Toy Story 4 is this summer’s equal but opposite movie to Dark Phoenix, it too arriving seemingly unannounced and unasked for, a belated fourth installment of what we kinda thought was a trilogy, but with the difference being that Toy Story 4 absolutely makes a case for its existence, and is good. Like most Pixar features, it is ostensibly a kids movie, but a pretty convincing argument could be made that it was crafted in some part for the people who were kids back when the first Toy Story came out in 1995. For an audience now aged about 28-36, prime age for having kids themselves, there is something very comforting about watching a movie populated with the warm characters you grew up with, modeling the pains and joys of parenting as they always have, but this time also presenting a life path that doesn’t involve having a kid of your own, and assuring you that that is fine. That life too can be a beautiful and rewarding adventure, a choice as valid as any.
And this is also a movie in which Tony Hale voices a plastic spork gripped in existential terror at being brought suddenly and unbidden to life, and spends all of act one trying to fling himself into garbage bins, warbling “Traaaash!”, which is certainly, as the now-30-year-old kids say, a whole ass mood.
I expect Pixar movies, particularly their consistently very strong Toy Story franchise, to be beautifully animated, and this one sure is. That opening scene in the rain storm? Get right out of here! All the gorgeous lighting gilding their sweet plastic faces, the little details of wear & tear on the toys (Buzz’s peeling sticker!), the hyper-real mat of dust on that outlet strip nestled in an uncleaned nook of an antique shop—it’s just beautiful, a beautiful looking movie. And I expect Toy Story movies to be genuinely laugh-out-loud funny, and this one soundly hits that mark as well. I mean Toy Story 4 features beloved Man Of the Moment Keanu Reeves voicing a showboating Canadian stuntman toy named Duke Caboom who harbors a heart still broken from being jilted by the cold Quebecois boy he was once gifted to. “Réjean!” Keanu Reeves cries out in manful mourning, killing me. And that’s before we even get to Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key as a quick-talking double act pair of anarchist plushies who are just, *so* good at brainstorming. I also expect zip and creativity, and Toy Story 4 has that too, with a never dull, 100-minute plot, stakes not too big not too small, and sparkling swings like developing Lost Toy Bo Peep into a clever, swashbuckling porcelain Furiosa, complete with her own trick arm, careening through a charming rest stop town in a scrappy, bizarre, high octane little vehicle that looks like a skunk.
But what I did not expect from Pixar’s Toy Story films, was Forky. I did not expect this universe to ever address the inherent darkness of its premise: that these are sentient beings who are “owned” by children, to whom they offer perfect slavish devotion, bordering on worship. And I SUPER did not expect them to just carry this forward to a logical but bananas conclusion, which is that children in the Toy Story world are functionally gods, whose attention and love can literally endow trash with life, of which these tiny deities know not of, leaving their creations to fend for themselves in matters of theology and existence. Come again, Toy Story??? Amazing. Forky may be a literal spork, but he is a wrench thrown in the workings of this universe, breaking it open into something much more philosophically fascinating, and this weirdo existential direction is one I am happy to take in the toy movies. To infinity and fucking beyond.