After nine years, a sequel we never thought would happen is happening. Disney’s Toy Story 4 hits theaters in a week and a half.
This time, Woody and the gang are looking after Bonnie now that Andy has left for college. When Bonnie makes herself a spork toy named Forky during kindergarten orientation, Woody realizes that Forky is now the most important toy in Bonnie’s life and must be protected. The toys soon find themselves on an RV road trip with Bonnie and her parents – but encountering old friends, new toys, and the challenge of keeping an eye on Forky is more than they bargained for.
When the fourth movie was announced, fans were skeptical. Toy Story 3 had such a beautiful, fitting ending. Was it even necessary to make another movie? Could a fourth movie hold up to the perfect ending of the third? The answer to all of that is yes. Read on for three reasons that make Toy Story 4 a must-see movie when it hits theaters.
1. The Poignant Life Lessons
As with all Pixar films, the basic story is simple, the subtext anything but. On the surface, Toy Story 4 is a road trip movie. But quite a few of the characters, particularly Woody, are challenged in ways they never expected and grow considerably by the end of the movie. Loyal-to-the-core Woody is determined to help his “kid,” Bonnie, no matter the cost to himself. Staunchly refusing to accept that his time with her has passed and it’s time for him to move on, Woody continues to do what he thinks is best for Bonnie – even though it’s clear it may not be what’s best for him. Change is scary, after all, and so is letting go, particularly for the kind of person – or toy – that have always defined themselves by being of service to others. But life is inevitably about change, and growth sometimes happens when you stop worrying about everyone else and make a decision purely for yourself and your own happiness. That’s Woody’s struggle throughout the movie: What kind of toy does he want to be? How does he fit into the world? Anyone who has ever faced a monumental decision, anyone who has struggled to figure out who they were (i.e. every single one of us) will relate deeply to the selfless Woody trying to make sense of it all.
Christina Hendricks’ Gabby Gabby also offers another gentle lesson for kids: You never know what someone is going through when you first meet them, so withhold snap judgments. Hendricks gets to lean into her sinister side with Gabby, a porcelain doll with a seemingly malevolent agenda (and, okay, her army of creepy ventriloquist dummies doesn’t help), but all is not as it appears. Gabby’s character arc is one of the most surprising and fulfilling of the entire movie, and it’s a credit to Hendricks and writers Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom that Gabby goes from being one of the best villains of the Toy Story franchise to one of the most empathetic characters in under two hours, every bit of it earned.
2. It Is Hysterically Funny
Toy Story 4 is easily the funniest of the four movies. Newcomers Keanu Reeves (Duke Caboom), Jordan Peele (Bunny), and Keegan-Michael Key (Ducky) provide the majority of the laughs. As stunt rider toy Duke Caboom, Reeves is allowed the rare opportunity to lean into his comedic side. Imagine a character that is a caricature of the way the internet has mythologized and aggrandized Keanu Reeves with a heavy dose of over-the-top melodrama and add a dash of effortless swagger. Duke Caboom is both suave and wildly inept at the same time and his showboating theatrics had our press screening in stitches.
Likewise, Ducky and Bunny bring shades of Key & Peele back to the screen. The constantly bickering stuffed animals have outsized imaginations and violent streaks that belie their cute, squishy faces. A few scenes in the movie involve them coming up with plans to free their new friends that leave Woody and the rest utterly gobsmacked with horror and the audience rolling with laughter. If the obvious plan is “sneak over, unlock the door,” rest assured Ducky and Bunny’s plan involves terror, violence, and graphic displays of imagination. It’s admittedly daring and unexpected in a Toy Story film, but the incongruity works to comedic perfection.
3. The Visuals Are Astounding
What a difference nine years makes. The FX technology has improved in leaps and bounds. Pixar deserves every bit of praise it will inevitably earn for the level of detail put into this movie, from the glossy sheen of Bo’s porcelain glaze to the stitchwork in Woody’s knees. Every single texture is rendered in a way that makes the toys and backgrounds seem alive; you can practically feel the roughness of the fabric, the hardness of the plastic. Every grain of wood is visible, every speck of rust clear, the shine of light reflecting dully off burnished metal surfaces as motes of dust dance in lazy beams of sunlight.
Beyond the rendering of a thousand different textures is also the fact that the set pieces themselves are the most visually complex that Pixar has ever pulled off. The antique store alone required thousands – literally thousands – of items to be designed and rendered in the background. And I can’t possibly imagine how difficult it must have been to bring the carnival setting to life with all the lights and swirling colors. It is truly a technical masterpiece, and one of the most visually eye-popping animated films ever made. Much has been written about the death of Disney’s traditional 2D animation, most of it mourning the loss. But if Toy Story 4 is the example of all that can be accomplished in animation with CGI, then I can not wait to see how Disney and Pixar push the boundaries even further.
Toy Story 4 is in theaters on June 21. Hit the button below for tickets!