'Toy Story 4' a charmingly spectacular animated sequel about second chances
"Toy Story 4" --
I don't know what the Pixar filmmakers said when they met for their first brainstorming session to create the fourth "Toy Story" animated comedy. But I can imagine.
"Hey, 24 years have passed since the first 'Toy Story,' and we need to blow the barn doors off the animation and crank up the art form to new cinematic, technical heights!"
"Hey, 'Toy Story 3' ended on a perfect note of finality with college-bound Andy giving Woody and the toys to their new human, Bonnie.
"We must create an even better, more poignant bookend for the series that talks about second chances, and the inevitably of goodbyes."
"Hey, we should amp up the blend of emo moments, action sequences and scares, then be sure the characters become much more than they seem."
Check, check and done.
The filmmakers probably didn't think "Toy Story 4" could also be a metaphor for couples who strike out on life's next adventure after they realize the kids -- both human and otherwise -- can get by without them.
Directed with energetic sincerity by longtime Pixar jack-of-all-trades (and co-writer of "Inside Out") Josh Cooley, this third "Toy Story" sequel begins with Sheriff Woody (Tom Hanks, sounding just as vibrantly idealistic as he did in 1995), his pal Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen, relegated to a supporting role) plus other toys, pondering their purpose after busy Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) enters kindergarten.
Once in school, Bonnie makes a new friend, Forky.
She puts pipe-cleaner arms, mismatched googly eyes, Popsicle stick feet and a twisted mouth on a spork.
Forky comes to life (with "Arrested Development" star Tony Hale supplying his quirky, childlike vocalizations), but only thinks of himself as trash, no matter how many times the protective, supportive Woody reminds him, "You're a toy!"
Strange, fascinating characters populate this near-photo-realistic fantasy constructed of superbly rendered, nuanced shadows, deep textures and insanely choreographed action sequences with dizzying, 360-degree camera swirls.
Some characters aren't so strange. Remember Bo Peep from the first two films? (She nabbed the female lead after stodgy Mattel executives refused to let Barbie be Woody's love interest.)
Bo returns (reprised by Annie Potts) as an empowered, independent Disney action heroine complete with a shepherd's staff that she wields like a sword.
She rejoins Woody as Bonnie's family goes on a road trip to where a spectacular carnival lights up an old Western town. And where a dust-encrusted secondhand store warehouses discarded toys such as Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a damaged pull-string talking doll who plots to steal Woody's functional voice box, aided by four truly creepy ventriloquist dummy henchmen.
Good thing Woody meets "Canada's Greatest Stuntman" Duke Caboom, an egomaniacal Evel Knievel-esque daredevil brought to hilarious life by Keanu Reeves.
Hey, wouldn't it be great if the original voice cast reunited with composer-singer Randy Newman and they created a wonderful ode to loyalty and empathy that becomes the leading contender for the 2019 animated feature film Oscar?
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Starring: Tom Hanks, Annie Potts, Tim Allen, Tony Hale, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Joan Cusack, Bonnie Hunt
Directed by: Josh Cooley
Other: A Walt Disney Pictures release. Rated G. 100 minutes