Directed by: Josh Cooley
Written by: Stephany Folsom, Andrew Stanton
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Keanu Reeves, Joan Cusack, Christina Hendricks, Madeleine McGraw
Released: June 20, 2019
Grade: A

Toy Story 4

There are few movie studios (if any) who could boast of four consecutive films in a franchise that have been as good as those offered by Disney and Pixar with Toy Story.  They’ve had different directors, different producers and different writers but somehow, the ingredients have come together perfectly each time to create funny, intelligent, sentimental movies that appeal to audiences of all ages.

Released back in 2010, Toy Story 3 culminated with the adult Andy handing over his beloved toys to a new childhood owner, Bonnie, before heading off to college.  It was a sweet, feel-good finale that confirmed these chatty toys weren’t destined scrap heap and could entertain someone else… for a few more years at least.

Toy Story 4 wastes no time in tugging at the heartstrings.  Bonnie is on the verge of starting kindergarten and her taste in toys has evolved.  She’s looking for a female to rule over them and so she’s stripped Woody (Hanks) of his sheriff’s title and pinned his coveted badge on cowgirl Jessie (Cusack).  Bonnie still regularly plays with her toys on her bedroom floor but poor Woody has been relegated to the darkened closet.

There’s no point getting too sad because a resilient Woody is quick to prove himself.  He sneaks into Bonnie’s backpack (it comes complete with a see through window) and keeps a close eye during her nervous first day at kindergarten.  It’s during “craft time” that a lonely Bonnie, in search of a friend, decides to literally make one.  She takes a plastic spork from the rubbish bin and then uses popsicle sticks, pipe cleaner, googly eyes and playdough to provide its face and limbs.

“Forky” (voiced by Tony Hale) quickly comes to life but it’s clear he has psychological issues.  He knows he’s trash physically but he also thinks he’s trash metaphorically!  Rather than interact with the other toys and serve as Bonnie’s valued companion, Forky just wants to hide alone in rubbish bins where it’s “safe and cosy”.  It falls upon the experienced Woody to talk sense into Forky and help build his self-confidence.

There’s much more to this deep, multi-layered story but rather than give it all away, you’re best to see the film for yourself.  A campervan, a struggling antique store and a packed amusement park serve as the setting for the adventures that follow.  A few old favourites don’t get much screen time (e.g. Rex, Mr Potato Head) but that’s necessary to make room for the horde of fun new characters with a voice list including Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Christina Hendricks and Keanu Reeves.

I’ve always found it ironic that the toys in this series have more emotional authenticity than human characters in many live action movies.  Writers Stephany Folsom and Andrew Stanton have crafted a terrific script filled with great dialogue and laced with exquisite metaphors.  It has a lot to say about the value of companionship, the way we change over time, and the importance of helping those in need.  A subplot involving the reintroduced Bo Peep (Potts) and her quest for independence also carries weight.

For this 4th instalment, the directorial reins have been handed to first-time feature director John Cooley who began his career at Pixar in 2003 as a 23-year-old intern working in the Story Department.  He’s clearly soaked up all the learnings from the past 15 years as this is well-polished production.  The cinematography stands out (feels weird to be saying that about an animated movie) and Oscar winning composer Randy Newman is back with another satisfying music score.

If you’re looking for a reason to smile, Toy Story 4 will provide.