'Toy Story 4' gets existential, and it totally works

[Original Post] Toy Story 4’s Forky might be the most 2019 character of 2019. Image: Disney / Pixar By Angie Han2019-06-13 16:00:00 UTC Why does Toy Story 4 exist? Who is it for? What are we to get out of it? What about Pixar? Did we need it? Are we sure? Toy Story 4 knows […]

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[Original Post]
Toy Story 4’s Forky might be the most 2019 character of 2019.

Image: Disney / Pixar

Why does Toy Story 4 exist? Who is it for? What are we to get out of it? What about Pixar? Did we need it? Are we sure?

Toy Story 4 knows you’re asking these questions, and responds by turning them back around on you. Why are you here? What is your purpose? What are you doing with your life? And why?

It’s a strange, heady stuff for a G-rated movie about dolls, and indeed, Toy Story 4 feels less like a family film than a film for adults their that children might also like. The colorful cartoon characters and their wacky hijinks will surely go appreciated by the younger set — but the messaging is aimed squarely at those who were old enough to watch the first or second Toy Story in theaters, and it hits that mark with grace and confidence. 

Enter Forky, whose extreme horror at his own existence makes him a contender for the most 2019 character of 2019.

Toy Story 4 picks up not long after the bittersweet end of Toy Story 3, which sent Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), and the rest of the gang off to new adventures with a new kid, Bonnie. When we see them again here, things are mostly the same as they ever were, except that Woody’s starting to feel a bit left behind, having lost the “favorite toy” status he enjoyed at Andy’s. 

Enter Forky (Tony Hale), whose extreme horror at the fact of his own existence makes him an early contender for the most 2019 character of 2019. He’s literally trash, having been fashioned by Bonnie out of scraps fished out of a kindergarten wastebasket, and he would like to be left alone to return to the trash, thank you very much. “Why am I a toy?” he demands to know, mere hours into his unasked-for life. “Like it or not, you’re a toy,” is the unsatisfying answer he gets back.

Forky is a character unlike any we’ve seen from this franchise before, in everything from his appearance (primitive and precarious, but oddly cute) to his voice (wiggly with panic, but gentle around the edges), and Toy Story 4 wrings plenty of laughs out of the bizarre sight of a spork with existential despair. It’s just plain funny to watch him launch himself into the garbage over and over again, only for Woody to drag him back out, and endearing to hear him try and make sense of the strange situation he’s found himself in. 

But Forky’s questions aren’t invalid for being fundamentally unanswerable, and they eventually become the catalyst for Woody’s own journey of self-reflection — as well as an actual, physical journey, once the pair get lost in the middle of Bonnie’s family road trip. 

Along the way, they meet a whole slew of new characters, including Duke Caboom (a perfectly delightful Keanu Reeves), a Canadian action figure suffering from performance anxiety; Bunny and Ducky (Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key), a conjoined pair of stuffed animals with alarmingly destructive fantasies; and Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), an antique doll who may have a sinister agenda.

The newbies are so appealing, the jokes so crackling, the pacing so brisk, that you may almost be distracted enough not to notice that we get limited time with the old gang, like Jessie (Joan Cusack), Rex (Wallace Shawn), and Buttercup (Jeff Garlin). At least we get the welcome return of Bo Peep (Annie Potts), last heard from in Toy Story 2. Toy Story 4 seems determined to make up for her absence in Toy Story 3 by giving her an extra-meaty role this time around, and she’s presented here as a character to be awed and inspired by. 

Bo Peep's back, and she's a badass.

Bo Peep’s back, and she’s a badass.

Image: Disney / Pixar

Then again, it’s probably appropriate that Toy Story 4 spend more of its time looking forward than it does looking back. It’s a next chapter that’s extremely aware of being a next chapter, and knows it needs to offer something new to justify our return to a book we thought we’d closed. 

Rather than hide that strain, Toy Story 4 goes meta with it. It makes that strain its story, its purpose, its emotional spine. The reach for new territory opens the door to more complicated ideas, and ever-more-absurd gags (stick around all the way through the credits). In the process, it pushes Pixar into some of its most daring territory in years. Which, ironically, makes it feel like something of a throwback to the days when Pixar regularly surprised us with its originality and its sophistication.

Toy Story 4‘s purpose, in the end, is to help you find yours. 

Not all of it will work for everyone. Certainly, it’s hard to imagine explaining to a child that the moral of the story is to live one’s life with purpose and intent and to refuse to slip passively into an existence defined by other people’s expectations. Even an adult might not have much use for that message, which is totally fine. You’ll find plenty to savor in Bo Peep’s vaguely Mad Max-y road stunts, or Duke’s deeply silly poses, or Buttercup’s horrifying plans for Bonnie’s dad. 

But if you’re at that that point in life where you’re starting to question whether it’s really all going to work out the way you’d hoped, and what on earth you might do if it doesn’t? If you’re wondering why you’re on this planet in the first place, and what you’re supposed to do while you’re here? Toy Story 4 is talking to you. 

This may not always feel like classic Toy Story, but perhaps that’s the point. If the last film gave us the happy ending of a cycle starting all over again — Woody and the gang ready to love and be loved by another new child — this one asks if that cycle is truly all there is. Toy Story 4‘s purpose, in the end, is to help you find yours. 

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