I don’t know how they do it. Really have no idea. But credit to Disney, Pixar, and everyone involved for making the Toy Story franchise the most consistent and down-right outstanding movie franchise in modern times.

I went into Toy Story 4 skeptical to say the least. How does one possibly top the tear-jerking and downright picture-perfect ending to Toy Story 3? Well, by changing up the story, shifting the focus and leading the audience on a much more macro self-reflexive adventure. That is how. Toy Story 4 faces up all expectations, takes all the premature jabs at its relevance, and then delivers a knockout punch that leaves the audience laughing, crying and cheering.

The logline of this latest animated features is: “When a new toy called “Forky” joins Woody and the gang, a road trip alongside old and new friends reveals how big the world can be for a toy.”

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Put in simple terms, Woody and the gang are adjusting to life with Bonnie. In particular, Andy’s number one sheriff is trying to find his way in a new house and in a new role. When Forky appears in the mix and a road trip ensues, the hijinks and adventure begins.  We are reintroduced to Bo Peep and welcomed by new characters such as Ducky, Bunny, Duke Caboom, Gabby Gabby, and more.

The chemistry among the characters is still written sharply, and the voice acting for everyone is filled with noticeable excitement. The best demonstration about how these toys are truly more human than us (or at least me) is with the interactions between Woody and Bo Peep. We learn how the two toys were separated in heart-wrenching fashion and their reintroduction is really the perfect tone of “oh my gawd, it’s my old crush and he/she is still perfect. What do I dooo???”

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The two characters have led different lives during their intermittent years. Woody is a toy always with an immense attachment to his child, while Bo Peep has learned to be a lost toy, someone without a child to leash herself too.  Through their differences in that are quickly and clearly outlined, the classic quarter-life crisis question of “What is my purpose?” becomes prominent. Woody has to look most inside himself but there are other characters that address the same motif in either subtle of various obvious ways.

One of the other more symbolic moments in a Toy Story 4 comes from the plot line involving Gabby Gabby. This may get a little meta, so stay with me. Gabby Gabby is a toy that was taken out of the box with a broken voice box. This handicap has kept her from attempting to meet her ideal perfect child. As Toy Story 4 progresses, Gabby Gabby finds herself in possession of a proper voice box and her string is able to pulled, literally. She attempts to meet with her ideal child and events ensue that lead to a more meta lesson.

Just because you are confident in your voice and with what your purpose is, not everyone is going to be receptive to it. In life there are moments where people are going just not click, despite everything that is possible. This goes for Gabby Gabby. She gets a voice box, has an end goal and takes the steps to make a relationship happen. While her first attempt doesn’t go according to her lifelong plan, Toy Story 4 highlights that an openness for possibilities and adaptability to the “What is my purpose?” question can result in being able to understand one’s true inner voice.

Now not everything is super heavy and thought provoking. And that may just be a tendency of me looking a little do deep into things.

Like any other Toy Story movie, there are comedic jokes that run throughout the story that either bring people to tears laughing, or are timed just well enough to keep the audience from bawling into an emotional mess. Forkey’s first five minutes in Bonnie’s room are hilarious. Throughout the movie the little guy, voice by Tony Hale of Arrested Development fame, grows on the audience and really becomes arguably the funniest toy in the end. Forkey is the equivalent to Finding Nemo’s Dory. Just great lines with great voice acting.

Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele team up for the voices of Ducky and Bunny. To nobody’s surprise, they are downright hilarious. My worry going into Toy Story 4 was that the duo would be overused, but it’s a perfect dosage. Keanu Reeves continues his red hot, torrid, blistering hot streak playing the Canadian super stuntman, Duke Caboom. What a name…truly a name fit only for the legend of Keanu Reeves. Also there is Giggle McDimples, voiced my Ally Maki. The small character has a sassy, napoleon confident demeanor and acts as the voice of the audience for the Woody and Bo Peep relationship.

Stream of consciousness right now, but just recalling one of the best parts of the movie. Woody commits an error that Bo Peep doesn’t appreciate. She tells him to be quiet and not talk while they make their way into a new part of the antique store. In the following minutes we are introduced to Duke Caboom. The low key funniest moment comes when Bo Peep is explaining the stupid mistakes made by “a friend” to Duke. The Canadian stuntman is just flabbergasted at the idiocy of the miscues this “friend” of Bo Peep has made…and meanwhile Woody is there just taking it all in. Classic “yea I am in the doghouse and I’ll take my medicine right now.”

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Toy Story 4 comes nine years after the humongous success of Toy Story 3, and in a true flex of confidence, Disney entrusted this project to a FIRST TIME DIRECTOR. Josh Cooley has only two other directing credits on IMDB, both being video shorts. With that being said, he has been involved with Pixar and Disney for years. His last project was one of the more underappreciated animated movies in the last decade, Inside Out. Cooley was the screenplay writer and story supervisor. He was also in the art department for The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille and Up.

Also, Toy Story 4 is marvelous to look at. I mean animation has come a long way, but I was most impressed by the detail in the dust filled antique shop. Credit to all the art directors, animators and anyone involved with making Toy Story 4 shine.

To sum it all up, the movie is very, very good. It is genuinely fantastic. It hits on all the traditional touchstones and manages to carve in some new schoolings as well. Toy Story 4 manages to blend the old and the new with a strong purpose and heavy emotional resonance. The writing doesn’t skip a beat and the voice acting remains top-level.

Toy Story 4 is a summer must see.

Stanko Rating: A

For those curious, my ratings for all the movies are below.

Toy Story A+
Toy Story 2 A
Toy Story 3 A+
Toy Story 4 A

I’d put Toy Story 4 third in my franchise rankings, ahead of Toy Story 2. For me, Toy Story 3 is the best of them all.

Toy Story 4 IMDB
Toy Story 4 Rotten Tomatoes

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