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Review: Toy Story 4 – “Funny and excitingly weird”

The gang of sentient playthings that everyone loves are back after a nine-year hiatus that has still not been long enough to get over the furnace scene in Toy Story 3.

Directed by Josh Cooley, who wrote Inside Out, and again written by Andrew Stanton (Toy Story 1-3) – but this time alongside Star Wars Resistance’s Stephany Folsom – Toy Story 4 features the returning voices of Tom Hanks as Woody, Tim Allen as Buzz and Joan Cusack as Jessie, with much more than usual for Annie Potts’ Bo Peep, and the introduction of new characters voiced by Keanu Reeves, Christina Hendricks and Key and Peele.

Buzz, Woody and co. were all gifted by grown-up Andy to little girl Bonnie at the end of the third film, and this is where Toy Story 4 picks up. Unfortunately for Woody, Bonnie doesn’t really like playing with him – leaving him in the dusty cupboard and preferring to play with Jessie and everyone else instead. Woody acts like this is fiii-iii-iiine, but feels adrift and purposeless.

Soooooo, when Bonnie returns from school having crafted an extremely reluctant new toy, Forky (Arrested Development’s Tony Hale), out of a spork and pipe cleaner, Woody sees it as his job to teach him how to be a toy and be there for Bonnie. She may not love, want or need him, but Woody will still do every and anything to make her happy and give his life meaning again.

When, on a family road trip, Forky is abducted by an evil dolly (Hendricks) with a ventriloquist’s dummy zombie army, Woody flings himself into a rescue mission – aided by a now badass survivalist Bo Peep and new additions: Duck and Bunny, two sewn-together-by-the-hands plushies, and Canadian Evel Knievel rip-off stunt cycle rider Duke Caboom (Reeves). Meanwhile, Buzz sets out to retrieve Woody and learns to be a leader along the way.

Forky is the absolutely crucial crux for Toy Story 4. Not only is he the narrative fire and the macguffin, but he is what makes 4 unlike any previous installment. When Forky finds himself suddenly alive he experiences true existential horror at becoming suddenly sentient. Surprisingly and thrilling, the film leans HARD into this. We’ve been accepting the toys being alive for so long now that thinking about what this actually means for them and for trash that is brought to unwanted life – and that we’re going HERE in a Disney film – is a trip and justifies the film’s existence alone.

But a family film this honestly still is. Two of our main characters may be in existential crisis, but Toy Story 4 is still overflowing with creative imagination, thrilling rescue missions and hysterical humour. The new characters are key to this, with Keanu Reeve’s loveable Canuck daredevil Duke Caboom making for thrilling new heroics and I’m sure also becoming a lot of fans’ new favourite character.

Key and Peele’s Duck and Bunny are all kinds of awesome and ratchet up and modernise the comedy. With an anarchic attitude and no-nonsense sensibility not found anywhere else in Pixar’s toy chest thus far they steal every scene they’re in, make their every moment a laugh and provide one of the funniest and most jaw-dropping post-credits stings I’ve ever had the pleasure of being in awe of.

Tom Hanks’ Woody is a loyal treasure, Tim Allen gets to explore uncharted character territory, and Cusack’s Jessie may be Bonnie’s favourite but feels a little sidelined. Potts’ Bo is front and centre throughout though and her individual agency feels valuable and inspiring. Her relationship with Woody is explored and embraced more than ever before in a genuinely complicated and touching way and leaves the series at a crossroads with some interesting options going forward.

Funny and excitingly weird, emotional but never trite, the fresh blood injected into Toy Story’s writing and directing team have made an instant and brilliant impact. The heart, teamwork and friendship that we love from the series is provided ten-fold by stalwart screenwriter Stanton, but given a zip and new lease of life by director Josh Cooley and co-writer Stephanie Folsom, and a slightly more offbeat and oddball sense of humour by the awesome Rashida Jones (Angie Tribeca). This is Toy Story not reimagined but certainly looked at from a fresh and different angle.

With all your old friends and plenty of new favourites, Toy Story 4 is full of big cheers, big laughs and a couple of big sobs, and is a fantastic fourth film in the franchise.

Toy Story 4 is released in the UK on the 21st of June.

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