REVIEW: ‘Toy Story 4’ sends off beloved characters

A Forky farewell · “Toy Story 4,” the latest installment in a beloved animated franchise, sends off some of its most iconic characters while introducing new ones, such as Forky, voiced by Tony Hale.  (Photo from IMDb)

When audiences saw Andy give away Woody and the rest of the gang to Bonnie at the end of “Toy Story 3,” many fans likely  assumed it was the perfect swan song for the beloved characters. That’s why skepticism lingered over the idea of another entry in the “Toy Story” franchise. However, “Toy Story 4” justifies its own existence — though not without hiccups, the film crafts a beautiful sendoff for the franchise’s lead toy, Woody. 

This time around, Woody (Tom Hanks) and the rest of Bonnie’s (Madeleine McGraw) toys are on a road trip vacation to a carnival. The new addition to the group is Forky (Tony Hale), a toy Bonnie made from a spork and craft supplies. 

When Forky, Bonnie’s new favorite toy, gets lost on the road trip, Woody takes it upon himself to make sure he gets back to Bonnie safe. Along the way, there are familiar faces like Bo Peep (Annie Potts), Woody’s long-lost love, and new faces like Key and Peele’s Ducky and Bunny and Keanu Reeves’ hilarious Duke CaBoom. 

For one, “Toy Story 4” looks gorgeous. It seems Pixar’s animation quality has taken a massive leap even since last year’s “Incredibles 2.” The attention to details in “Toy Story 4” like rain, nature and the many different textures of toy surfaces are highly detailed — approximating photorealistic presentation. The movie’s cinematography and production design create beautiful visuals that perfectly accompany the story and characters in each frame. 

“Toy Story 4” is a true technical marvel to experience in a big, dark movie theater, as Randy Newman’s emotional score floods into the aisles and Woody and the gang light up the screen. 

The best thing about “Toy Story 4” is its keen focus on Woody’s journey. Director Josh Cooley displays Woody’s nostalgic desires fantastically as we see him grappling with moving on from Andy and adjusting to Bonnie’s room. More so than any previous film, this fourth installment is almost exclusively about Woody and his journey to figure out what his purpose is beyond taking care of one kid. 

However, this focus also creates some problems. The original gang of toys is grossly underused, especially Buzz (Tim Allen), Woody’s best friend. The main players of the film are Woody, Bo Peep and the aforementioned new characters. While these are all a joy to be around, the film’s multiple storylines didn’t let any supporting character shine too much (the only exceptions here may be Forky and the hilarious pairing of Ducky and Bunny who get several recurring bits throughout the movie). 

By not tightly joining Bo Peep, Forky and Buzz’s stories together, Woody’s swan song feels all over the place. Its biggest problem may be the lack of classic Woody and Buzz chemistry. And while the ending of the film was emotionally ambitious, it failed to pack the parting punch every character deserved, especially those two. 

While the film is largely an enjoyable ride, it is hard not to feel slightly underwhelmed by the slump in the story and emotion department compared to previous installments. “Toy Story” fans should check the movie out in theaters, but should prepare to see more imperfections than they may have initially  hoped for.