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With: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Madeleine McGraw, Christina Hendricks, Jordan Peele, Keanu Reeves, Ally Maki, Jay Hernandez, Lori Alan, Joan Cusack, Bonnie Hunt, Kristen Schaal, Emily Davis, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Blake Clark, June Squibb, Carl Weathers, Lila Sage Bromley, Don Rickles, Jeff Garlin, Maliah Bargas-Good, Jack McGraw, Juliana Hansen, Estelle Harris, Laurie Metcalf, Steve Purcell, Mel Brooks, Alan Oppenheimer, Carol Burnett, Betty White, Carl Reiner, Bill Hader, Patricia Arquette, Timothy Dalton, Flea, Melissa Villaseñor, Jeff Pidgeon, John Morris
Written by: Andrew Stanton, Stephany Folsom, based on a story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Josh Cooley, Valerie LaPointe, Rashida Jones, Will McCormack, Martin Hynes, Stephany Folsom
Directed by: Josh Cooley
MPAA Rating: G
Running Time: 100
Date: 06/21/2019

Toy Story 4 (2019)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

To a child, this amount of time is unfathomable: Toy Story 4 opens Friday, nine years after Toy Story 3. That's high school and college combined.

Toy Story 3 came 11 years after Toy Story 2, which came four years after Toy Story. That's twenty-four years in all, a generation. A lifetime. This franchise is old enough to drink.

But time, weirdly, enhances a series that is, in the end, all about loss. Woody (voiced, as excellently as ever, by Tom Hanks) has long feared that day when he was no longer a favorite toy, no longer played with on a regular basis by a loving child.

In the other films, he manages to cheat destiny and hang on a little longer, but now, in Toy Story 4, there is no more cheating.

His boy, Andy, kept him around for a very long time before passing him to young family friend Bonnie (voiced by Madeleine McGraw), but she doesn't have as much use for an old cowhand, and Woody spends increasing amounts of time in the closet.

At Kindergarten orientation, with some secret help from Woody, Bonnie creates a new friend, "Forky" (voiced by Tony Hale), from a spork and some other craft materials. Then the family takes a road trip and Woody becomes obsessed with keeping Forky safe.

This section of the movie is a little tedious and familiar. Forky is a one-joke idea, and doesn't carry things very far. But at around the movie's midpoint, at a roadside carnival and antique shop, a few characters that do matter arrive.

Chief among them is talking doll Gabby Gabby, part sinister and part sad, voiced beautifully by Christina Hendricks.

She has some truly frightening ventriloquist dummies as servants, slowly spinning their heads 360 degrees while keeping watch. These things may come clacking into your nightmares later.

Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are back together, literally stitched, as Ducky and Bunny, providing some big laughs with their imagined heroic scenarios.

Then there's Keanu Reeves as the toy stunt-riding motorcycle man Duke Caboom, reading the role as only Keanu can, with a hint of the existential.

Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen) plays a smaller part here, but embodies a funny and relevant sub-theme about one's "inner voice."

At the helm, Josh Cooley makes his feature directing debut, having risen through Pixar's ranks; he co-wrote the screenplay for the masterpiece Inside Out and wrote and directed the supplemental short films George and A.J. and Riley's First Date?

But Pixar veteran Andrew Stanton co-wrote the screenplay, retaining a sense of of the familiar.

The best update here is not so much a sense of realism or fluidity of movement or color, but the intensity of the close-ups. These toys have always been mismatched, size-wise — Woody's head is twice the size of Buzz's, for example — but Toy Story 4 gazes upon their shiny faces and finds an unmistakable humanity.

The plot is largely a rescue/escape thing, which is typically exciting and expertly done, but when all that has played out, Toy Story 4 makes its masterstroke.

Essentially, and without revealing too much, Woody learns to let go.

Each movie in this series seems to get a little bit more emotionally powerful, with Toy Story 2 dropping the first hint of what happens to toys when kids grow up, and then Toy Story 3 dealt bravely with the concept of death in its gripping incinerator sequence.

The themes in Toy Story 4 are just as profound, but perhaps harder to explain, harder to learn. Fear is hardwired into our systems, and we often don't even know that we're afraid of things.

Even when the worst happens, the reality is never as bad as our imagined anticipation. Yet we humans cannot be convinced. We continue to fear.

The movie's genius is that this theme is bracingly fresh to both newcomers and to those that have followed Woody's journey for a quarter of a century. It's comforting to learn that it's actually going to be okay.

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