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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Toy Story 4 is the fourth and probably final installment of Disney Pixar's original franchise. It's remarkably poignant and should appeal to audiences of all ages -- from parents and children to those who grew up loving Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack), and the gang. There are also many new characters this time around, starting with Forky (Tony Hale), the sentient arts-and-crafts toy made from a spork, clay, pipe cleaners, and googly eyes. This movie definitely fits into the series' action-comedy genre, but its peril is less intense than the harrowing climactic sequences of Toy Story 3. Still, you can expect lots of high-stakes escapes/rescue missions, some close calls, and very creepy vintage ventriloquist dummies. Most of the film's peril, worry, and violence focus on separation from the toys' new kid, Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), as well as the slightly sinister machinations of Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), an antique-store doll who's desperate for a new voice box. Gabby's subplot has one of the movie's only less-than-completely-positive messages (it touches on the idea that if you fix what's "wrong" with you, you could be more likely to be accepted/find love). But her arc also includes powerful examples of empathy, and overall the film has touching themes of friendship, loyalty, imagination, and the power of play.
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What's the story?
TOY STORY 4 begins with a flashback to a rainy night nine years earlier, during which Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) and a crop of Andy's toys work to save RC from being swept away by the storm. Later that same night, Andy's little sister, Molly, gives her porcelain Bo Peep (Annie Potts) and sheep away. Woody tries to save Bo, but she's actually fine with being passed along to another child, so the two say goodbye. Fast-forward to the toys' current home with rising kindergartner Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw). Although Woody isn't one of Bonnie's favorite toys (she prefers Jessie), he stows away in her backpack to comfort her through school orientation, where he helps her make a special toy: a spork with googly eyes, pipe cleaner arms, and popsicle stick feet whom she names "Forky." Forky (Tony Hale) unexpectedly comes to life, but, despite Woody's explanations, he believes he's trash and keeps trying to throw himself in the garbage. While the family is on a road trip, Forky flees, Woody follows to get him back, and the two bond as they make their way back to Bonnie. But the plan goes sideways when Woody sees Bo Peep's lamp on display in an antique store, and Forky ends up being held hostage by 1950s baby doll Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), who has designs on Woody's vintage voice box.
Is it any good?
Spectacularly animated and remarkably poignant, this Woody-centric fourth installment introduces memorable new friends and brings back beloved old ones for one more adventure. Although Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack), Rex (Wallace Shawn), the Potato Heads, and the rest of the gang still have a part to play, this story is firmly Woody's. He grapples with transitioning from a favorite toy to one who's occasionally left in the closet and then becoming the self-proclaimed protector of Forky, who's having a (hilarious) existential crisis about whether he's trash (it's warm and cozy, and where he feels he belongs) or toy. Hale is perfectly cast as the quirky, inquisitive Forky. And Potts is fabulous as the now wiser, street-savvy Bo, who's able to see the joy of being a free-range toy. She's not bound by the changing whims of a child who can outgrow her playthings.
Along with Forky, the new characters who have the most impact are insecure Canadian stuntman Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) and buddies Bunny (Jordan Peele) and Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key), sewn-together stuffed animals who are supposed to be a top carnival prize but wind up following Buzz on his mission to rescue Woody and Forky. The duo's familiar chemistry and banter offer some of the movie's key laugh-aloud moments (like their schemes to attack humans). Gabby Gabby and her creepy ventriloquist dummies aren't the most frightening of villains -- especially after it turns out that they, like most angry folks, are just misunderstood. Ultimately, this is a story about Woody and his reconnection with Bo. Her development is one of the most fascinating in Pixar history. She may not have super powers, but Bo Peep is every bit as incredible as Elastigirl, and she'll do whatever it takes to save her sheep and her friends. Ever since 1995, this beautifully animated franchise has taught audiences about the power of play, and this installment is a powerful capstone on that legacy. (Passionate Pixar fans should watch for the film's many Easter eggs, which cover the entire Pixar universe.)
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether Toy Story 4 brings the story to a satisfying conclusion. Do you think the franchise feels complete?
Discuss the violence/peril in the movie. Is it important to the story? Why or why not? How much and what kinds of violence are age-appropriate for younger audiences?
How does this fourth installment compare to the first three? Which one do you like most, and why? What is the role of consumerism in the Toy Story movie franchise?
- In theaters: June 21, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: October 8, 2019
- Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Tony Hale, Christina Hendricks, Annie Potts
- Director: Josh Cooley
- Studios: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs
- Character strengths: Courage, Empathy, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 100 minutes
- MPAA rating: G
- Awards/Honors: Academy Award, Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: February 11, 2020
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