Toy Story (U)
Nine years after Toy Story 3, those clever people at Pixar have brought us Toy Story 4. But as well as clever, might they also be a bit greedy? That was my concern as I settled down to Randy Newman’s opening theme song.
After all, the 2010 film seemed like a flawless conclusion to a perfect trilogy, rounding off the delightful tales of a boy’s playthings as he grew up and went to college. How could the narrative move forward without feeling superfluous? Exploitative, even. Might they keep churning out these movies to infinity and beyond?
So I went with a troubled soul. I also went with my son Joe, who at 24 is exactly as old as the franchise, born just before the original Toy Story came out in 1995.
Old friends and new: Woody tries to introduce his new pal Bonnie to Forky the spork
He and his siblings have grown up with Woody the cowboy, astronaut Buzz Lightyear & Co just as surely as my generation grew up with Julian, Dick, Anne, George and Timmy the dog. Andy’s toys were their Famous Five.
The good news is that he enjoyed Toy Story 4 even more than I did. Happily, it turns out that there is still a valid tale to tell, that of Woody (voiced, as ever, by Tom Hanks) resolving his existential crisis by finding an enduring purpose in a post-Andy world.
At the end of the last film, the toys were preparing for their new life with a little girl called Bonnie.
At the start of this one, following a pre-credits flashback to the events of nine years ago, when Woody was separated from his dear friend Bo Peep (Annie Potts), he is grappling with the fear of middle-aged men (and toys) everywhere: redundancy.
They’re back! Woody and the gang are on yet another wild adventure in a bid to save the day
Not only is he not Bonnie’s favourite, she doesn’t ever play with him. Horrifyingly, humiliatingly, he is gathering dust. A little ball of it keeps sticking to him, his own personal tumbleweed.
But Woody is nothing if not devotedly loyal. When Bonnie’s parents pack her off for her first day at kindergarten, she is distressed to find that she can’t take a toy with her. So Woody hides in her backpack to watch over her, and raids a rubbish bin so she can make a playmate of her own.
This turns out to be Forky (Tony Hale), a wooden fork/spoon (or ‘spork’) with wobbly eyes and pipe-cleaners for arms.
Bonnie loves Forky, but the feeling isn’t mutual. Forky doesn’t feel like a toy; as an unwanted utensil, he feels, literally, like trash. It’s no surprise that this narrative originated in southern California, where practically everyone seems to visit a shrink.
To infinity! This time Woody’s main ally is Bo Peep as he attempts to reunite Bonnie with Forky
At any rate, psychotherapy is needed and Woody provides it. ‘You are going to create happy memories that will last for the rest of her life,’ he tells Forky, who finally gets the message.
Director Josh Cooley and writers Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom have a hoot with all this. But the fun has barely started. Bonnie’s parents take her, and she takes all her toys, on a road trip in a rented camper van.
When Forky escapes, Woody sets off to find him, ending up in a spooky antique shop where an embittered doll called Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), born with a defective voicebox, lives with her team of henchmen, ventriloquists’ dolls not unrelated to Chucky of horror film infamy, all called Benson. Forky is there too.
It’s easy to imagine the storyboarding team debating just how sinister to make Benson. Still, the Toy Story movies have always hopped between light and shade, and for an older audience he’s a hilarious addition, bent on preventing Woody rescuing Forky.
Also part of the rescue operation is ‘Canada’s greatest stuntman’ Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) and Ducky and Bunny, a pair of cuddly toys from the local fairground exuberantly voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele.
Woody’s main ally, however, is his old pal Bo Peep. Moreover, following their unexpected reunion, she teaches him that there’s more to being a veteran toy than becoming a kid’s new plaything. Their job, their higher purpose, is to help needy toys find kids, and needy kids find toys.
Even if you don’t emerge from Toy Story 4 feeling morally enriched, you’ll surely have a spring in your step.
It never quite made me want to hug myself with pleasure like the third film in particular did, but my son was beaming, and as a dad, even when they’re 24, that’s always good enough.
Toy Story 4 opens next Friday in cinemas nationwide.