Toy Story 4
Woody and friends probe the nature of consciousness.
A plastic spork blows Woody’s mind.
Don’t worry that a great movie franchise has been stretched past its limits; “Toy Story 4 knows what it’s doing,” said Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune. When we last checked in on Pixar’s beloved series about the secret lives of toys, Sheriff Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and the rest of the playroom crew had narrowly escaped mass death in an incinerator and found new purpose in the embrace of a toddler named Bonnie. Their existential crises aren’t over, though, and while Toy Story 3 won almost universal acclaim, this sequel is actually “warmer, funnier, and a little less ruthless in its pathos.”
“The film’s most challenging, bizarre, and lovable material involves a beady-eyed Frankenstein’s monster named Forky,” said David Sims in TheAtlantic.com. Bonnie creates him in kindergarten class—a plastic spork with pasted-on googly eyes, pipe-cleaner limbs, and popsicle-stick feet. Voiced by Veep’s Tony Hale, Forky keeps jumping into garbage cans to be with other trash because he prefers nonexistence to consciousness. “And reader, that’s when I leaned forward in my seat.” Toy Story movies have always ruminated on big issues—mortality, selflessness, the purpose of life—but this one “throws these deeper concepts around with abandon.” The series didn’t need a fourth installment, but the one Pixar has come up with is “about as strange and beguiling an entry as I could have hoped for.”
Unfortunately, the movie has too many stories to tell, said Darren Franich in Entertainment Weekly. Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Christina Hendricks, and Keanu Reeves voice memorable new characters, but that’s not all. When Bonnie’s family takes a road trip to a carnival and Tom Hanks’ Woody bumps into Bo Peep, he is forced to consider which he values more: the companionship of a child or the possibility of toy-world romance with a porcelain doll who’s now a self-reliant renegade who disdains human connection. “Problem: We’re hitting the outer edge of this universe’s emotional cohesion, and the toy-human divided reality crosses a couple other uncanny valleys as the story shambles along.” In the end, “Toy Story 4 is messy, but in the best possible way,” said Bilge Ebiri in NYMag.com. Because Pixar has been playing things safe lately, it’s exciting that “instead of providing us with a clear emotional map, the film never quite lets us know what to feel.” This is “an unnerving little movie, one that at any given moment might deliver a burst of feeling, or a big laugh, or a jump scare.” It’s still a Pixar comedy with a tearjerker finale, but here, “the tears are jerked in layers,” with three separate emotional climaxes aimed at different sets of viewers. “It’s a generous, inclusive approach, an acknowledgement that each person sees a different movie.”