It was nine years ago when many of us were shedding tears over what was then thought to be the last Toy Story movie. Andy had grown up, and his toys were embarking on a new adventure, with a new kid to call their own, and so it felt fitting to call it the end.
Now, just shy of twenty-five years since the original Toy Story that introduced us to Woody, Buzz, and the rest of Andy’s toys, we’re presented with Toy Story 4. It’s the fourth installment to the trilogy so many of us have come to love — an epilogue, of sorts.
It isn’t long after the ending of Toy Story 3, when Andy grew up and gave his beloved toys to Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) so she, too, could love them as he did. Woody (Tom Hanks) finds himself struggling to find a purpose in Bonnie’s life as he’s no longer the favorite toy and is, more often than not, left in the closet during playtime. When Bonnie starts kindergarten, however, she is distraught, and Woody takes it upon himself to join her in spite of the warnings by others to not go. He is merely looking out for her when, during the day, Bonnie inadvertently creates a new friend named Forky (Tony Hale).
Forky is an awkward, shy, self-doubting, and self-loathing toy. He’s not a toy; he’s trash, as the story makes clear, and Forky will need to learn to adapt to the world and find his identity. Woody resolves to make sure Forky, as Bonnie’s newest toy, stays safe and doesn’t get lost. What ensues is a hilarious sequence of misadventures that eventually turns into a family road trip. On this vacation, a new challenge arises as Forky actually does get lost, and Woody with him, and they try to get back to Bonnie. Along the way, Woody will question who he is and his place in the world.
Toy Story 4 also reveals what happened to Bo Peep (Annie Potts), who was absent in the third installment of the franchise. Bo Peep, along with her sheep, rejoins the cast of toys and her story comes into focus as she’s reunited with Woody.
Except for Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), the toys we know from the first few movies mostly take a backseat. They take on supporting roles and only appear here and there to show what is going on away from the action. This was a smart decision as the film is already crowded with the addition of new characters. In addition to the introduction of Forky, we meet Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key), Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), Bunny (Jordan Peele), Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves, and many more. However, I still found myself wanting to see more of the original toys, and their antics, as my nostalgia for them kicked in.
As mentioned, purpose and identity are the focal points of Toy Story 4. In the aftermath of Andy growing up, Woody finds himself incredibly lost, discouraged, and unsure of what to do. At this point, he’ll do anything, but he simply isn’t the favorite toy anymore, and he doesn’t manage Bonnie’s room, as he did Andy’s. His guardianship over Forky, and in trying to make Bonnie happy, gives him respite, but that won’t last forever. Woody will learn that he needs to make some tough decisions if he wants to be happy again.
Because of this, it’s the Toy Story we didn’t know that we needed. It’s the story after the story when Andy is gone, but life goes on. It offers compelling lessons in finding value in yourself, pursuing your interests and dreams, and knowing that everything is going to be alright, even if that isn’t obvious at first.
In my screening, adults were laughing along with the children at many of the same moments and lines. Toy Story is one of the few film franchises that have genuinely touched hearts across generations. While most of us thought Toy Story 3 was the end, it’s clear that this one feels more appropriate. And, while there has been no word on if there will be a fifth, I do hope that this truly is the end, as all good things must come to an end.