How does Toy Story do it? The money spent on and made by these animated films could put a dent in the national debt. And yet Toy Story 4 is stolen by a cheap piece of plastic named Forky. Who’s that? Forky is a whatzit that Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), a wildly enthusiastic but attention-challenged kindergartener, made out of a plastic spork by adding googly eyes, a Play-Doh mouth, red pipe cleaners for arms, and popsicle sticks for feet. “I’m trash,” says Forky as voiced by the hilarious and heartfelt Tony Hale (Veep, Arrested Development) in a performance that’s part silly, part existential angst and totally sublime. All hail Hale for giving voice and dimension to this unforgettable new character. There should be a Forky in every home. Just be glad he’s in Bonnie’s home and in this movie.
Forky doesn’t know what the hell is going on. So he makes a perfect guide to the events in Toy Story 4. To sum up, cowboy Woody (the irreplaceable Tom Hanks) is feeling like a useless, old white dude ever since his owner, Andy, grew too mature for him in Toy Story 3 and passed him on to Bonnie. It really hurts when Bonnie takes off Woody’s sheriff star and pins it on cowgirl Jessie (glorious Joan Cusack). It seems like time’s up for Woody, though arguably toy astronaut Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) has it worse since the movie treats him like an afterthought.
What’s Woody to do? For starters, he attaches himself to Forky since Bonnie is obsessed with him (aren’t we all?). When Forky goes missing, it’s Woody to the rescue on a family road trip that takes dark turns into an antiques store for discarded toys and a creepy carnival where hard truths are dispensed by tough-talking plushies voiced by Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key.
That’s pretty much the movie, which director Josh Cooley fashions into a slice of animated heaven deepened with unexpected provocation. Working from a script by Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom, Cooley keeps action and character in thoughtful balance. There are new characters, including Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a talking doll with a broken voice box and a wicked agenda and Canadian daredevil Duke Caboom (a stellar Keanu Reeves), who’s also been replaced by his fickle, young owner. The threat of obsolescence and, by extension, death are everywhere in Toy Story 4. It’s a resonant theme, not likely to sink in with non-adults. Only grownups are liable to be traumatized.
Include Woody in that bunch. While Forky has a near-suicidal goal to jump back into the trash heap from whence he came — cue Randy Newman’s “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” — Woody only wants to be a toy again, one that’s cherished. For that, Woody enlists the help of his old love, Bo Peep (a wonderful Annie Potts), a porcelain lamp whose wisdom holds the key to Woody’s future. You may have thought that Toy Story 3 already made a ideal climax to the franchise. But Toy Story 4 proves there is much left to said. No fair giving away what happens, but be prepared for the finish of Toy Story 4 to finish you emotionally. If Toy Story 4 truly is the swan song for a blockbuster of a Randy Newman ditty, “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away,” wherein Woody repeatedly intercepts Forky’s tireless suicide attempts.
For a series that began nearly 25 years ago, this classic in the making couldn’t go out on a more fitting note of tender, tear-drenched resolution.