Honestly, the Toy Story films are something rare. Never feeling like a cash grab when you actually watch them, they stand together in a way other animated franchises rarely do….even from Pixar.
Each film finds some new approach to its characters, new and thoughtful hopes and fears. And this time it is no different. Though, the big questions are…well bigger.
Before the story begins proper, the film addresses why we did not see Bo Peep in the third film. Granted, Bo is mentioned in a moment of that film as having been given to a new home, but here we get an action packed opener set several years ago, when the toys were still Andy’s. Unlike the previous two films, which showed us Andy’s imagination, this sequence is the toys trying to save another toy in danger of being lost in a storm. This sets Bo up as being a bit more action oriented, since in earlier films, she is never given a lot to do, other than be the presumed love interest of Woody.
Everyone is shocked to find Bo is being given away, as Molly (Andy’s little sister) no longer is interested her. Bo tells Woody it will be okay and then the film picks up present time, with young Bonnie terrified of her first day at Kindergarten. Against everyone’s recommendations, Woody stows away with Bonnie. At school, she creates a little friend she nicknames Forky. When Woody sees how much joy he brings Bonnie, he becomes convinced he must protect Forky at all costs.
When the family takes a road trip, Woody and Forky become separated, they run into several obstacles when trying to get back to the family.
And honestly, the film works most of the time. What happens to lost toys? Well, here we see a whole tribe under the loose care of Bo Peep. I liked this adventuresome Bo Peep who represents a possibility that has never occurred to Woody.
There are also a lot of fun new characters, such as Duke Caboom and Giggle McDimples.
The biggest problem of the film is its central conflict character. Gabby Gabby is set up right away as a dark character. We eventually learn the reasons why, and unlike Lotso in part three, she is offered a redemptive arc. Unfortunately, it is so rushed that it makes things very problematic. I was not sure initially if it bothered me…but how it plays out could have been done in such a better way.
However, largely, this film is very entertaining and many times managed to tug at my heart strings more than once. I liked the characters and had a good time overall. This is not a quartet of near perfect films due to a few issues with Toy Story 4, but it is a pretty solid set of films. Toy Story 4 could have used another pass, but it is a strongly entertaining film.