Deviating a little from the timeline, it’s been a little while since Andy went off to college and let Bonnie inherit all his toys, including Woody, who he at first thought he would be bringing along. Now Bonnie’s about to start Kindergarten, which means processes she knows nothing about; being away from her family, her house, her toys, filled with kids and big teachers and instructions she doesn’t know if she’ll be able to handle. Woody notices her intimidation and stows away during Kindergarten orientation, hoping to figure out how to calm her nerves without revealing himself. During art class, a boy selfishly takes all the supplies at Bonnie’s sole table, so Woody manages to salvage some stuff for her to use, and she creates Forky, a homemade toy who doesn’t realize he’s a toy. On top of that, Forky is also alive like the other toys but welcomes the comfort of the trash like a wasp likes the comfort of an apple core. Added to the pyramid with Woody underneath trying to hold it together is a road trip to prepare Bonnie for the upcoming full year, and where they stop Woody and the gang find new friends, new enemies, and old friends they long thought they’d never see again.
Now, I’m not a very big Toy Story fan and never have been, which puts me in a giant minority. That doesn’t mean I dislike the films. I just didn’t watch them as a kid, because, when I watched other Pixar productions that involved monsters who come to our world and scare kids to power their society, a fish that went across the ocean to find his kidnapped son, and a world of disgraced superheroes trying to stop a robot who’s killed dozens of them...a story about toys who come alive when humans aren’t around and play...it didn’t appeal to me. For me, I’ve always preferred the Shrek movies. Still, Toy Story 1, 2, and 3 are all very good B+ movies, especially since the first one really was the first ever animated feature. And as much as I wanted Toy Story 4 to stand alongside the others wholeheartedly...I really can’t quite.
All of the charm of the toys is retained, and the sets and action scenes dazzle as always, and though the toys imitating the Goosebumps antagonist may give goosebumps to small children, we slightly get over our fear of them when we see what they’re exactly for. Though not at all as good as in 3, there’s an escape sideplot that really does make you wonder how Woody is going to get around all these guards and traps to rescue a friend. Bunny and Ducky are as hilarious as their voice actors and Bo Peep as brave and independent as ever gives her an edge of femininity that does not feel suffocated like in The Hustle and makes her into a role model for girls, like Jessie.
I also appreciated the idea of whether it’s better to make someone else happy or make yourself happy, and how who we are sometimes plays a role in that. It also plays some heartbreaking themes about how important toys are to children growing up and trying to make it in the world, how toys are not just things but protectors for children like Bonnie who are entering a new dawn in their existence and need company they can trust will be there for them.
However, there are some glaring flaws here, which will go into light spoilers. One is that Woody becoming sidelined compared to the other toys makes the feeling of Andy giving him to Bonnie at the end of the third quite awkward, and makes us wonder if Woody would’ve been better off going to college with Andy in the first place after all. The second is the fact Bo Peep simply decides out of the blue to become someone’s new toy, despite Woody’s protests. What I would’ve done is come up with a situation where Bo was taken away and Woody didn’t have a chance to stop it nor have a hint of where she could be. The third is how for most of the movie, most of the toys stay in the R.V. during the trip. In Inside Out, three of the five main characters stayed inside in one place the whole movie, which had to be so, and it felt a bit suffocating the more I think about it, but it was in the end okay. Here it feels like a missed opportunity.
Pixar has made some of the best films of all time (the fact they’re all animation doesn’t make them have to detract from that, long live Pixar Animation Studios!) The two Incredibles movies, Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up, Brave, Monsters Inc. and University, Inside Out, Coco, they’re all so so good. But I don’t love every Pixar film, so I at least don’t have to be angry at Toy Story 4 for destroying a record of some sort.