PLOT A close-knit group of old toys adopt a newly-created member.
CAST Tom Hanks, Tony Hale, Annie Potts, Christina Hendricks
BOTTOM LINE Four movies in, the Pixar franchise continues to captivate. Opens in theaters on June 21.
Bring a blankie and a hankie to “Toy Story 4,” the latest in Disney-Pixar's consistently brilliant animated franchise (opening Friday, June 21). The blankie will get you in the mood for another enchanting tale of toys that spring to life, dash off on adventures and reveal inner lives as well. As for the hankie, if you’ve seen just one of these movies, you know it’s basically survival gear.
You’ll need it immediately. The film begins on moving day, when our favorite cowboy, Woody (Tom Hanks, perfect as ever), must part ways with Bo Peep (Annie Potts), a porcelain figurine who has landed in the giveaway box. Only an eighth of an inch of cardboard separates them, but Woody must obey his toyly duty to remain with the child that owns him. You’ve got to hand it to Pixar — the first ten minutes of this movie are almost as powerful as the last ten of “Casablanca.”
Fast-forward to the present, when a new little girl, Bonnie, owns Woody and the gang. (They’re all here, even the late Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head, thanks to previously unused audio.) On Bonnie’s first day of kindergarten, she makes a friend — “literally,” as Woody puts it — out of a spork and some glue-on eyes. He is Forky (Tony Hale), whose sudden birth leaves with him with a kind of permanent existential nausea. Woody appoints himself Forky's guardian, playing father figure to a newborn of sorts.
A family road trip leads to several misadventures and a crucial stopover at Second Chance Antiques, where childless toys gather dust. Director Josh Cooley turns this into a terrifically creepy place, populated by silent ventriloquist dummies and a deceptively well-mannered doll named Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks). Lightening the mood here are Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as the antic carnival toys Ducky and Bunny, and Keanu Reeves as a Canadian motorcycle figure named Duke Caboom.
The heart of the movie, though, is Bo Peep. No longer the Mae West temptress of the first film, she’s now a rugged individualist who has grown accustomed to freedom and independence. Using her staff as both tool and weapon, and occasionally turning her skirt into a superhero-style cape, Bo reappears in Woody’s life to represent a new vision of happiness. Will Woody once again let her go? Kudos to screenwriters Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom for creating a romance that feels kid-friendly but grown-up-level complex at once. It's Woody's wingman, Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), who provides some unexpected wisdom at the right moment.
The most recent “Toy Story” movies aren't perfect, but each one feels like a new chapter to a book that has already become a multigenerational classic. Toys may not last forever, but these movies just might.