Unlike its predecessor, Toy Story 4, does not pick up its story in real time, 9 years after the previous movie. It starts off with a flashback to a time when Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) and the gang were still Andy’s toys, and Bo Peep (voiced by Annie Potts) was part of the household. We sadly discover that Bo and her sheep were given away by Andy’s parents since Molly didn’t need a nightlight anymore. Woody tries to rescue Bo, but she turns him down, saying she’s ready for the next kid. Accepting her decision, Woody let’s her go.
Flash-forward to just after Toy Story 3. Bonnie is still happily playing with all the toys she inherited from Andy, except for Woody, who has been left behind in the closet for the last 3 playtimes. Despite feeling unwanted and rejected, Woody still tries his best to keep Bonnie happy, even stowing away in her backpack after hearing Bonnie was feeling uncomfortable about going to kindergarten orientation (and despite Bonnie’s mother’s warning that toys don’t go to school). Bonnie gets through the day by making a new friend, Forky (voiced by Tony Hale), from things Woody finds in the trash. On their way home, Woody surprisingly discovers that Forky comes to life just as any of the toys do, and furthermore the hand-made toy has an unhealthy obsession with getting into any trash receptacle nearby.
Forky becomes Bonnie’s favorite new toy, relegating Woody to his constant babysitter to prevent Forky from escaping and jumping into the trash. Unfortunately, Forky finally succeeds in escaping during the family road trip, and it’s up to Woody to save him and reunite Forky with Bonnie. Along the way, Woody encounters several unwanted and seemingly sinister toys in an antique store and, against all odds, reunites with Bo, who is now a fiercely independent free toy with no owner living in the ‘wilds’ near a kids park. With her help, quick wit, and knowledge of the terrain, they both go off to rescue Forky and hopefully get back to Bonnie somehow.
Most of the old gang of toys are relegated to the background except for Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen), who also sets out on his own to find Woody and Forky. Besides the neurotic obsessive Forky, we’re introduced to Ducky and Bunny (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele respectively), two leftover plush carnival prizes pining for a kid of their own with a slight obsession for attacking people; Duke Caboom (voiced by Keanu Reeves), the Canadian Evel Knievel daredevil-on-a-motorcycle action toy who loves to pose; and Gabby Gabby (voiced by Christina Hendricks), a broken talking baby doll with her own gang of creepy voiceless ventriloquist dummies whose after Woody’s working voice box. This group reminds me a bit of the toys on the Island of Misfit Toys from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, all of whom are unwanted and unloved by anyone, which is the overall theme of the movie. The only one who has learned to deal with this is Bo, who has transformed herself from being just a lamp decoration to a free toy using her wits and ingenuity to play with kids everyday in the “wilds.” Woody, on the other hand, is still an owned toy loyal to Bonnie, who can’t imagine a life on his own doing what he wants instead of what his owner wants. Gabby is stuck with this perfect version of the happy life she will get once she has a working voice box, as illustrated by a book she pores over constantly. As for Forky, who is actually loved and wanted, he has to get over being alive in the first place and understand what feeling needed is about.
The movie is stuffed to the brim with characters and small background subplots that are sometimes a bit overwhelming, but the narrative still flows quite easily with one main storyline. There are bits of almost every movie genre represented from action to drama, horror, family, kids, and even a bit of romance between Woody and Bo.
The movie is dedicated to Don Rickles, the deceased voice of Mr. Potato Head. The film used archival voice clips of Rickles to fill in his scenes posthumously two years after Rickles’ death, similarly to how Pixar got the late Paul Newman to voice Doc Hudson one last time in Cars 3. As for end credit scenes, there are a few in-between scenes before the main credits roll as well as one tiny scene at the VERY end of EVERYTHING.
I think all of us have had to cope with feeling unwanted and unloved, and doing nothing about it just results in nothing happening to change the situation. Being proactive is the key to one’s own happiness and in turning things around, which is what Bo teaches all the other toys stuck in the reject pile, including Woody. It’s a lesson I think all of us can learn from Bo.