Ready for another go-round with your vaguely queasy adult feelings about the inner lives of toys? Disney and Pixar are here to oblige. Toy Story 4 does the usual advertised job of making grown-up parents all nostalgic and weepy while delivering a stealth dose of what is sure to be internalized as free-floating dread in the children they take to see it. Picking up shortly after the dire escape from imminent death in the belly of a giant furnace in the probably-way-too-intense Toy Story 3, Woody (Tom Hanks) and the gang are now comfortably at home with new owner (a term strenuously avoided by these films, but let’s face it) Bonnie, who’s about to start kindergarten. Woody’s taken a backseat role in the Toy hierarchy, no longer the favorite, and in attempt to get a little of his mojo back, he stows away in the little girl’s backpack and observes her first day at school, during which she uses some craft time to “make” a new friend out of some glue, a pair of googly eyes, and a plastic spork. Meet Forky (Tony Hale), who awakens (so to speak) with a bloodcurdling scream. Forky is immediately terrified of his sudden existence, aware only that he is designed to be thrown away once his purpose is fulfilled, and therefore he longs to return to the trash (the only word he can say at first), hurtling towards any available rubbish bin in sight. It’s the funniest and most disturbing thing in any of the Toy Story movies to date.
These movies can go from almost cloying to downright upsetting on a dime.
Because the toys’ existential angst is so foregrounded and palpable, these movies can go from almost cloying to downright upsetting on a dime. This one even gets near the idea that Woody and the gang’s relative stability is a privileged experience, that the life of your average toy is probably a sad and lonely one, and that their self-actualization is rare. Woody encounters “lost” toys. Some of them long to belong to a kid, while others relish their freedom and a somewhat nomadic existence. One toy, a little girl doll named Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), craves so badly to have a child to bond with that it almost seems like she’s addicted to codependency, and if that seems like a stretch then let’s not get into the part with the motorcycle stuntman toy who has PTSD from being rejected by a little boy. So while the adventure the toys go on this time might seem relatively slight compared to Toy Story 3’s totalitarian daycare center, the subtext is more discomfiting. A fourth film may have felt unnecessary on paper, but if they’re all going to be this unusually thoughtful, a fifth wouldn’t be unwelcome.