emotions.
Sometimes it is best to move on, but it is hard to come to grips with that reality.