“Toy Story 4” Movie Review


     Last summer, I was standing in line at Disney’s California Adventure, waiting to ride Toy Story Midway Mania, when I noticed something that appeared out of the norm. At least to me.  There was a family standing in front of us and the father was carrying his 2-3 year old son in a backpack that allowed the child to face forward and have full use of his arms.  In his hands was an iPhone he was using to play some sort of video game, an activity that had his undivided attention.  Imagine that for a second.  A young child who is literally in Disneyland, and yet still needs to be pacified with a game on an expensive device since apparently the sights, sounds, and smells of the Happiest Place On Earth aren’t enough nowadays to wrangle a kid’s attention.  Not to mention the cost of that device and the fact twenty years ago our parents would never have let a 2 year old come within ten yards of something that costs one thousand dollars.

     Movies that are actually about something, even if the issue is hidden deep within the core of its narrative, typically succeed as being much more than merely entertainment.  The filmmakers behind “Toy Story 4”, the fourth entry in Disney/Pixar’s flagship franchise, clearly set out to bring forth the fact that society has allowed children to skip what is perhaps the most important portion of their childhoods in favor of mindless technology that slowly poisons their impressionable brains.  Take the central human character in the film, Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), a pint sized kindergartener who spends her first day in class creating her own toy, a spork decorated with pipe cleaners for arms and popsicle sticks for feet.  When she completes her project, she affectionately calls it Forky, and immediately treats it as her most prized possession.  She’s proud of it because she created it.

     Screenwriters Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom provide “Toy Story 4” with a story that takes place in modern times, but harks back to an era when kids used their own imaginations to create characters that would populate their own worlds.  If you didn’t have exactly what you needed, you would make it out of paper or use a prop of some kind.  And that’s exactly what Bonnie does, introducing her new pal, Forky, to the rest of her toys, which have been lovingly handed down to her from Andy in the earlier installments.  Of course, as we already know, when the human characters leave the room, the toys come alive and live within a world all their own, while also holding dear the fact they are at the service of a child.

     Forky, voiced by Tony Hale, initially believes he is meant to be trash and doesn’t understand the new found responsibility as Bonnie’s favorite toy.  Woody (Tom Hanks), along with the rest of the toys including Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), attempt to convince Forky of the importance of his newfound situation, but a road trip via an RV where Forky leaves the bunch, forces Woody to go after him, creating the adventure that ensues.  Along the way, the toys end up at a carnival.  Where they gain the help of two hilarious stuffed animals named Bunny (Jordan Peele) and Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key), as the group attempts to rescue Forky from a near by antique / junk store.

     There they meet Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), an older doll who longs to be loved by a child and is willing to do whatever she has to in order for that to happen.  A stunt motorcycle riding action figure called Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) also joins in the fun as Woody races to get Forky back to Bonnie before her and her family move on from the carnival.  Even Woody’s flame, Bo Peep (Annie Potts), finds her way into the action as director Josh Cooley skillfully navigates the characters through a series of harrowing subplots and daring escapes.

     Most likely saw 2010’s “Toy Story 3” as the by design ending of the venerable series, leaving the narrative at a high point and the franchise with the status of being called a classic.  What “Toy Story 4” proves is with the right story and script, these characters can not only return a fourth time around, but also several more times in the future.  With the characters already a strong suit, the colorful worlds and crisp 3D animation created by the filmmakers bring forth a sense of awe and inspiration.  This is truly one of the best films of the year.  But the overall theme brings me right back to that day in the Toy Story Midway Mania line.

     There is a scene late in the film where a runaway RV is being chased by a caravan of police cars, as onlookers in the background are recording the incident with their smartphones.  Other than that, there isn’t a device to be scene.  Not in the hands of Bonnie’s parents, and certainly not in the hands of Bonnie.  Only the world created by a little girl and the toys that occupy it.  It is in fact Bonnie’s creativity that drives the narrative and brings forth the sense of excitement and adventure you feel in the theater.  All of that from a plastic utensil and a few arts and crafts supplies.  But the reality is, today’s kids wouldn’t give Forky the time of day.  All of this because parents have allowed children to become so entitled that a kid who hasn’t reached grade school age yet demands an iPhone.  What have we done?  GRADE: A