[Screen It]

"TOY STORY 4"
(2019) (voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen) (G)


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QUICK TAKE:
Computer-Animated Comedy: A group of toys that come to life whenever humans aren't around try to find their human girl's favorite new toy that's flown the coop, all while dealing with a doll and her ventriloquist dummy henchmen who want something from the toys' leader.
PLOT:
Having been given to another child by their previous owner who's grown up and gone off to college, various sentient toys that come to life whenever humans aren't around are still adjusting to young Bonnie (voice of MADELEINE McGRAW). She's about to start kindergarten and thus cowboy toy Woody (voice of TOM HANKS), despite no longer being the favorite toy of the bunch, thinks someone should go along and comfort her.

Accordingly, he sneaks off in her backpack and watches as she creates a new toy, Forky (voice of TONY HALE), out of a spork and various odds and ends. Being new to the world, Forky doesn't know what's going on but senses his place is in the trash and thus repeatedly tries to get into trash cans and such.

When Bonnie's parents head off on an RV road trip, Bonnie takes along all of her toys, but when Forky flies the coop out the window, Woody jumps out after him. They then hit the road for the RV camp that happens to be next to a small town. There, something in an antique story reminds Woody of his former toy friend, Bo Peep (voice of ANNIE POTTS), and he and Forky enter the place only to encounter baby doll Gabby Gabby (voice of CHRISTINA HENDRICKS) and her small contingent of huge ventriloquist dummy goons.

Seeing that Woody has a fully functional pull-string voice box, Gabby Gabby decides she wants that to replace her defective one, all to fix her defect and thus have the shop owner's granddaughter take her as her toy. Woody manages to escape, but with Forky held hostage, he and his array of friends -- that include space ranger toy Buzz Lightyear (voice of TIM ALLEN) and Jessie the cowgirl (voice of JOAN CUSACK) among others -- set out on a rescue mission.

They end up running into Bo and her friend Giggle McDimples (voice of ALLY MAKI) who offer to help, as does Canadian stuntman figure Duke Caboom (voice of KEANU REEVES) as well as plush carnival toys Ducky (voice of KEEGAN-MICHAEL KEY) and Bunny (voice of JORDAN PEELE). But with Bonnie's parents getting ready to leave the RV park to continue on their travels, the various toys race against time to rescue Forky, all while contending with Gabby Gabby and her ventriloquist dummy goons.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
Being a professional movie reviewer, I'm always asked what my favorite movie of all time is. Unlike most of my critical brethren, I prefer to have a number of such films where any particular one doesn't get preferential treatment above the others (sort of in the vein of the answer to "Which of your kids is your favorite?").

But I do have a litmus test for any film to get on that short list and that is that it's the sort of movie I can watch time and again and still get the same level of entertainment and enjoyment out of seeing it as I did the first time around.

After last night's press screening of what's sure to be a huge summer blockbuster, I discovered I have another such test, not just for the best of the best, but also for any flick. And that's whether one can be swept up enough in the story, characters and overall experience to overcome and, for the most part, forget the less than optimal environment in which it's viewed.

I'm happy to report -- probably to no one's surprise but you sort of, kind of needed to be there to fully appreciate the following -- that "Toy Story 4" passed that newest test of mine with flying colors. Despite being in a nice, recently refurbished IMAX theater, the air conditioning was not working. In the suburbs of Washington, DC. In the summer. With several hundred of my closest, sweatiest colleagues. It was so hot I sweated through my shirt and repeatedly had to unstick myself from the leather seats. I sweated so much I was concerned that I likely had smeared the ink on the pages containing my handwritten notes.

But you know what? It didn't make any difference as -- surprise, surprise (as Gomer Pyle used to say) -- the film is well-made. It's also funny, thoughtful, charming, emotionally engaging, filled with creative details, and makes you realize just how much you missed Woody, Buzz and the rest of the gang, what with it being nine years since the last, and what most everyone figured was the final, installment in this series.

The 100-minute pic -- directed by new-to-the-series helmer Josh Cooley from a script written by Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom -- pretty much takes up where the last one left off. That is, after a brief, in-the-past prologue that explains why Bo Peep (voiced by Annie Potts) wasn't around in installment numero tres. After that, the story picks up with young Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) still possessing all of the toys given to her by Andy at the end of the last film.

With the girl facing her orientation day for kindergarten, Woody (Tom Hanks) figures one of them should accompany her for emotional support and tackles that duty himself despite having had to accept that he's no longer the favorite toy of the bunch. What follows is inspired if eventually poignant comedic lunacy as the girl makes a new friend at her school. As in MAKES a new friend, namely that of Forky (Tony Hale), a plastic spork adorned with various items to anthropomorphize him a bit.

Being something of a Frankenstein's monster character, and having only just been created, he doesn't understand how everything works and what everything means. He also equates himself with trash, meaning Woody must repeatedly keep him from trash can diving back "home" (a running gag early on that gets some decent laughs).

When Bonnie's parents take her -- and her toys, natch, on an RV vacation, Forky jumps ship -- uh, RV -- prompting Woody to hop out and try to find him. They end up in a small town and, in particular, an antique store when Woody sees something that reminds him of Bo Peep.

While he'll eventually be reunited with her, he has a far more creepy and intense encounter with a doll named Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) who's pushed around in a baby carriage after hours by an uber-creepy ventriloquist doll named Vincent (all as, in a nice Easter egg sort of movie making approach, some of the vintage music from "The Shining" plays in the background).

Gabby Gabby covets Woody's still functional pull-string voice box and it's not long before more of those dummies are chasing after Woody and Forky. The rest of the gang eventually joins the fray, along with new characters such as wisecracking and streetwise plush carnival toys Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele) and Canadian stuntman motorbike daredevil Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves). More jokes, some action and even some fairly intense (for a G-rated movie) moments and material ensue, along with some emotionally touching bits, all of which should appeal to viewers of all ages.

Will it make my list of favorite films of all time? Probably not, as I rank this a smidge or two below the best entry in the series, installment number three. But is it good, entertaining and enjoyable enough from start to finish to pass my "Can you watch it in a sauna" litmus test? You bet, and it does so with flying colors (which certainly sounds better than "flying sweat"). "Toy Story 4" rates as a 7.5 out of 10.




Reviewed June 17, 2019 / Posted June 21, 2019


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