‘Toy Story 4’ review: Heartwarming tale another hit for the franchise

One universal thing across human experience is change. Adults, children, and (apparently) even childhood toys go through it. People move in and out of each other’s lives, choosing different paths and destinations. It’s the main resonant theme in Disney/Pixar’s latest offering, Toy Story 4, which continues the excellence of the heartwarming franchise.

This time around, Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and all of the other usual suspects are still together, “living” with kindergartner Bonnie and her parents. Upset and lonely on her first day of school, Bonnie crafts a new toy, Forky — a disposable spork with pipe-cleaner arms — and he quickly becomes her favourite.

When Forky accidentally goes missing (a long story that won’t be spoiled here), Woody goes on a mission to return him to Bonnie before she notices he’s gone. Along the way, the unlikely pair meets some friends, most new, some old, and go on some wild adventures.

Is Forky fun? Does the story work?

The idea of a mealtime utensil taking on a big role was jarring at first — how was he possibly going to compare to the fully formed and/or plush and/or action figure toys that we know and love already? To Disney’s credit, Forky almost immediately becomes a part of the toy family, and the other toys readily embrace him after some initial trepidation.

Also, Forky’s very existence, on the fence between utensil and toy, calls identity into question. It’s a pertinent topic in today’s world, especially for children finding their own selves. Forky himself even asks the existential questions: Who am I? What am I? What are we doing here? In a particularly in-depth scene featuring Woody and Forky walking down the road, the two characters discuss the very essence of life. Toy Story 4 isn’t just fun and games, folks.

Aside from Forky, how are all the new toys?

Again, when you feel like there’s only room in your heart for the toys you know and love, you’re wrong. Keanu Reeves’ turn as Canadian action figure Duke Caboom is simply amazing, and such great casting. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, as a duo, play plush toys Ducky and Bunny, who are hilarious in every scene. Bo Peep, who isn’t new, plays a more important role this time around, and her accompanying sheep are a delight.

Is the movie’s story compelling for both kids and adults?

As with most Disney/Pixar movies, there’s enough humour and action to keep the kids engaged, but there’s plenty for adults, too. Just because grown-ups are, well, grown up, doesn’t mean there still isn’t change in our daily lives. The events of the movie may trigger long-suppressed feelings, or perhaps help recall a forgotten friend, or take you back to a time when all you cared about were your stuffed animals.

At a tight one-and-a-half hours, nobody will be bored.

I cried at Toy Story 3. Will I cry here too?

Yes, it’s possible. But you’ll also laugh. And it’s not an ugly cry, it’s more of a “life goes by fast” kind of cry.

So what’s the bottom line?

A heartwarming, heartfelt story that works for both adults and kids, Toy Story 4 is another home run for Disney/Pixar. You’d never expect it, but the movie sticks with you for days, and might even hit a nerve. It’s a lesson of identity, belonging and accepting change, something we all need reminding about now and then.

‘Toy Story 4’ is now playing in theatres across Canada.

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