I really can’t believe it’s been 9 years since Toy Story 3! It’s even more unbelievable to think that the first Toy Story came out in 1995, meaning these beloved characters have now been with us for nearly a quarter of a century! I don’t think anybody really expected, or even thought we needed, yet another sequel to these movies, as Toy Story 3 seemed to give us a natural, and highly emotional conclusion to the series. And yet here we are with number 4. Interestingly, I felt the trailers for this Toy Story didn’t really highlight anything new and exciting for the series, possibly only existing as a bit of a cash grab. Thankfully, there’s a lot here that is new and exciting, and I’m sure it will make a tonne of money too!
Toy Story 4 begins by taking us back 9 years, to a scene which helps to explain the absence of Bo Peep from the last movie, before bringing us back to present day. The gang are all right where we left them, living with Bonnie and being played with regularly. Although, worryingly for Woody, he seems to be getting left behind in Bonnie’s wardrobe on a more regular basis during the play sessions. Overlooked in favour of the other toys and, worse still, even having his sheriff badge removed and placed on Jessie!
Woody still feels a duty of care towards Bonnie though, so when a taster day at kindergarten arrives, Woody decides to accompany a very nervous Bonnie for the day, stowing away in her backpack. We then get to relive what all of us have been through at some point during our younger years – going somewhere new and feeling very alone, scared, out of your comfort zone and thinking that everyone dislikes you. Woody does his best to try and make the day more bearable for Bonnie, without being seen of course, throwing discarded craft items from the bin so that she has something to work with during craft time.
Back in Bonnie’s room later on, Woody reveals to the rest of the toys the result of Bonnie’s crafting session – a spork with googly eyes, pipe-cleaner arms and a broken ice lolly stick for feet. His name is Forky and, having effectively just been ‘born’, Forky struggles to understand who he is, what he is or why he is. He’s also constantly drawn to trash bins, as that’s where he came from. As Bonnie’s new favourite toy, Woody takes on the role of guardian, repeatedly removing Forky from the bins and ensuring that he’s never out of Bonnie’s sight in what is a very funny 15 minutes or so. So when Bonnie and her parents head out on a road trip with all the toys, and Forky leaps from the back of the RV, it’s up to Woody to go find him and bring him back to Bonnie before she notices.
The journey back to Bonnie isn’t quite that straightforward though. Side plots involving an antique store and a fairground provide lots of opportunities for drama and humour and also introduce us to some great new characters. But, Toy Story 4 is primarily about Woody and his journey of self discovery. He learns about what it means to be a toy and his experiences throughout the movie give him an insight into the very different lives that the toys he encounters have all experienced. What it’s like to be without a child, whether you desperately want to be with one or aren’t really bothered. The only downside of all of this is that the rest of our core team of characters from the original movies are pretty much sidelined, serving only to remain together back in Bonnie’s room or the RV while they wait for word back on whether or not Woody is OK. Buzz does get a bit more involved in things than the others do, but seems to have reverted to being slightly dumb in a way that we haven’t seen since the first movie.
But these are all very minor negatives. Toy Story 4 is very funny, with much of that humour stemming from the new characters, particularly stunt-rider Duke Caboom and fairground fluffy toys Ducky and Bunny. It’s definitely not as sad as Toy Story 3 was, but it does manage to be pretty emotional at times as it tugs at the heartstrings and makes you think a little bit deeper about life, death and creation. After nearly 25 years though, it’s incredible that these characters still manage to deliver such satisfyingly enjoyable movies. And if this really is the end of Toy Story movies, it’s a great way to end the series.