Published On: Fri, Jun 21st, 2019

‘Toy Story 4’ Review: Pixar hits a home run, perfect for families

Disney and Pixar have hit the ball out the park once again with Toy Story 4, the latest production in the Toy Story franchise.  Opening June 20, 2019, the lovable collection of toys that are so familiar to us are off on another adventure to fulfill their purpose of ensuring their little girl, Bonnie, feels safe and happy.  We start out with a jump back in time to when the toys lived with Andy and his family and we’re reminded that some of the gang actually belongs to Andy’s little sister, Molly. Molly has outgrown her Little Bo Peep bedside lamp and is passing her along to another little girl who’s apparently afraid of the dark.  Prepare for your heartstrings to be pulled right from the beginning as Woody and Bo sadly have to say goodbye to one another.

Jump ahead to life in Bonnie’s room (remember that Andy gave her all his toys at the end of the previous film) and she’s about to start kindergarten.  Ever the protector, Sheriff Woody stows away in her backpack and she goes off to school so he can keep an eye on her. Through a series of ninja-like moves, Woody provides Bonnie with art supplies from the trash that she ends up using to create Forky, her new toy made from a used plastic spork and a variety of other mismatched parts.  Forky has captured Bonnie’s heart in a “security blanket” role, but he doesn’t understand he’s now a toy. So, as the family goes RV’ing to close out the summer, Woody takes on the responsibility of babysitting Forky who is determined to jump into any trash can he can find because he sees himself only as trash. And so the adventure commences leading to an unexpected reunion with Bo Peep, encounters with a misunderstood villain, the adorable Gabby Gabby, and ends with Woody discovering a new chapter in a toy’s life.

Overall, I can’t say enough good things about this film.  The animation is spot-on. The voice actors are fabulous and are joined by a few new surprise characters that provide a ton of new laughs.  The story is surprisingly original even though it’s the fourth movie for the same gang of toys. The lessons it teaches to children are well done without being too aggressive.  They even use a touch of fear masterfully by incorporating a set of freaky-looking ventriloquist dummies to serve as the villain’s henchmen. The only reason I’m not going with a full 10 stars is because there was no new catchy song to walk out humming.  The franchise continues to rely on Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” for a sense of familiarity and continuity.  The only new song I even noticed just seemed a bit forced and not as magical as we’ve come to expect from Disney films.

Now for a few spoilers children probably won’t even notice.  You may not agree with my next thoughts when you first see the movie.  Heck, you may not even realize these themes are even present until you reflect on the film afterwards….that is, if you’re like me and reflect on animated films.

The most obvious theme is the message regarding love and beauty or the lack thereof.  Forky is by no means a cute or cuddly toy. He’s not rough and tough, either. He’s literally a hodge-podge of items pulled from a trash can, but Bonnie loves him and he is incredibly important to her in this phase of her life.  With so much emphasis on beauty in our society, the Forky story line teaches kids that there’s more to an individual than their looks. Forky’s self-image as trash instead of a toy has to be reset so he can accept that he has value and is deserving of love.  What a great way to teach kids to look beyond the surface to appreciate and love one another and themselves!

Of course, there’s the Gabby Gabby storyline where children have to look at the situation from a different angle to realize that the unloved doll isn’t really a villain, but is actually behaving badly because she’s desperately in need of the love all toys crave.

But then there’s a more subliminal lesson that totally surprised me.  I didn’t even realize it was there until I was discussing it with my husband afterwards.  Parents can use Toy Story 4 to help children process and accept death. It’s not as obvious as watching the ship consumed by a storm in Frozen or the disappearance of Bambi’s mother, but it’s still there.  We start out with the “family” of toys unexpectedly losing Bo Peep. This even includes a gut-wrenching goodbye as Bo asks Woody to go with her and he decides to stay behind for Bonnie, much like a parent may want to die with his spouse but chooses to continue living for the sake of his child.  But it doesn’t end there.

As the adventure commences, Woody finds himself on a detour where he sees Bo’s lamp shining high on a shelf in the window of an antique store.  He’s drawn towards the light because he believes he’ll find his beloved Bo in the store. Hmmm….drawn towards a bright light in search of a loved one who moved on long ago?  That doesn’t seem so subliminal when I spell it out, but the film-makers work that into the story beautifully. I didn’t even catch that until I was literally saying it out loud on the drive home!  There’s an additional scene later where Bo and Woody are high on a cabinet in the store and peacefully enjoying the beauty of the lights bouncing off the chandelier. So, again, the lights are a thing of peace and beauty.

Finally, Woody has expressed that he feels he’s served his purpose in life and is determined to make Forky understand what he means to Bonnie because that’s the only way he feels that he is still doing something to make her happy.  When he’s faced with saying goodbye to Bo again, Buzz steps in to comfort him by assuring him that Bonnie will be okay without him and he can happily join Bo and move on to the next chapter in a toy’s life, or let’s just say existence at this point.  Do you see it now? Dad has fulfilled his purpose with his child and can move on to the afterlife with Mom, his beloved who unexpectedly left the family years ago. And it’s not a sad thing. They will be together again living a different kind of life or existence.  This totally blew my mind! I was not expecting this at all! But what a wonderful way to use toys as a tool for helping children learn about death without being terrified of such a difficult concept. These are the moments that just make me love Disney even more.

So, do you see it on the big screen or wait for it to be on the little screen?  Who are we kidding? If you’re a Disney fan at all, you’re probably going to see it many, many times.  If you can somehow fight the hype and wait for the small screen, you won’t be missing any incredible effects that are big-screen worthy.  But do you really think you can wait that long to see it? If so, you are a stronger person than me. Take the family and have a great time watching this beautiful work.  And let’s see if you don’t see the same messages I do.

Toy Story 4 earns 9 stars out of 10

Author: Debbie Sage

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