They’ve gone too far.

The Toy Story franchise has always flirted with borderline horrific implications about the sentience of supposedly inanimate objects. The aging of Andy proves that puberty still happens in that reality, which means those toys have been through some stuff. However, Forky (Tony Hale), who is introduced in Toy Story 4, kicks that nightmare into overdrive.

When Bonnie makes Forky out of trash during kindergarten, Woody (Tom Hanks) and the gang are stunned when he begins communicating with them. This opens up only two unholy scenarios: either literally every object in the Toy Story universe is self-aware or the only thing that grants life is becoming a toy. Does this mean the humans in the series are just playthings of unseen Gods or aliens? Are we? Are we nothing more than cosmic trash, the discarded sporks of the universe?

What I’m saying is, Toy Story 4 doesn’t have quite as much going on emotionally as the other films, so you’re free to think about nonsense.

The unnecessary third film in this series justified its existence with a profound pontification on mortality and purpose. Although undoubtedly sweet, funny, and pleasant, this fourth film seems to have a thesis that life is about moving on and not repeating behaviors out of fear. That’s a fine sentiment but is super weird to hear from the fourth movie in a franchise where every film has had basically the same plot.

This time, it’s Forky who gets lost, as Buzz Lightyear is left mostly on the sidelines, which is nice because nobody of any age needs to hear Tim Allen talk more. Woody stumbles into his one-time sweetheart Bo Peep (Annie Potts) and her sheep at an antique shop, where Forky is abducted by a Chatty Cathy knockoff called Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks). She and her legitimately terrifying marionette minions want to steal Woody’s voicebox to replace her broken one. With the help of plush carnival prizes Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele) and Canadian stuntman Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), Woody stages a rescue attempt. There’s also a subplot that suggests humanity is constantly surrounded by an army of unseen, rogue toys who see everything.

Aside from the existential dread he sparks, Forky is fantastic. Actually, all the new characters are varying degrees of delightful, most notably the reunited Key and Peele. The kinetic, Rube-Goldberg-device energy of the action sequences never seems to get old, even if the cloying platitudes about childhood do. Despite Hanks’s statements in interviews to the contrary, adults can likely leave their tissues at home. Unless they have kids. Then they should bring them. Because children are just constantly leaking from their faces.

Toy Story 4 benefits from arriving in a summer of so-so sequels. Like those films, this too has no real reason to exist, it is just sufficiently pleasing in its lack of necessity. Here’s hoping the inevitable continuation of the franchise at least stops inadvertently proposing wildly alarming theories of creation.

Grade = B

Leave a comment