“Can you remember what happened at the end of Toy Story 3”, I asked Mrs Chrisparkle as we walked to the cinema last night. “Nope,” she replied, “but I’m sure there’ll be some kind of catch up at the beginning”. And sure enough, the film opens with “Nine years ago….”; and you sit there and think, was it really that long since we last saw Woody and his toy pals in a series of manic episodes of mild peril? Yes it was! And, because I know you’re trying to remember the date, the first film came out in 1995. Some of those ten-year olds who saw the first movie in that year are probably grandparents by now. Well, not quite, but you get my drift.
Woody, now handed over to Bonnie by Andy, is no longer her favourite toy although he still commands some respect in the toy community. Bonnie’s off to kindergarten, and she’s scared (who wouldn’t be?) Woody sneaks into her backpack to give her some support on the orientation day. But things start to brighten up for her when she makes a toy from a spork, some pipe cleaners and a lolly stick, rescued from the bin by Woody; welcome to the world, Forky. Bonnie is much attached to Forky, but Forky doesn’t want to be a toy; his low self-esteem makes him feel he’s only suited to the trash can. Bonnie’s parents take her on a mini road-trip to soften her up for returning to kindergarten; but Forky’s existential crisis causes him to hurl himself from the campervan, and, naturally, Woody takes it on himself to rescue him.
Thus separated from the rest of the family, Woody now has to track them down at the funfair site where they have parked; but, en route, he bumps into Bo-Peep, to whom he said goodbye years ago… and that complicates matters. Things always get messy when there’s a whiff of romance in the air. Will Woody and Forky reunite with Bonnie? Will Bo-Peep continue her strong solo woman lifestyle? And what about the voiceless doll Gabby Gabby, who wants to steal Woody’s voicebox so that she becomes desirable again? I’m not going to tell you, you’ll have to watch the film to find out!
If you’ve seen the previous films (of course you have) then you’ll be itching to know what becomes of Woody, Buzz, Jessie and the rest of the gang. And I can tell you that you won’t be remotely disappointed, it’s everything you hope to get from a Toy Story movie and probably more. There’s a level of reflection, introspection even, in this film which, if it was evident in the previous incarnations, receives greater emphasis here.
In a lovely reversal of the human experience of this situation, the social stigma of being a childless toy is so overwhelming in this film’s universe that if you’re not childless, you have to whisper it so as not to upset the others. Attachment to a kid is the ultimate in existence. If you don’t have a kid, you’re not really a toy – discuss. The concept of listening to and acting on your inner voice is also brought to the forefront, with Woody’s highly developed sense of responsibility leaving the others frequently nonplussed as to his recklessness. Buzz tries to get a grip on the inner voice concept, and relates it to the random automated announcements that he emits whenever he presses his belt buttons. Gabby’s inner voice is silenced and the only way she can expect a happy future is to deprive another toy of his own voicebox.
Technically, of course, it’s superb. The animation is a constant delight, with the vivid funfair, the dusty old antique shop, the torrential rain, for example, all being totally convincing. Did Woody and Buzz always have the identical pointy nose? The action is fast and furious, the script is funny, the characterisations are spot on, and the emotions are, definitely, real.
No expense was spared in recruiting the finest actors for bringing these toys to life, and they all do a brilliant job. Most of the old favourites are there; Slinky the dog, Mr Pricklepants the luvvie actor hedgehog, the Potato Heads (despite his death in 2017, Don Rickles is still the voice of Mr Potato Head, using unused audio recordings from the previous films), Rex the hyper-anxious dinosaur, and Hamm the cynical piggybank.
In addition to Forky and Gabby, New Toys on the Block include the streetwise compact police officer Giggles McDimples, carnival toys Bunny and Ducky, nightmare henchmen the Bensons, and, my favourite, wannabe macho poseur stunt rider Duke Caboom, who fails to live up to his advert’s hype as far as adventurousness is concerned, but loves to strike a pose on his bike – with hilarious but totally believable voicing from Keanu Reeves.
Memorably enjoyable moments include the farcical sat nav instructions from Mrs Potato Head and Buttercup the hardnosed unicorn, the intimidating presence of the ventriloquist dummy Bensons, the unpredictable antics of Bo-Peep’s sheep, and the repulsive regurgitation of Giggles when she’s spat out like a furball.
The resolution to the story was not at all what I expected; it breaks the rules as to how a toy should behave – and is really endearing as a result. However, despite the emotional content, it didn’t create any activity in the tear duct department, unlike my friend the Squire of Sidcup who saw it with his dad and it reduced both of them to blubbering messes. However, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable film – at 100 minutes it’s the perfect length – and a more than worthy successor to its three prequels. If you’ve got any old toys hanging around from your childhood – go give them a hug. They need it.