It’s been almost a quarter century since Disney/Pixar introduced the world to a pull-string cowboy named Woody and a plastic winged spaceman named Buzz — and darned if they still, in “Toy Story 4,” can’t make us laugh, smile, and get a little emotional about the inner life of children’s playthings.
“I don’t remember it being this hard,” Woody, again voiced by Tom Hanks, laments about the job of making a small child happy. His current kid, Bonnie, has relegated Woody to the closet while she plays with Buzz (voiced by Tim Allen) and the others. But Woody remains loyal to his kid, even if he’s feeling ignored.
On the day of Bonnie’s kindergarten orientation, after her dad tells her “no toys allowed,” Woody stows away in her backpack to make sure the trepidatious little girl is OK. She doesn’t make any friends, except the one she constructs in arts and crafts: Forky, a creation of a spork, a pipe cleaner, and googly eyes. But when she puts her name on it (on two halves of a Popsicle stick), it becomes her current favorite toy.
The problem is, Forky (voiced by Tony Hale) doesn’t want to be a toy. He wants to be disposable. “I was made for soup, salad, and maybe chili — and then the trash,” Forky says. It’s up to Woody, while Bonnie and her family go on a road trip in a rented RV, to convince Forky of his value as Bonnie’s special toy.
Woody’s efforts hit a detour when Bonnie’s family arrives at a small town. In that town, Woody is reunited with his long-lost love, Bo Peep (voiced by Annie Potts). The ceramic figure has found a new life as an independent toy, protecting toys caught in a local antique store where the child-obsessed doll Gabby Gabby (voiced by Christina Hendricks) holds court with a squad of creepy ventriloquist dummies as muscle.
The screenplay, by Pixar veteran Andrew Stanton and newbie Stephany Folsom (who share story credit with six more writers), takes the familiar toy-box characters and runs them through a fast-moving story that mixes adventure, comedy and a G-rated hint of horror. Director Josh Cooley — who has worked up the ranks at Pixar as storyboard artist, writer and short-film director — keeps the pacing lively, the images colorful and the settings full of fascinating details. (The antique store is a treasure trove of Pixar Easter eggs.)
With so many characters, the movie makes room for some new ones — the funniest being the motorcycle daredevil Duke Caboom (voiced by Keanu Reeves), “Canada’s greatest stuntman.” But the prime mover, and the heart of “Toy Story 4,” remains Woody, whose eternal mission to save lost toys takes on a new dimension and provides a fitting conclusion to this beloved character.
‘Toy Story 4’
The cowboy Woody again must confront what it means to be a toy, in an animated adventure loaded with laughs and heart.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens Friday, June 21.
Rated • G
Running time • 100 minutes.