REVIEW: ‘Toy Story 4’ is the perfect family film

June 21st, 2019 / By: Michael Foust / comments

REVIEW: ‘Toy Story 4’ is the perfect family film

Credit Disney

Bonnie is a timid little girl who doesn’t want to start kindergarten.

She hides behind her bed on the first day of school. She begs her parents not to make her go. And when she arrives at class, she sits alone and cries.

That’s OK, though, because her toy doll, Sheriff Woody, has tagged along to help, without her knowledge.

He stealthily climbs out of her backpack, finds a few crayons and craft supplies (from the trash), and tosses them her way. Bonnie picks them up, fastens a plastic spork and beady eyes to pipe cleaner, and -- voila!-- creates a strange-looking “doll” she calls Forky.

Forky quickly becomes her favorite toy; even he feels out of place.

“I am not a toy. I am a spork. I was made for trash,” Forky says.

Forky has a propensity to throw himself in the garbage. Woody, realizing the importance of Forky to Bonnie’s happiness, always rescues him. It’s a full-time job, similar to a parent keeping a crawling toddler out of trouble.

Yet Forky eventually escapes -- tossing himself out of an RV window during a family road trip. Woody jumps out of the window, too, hoping to find Forky and convince him to accept his new identity. There’s also the not-so-small problem of catching up with a speeding RV at the next campground.

Will Woody and Forky ever see Bonnie again?

The Disney/Pixar filmToy Story 4(G) opens this weekend, nine years after its predecessor, Toy Story 3, ended with Bonnie receiving a box of toys from the previous owner, Andy. It stars Tom Hanks as Woody, Tony Hale as Forky, Madeleine McGraw as Bonnie, Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear and Annie Potts as Bo Peep. The late Don Rickles even makes an appearance as Mr. Potato Head.

The series tells the story of toys that come to life when their owner isn’t in the room. They exist for only one thing: to bring children joy.

“You are going to help make happy memories that are going to last for the rest of her life,” Woody tells Forky.

The movie has a series of new characters and voices, including Forky, Bunny and Ducky (Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key, respectively), and the Canadian stuntman Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves).

The film follows Woody and Forky as they search for Bonnie but get sidetracked and then sidelined in an antique store.

Toy Story 4 is a worthy addition to the Toy Storyseries, even if it’s not as good as its predecessors. (Although some would say that’s debatable.)

It’s also a perfect family film. It has no language and no sexuality. It includes a couple of semi-disturbing moments, but the violence is minimal. 

Like all Pixar films, it includes serious lessons about life.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)

Violence/Disturbing

Minimal. The film’s most disturbing moments involve spooky-looking ventriloquist dummies in an antique store. It stays in G-rated territory, although the dummies -- who chase Woody and the others -- may trouble sensitive children. Buzz Lightyear gets punched in the head a few times by two new characters. Bo Peep gets her arm pulled off. (It’s bloodless and played for laughs.) Later, she uses her staff to hit a few people.

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

None. The romance between Woody and Bo Peep escalates. They don’t kiss, but they do hug.

Coarse Language

None.

Positive Elements

Bonnie comes from a loving family, and we see her mom and dad several times. Woody’s loyalty to Bonnie and the other toys is commendable. He serves as a father figure to them.

Other Stuff You Might Want to Know

Woody and Buzz Lightyear discuss the importance of listening “to your inner voice.” (See Worldview, below.)

Life Lessons

Loyalty is honorable. For Woody, loyalty is a doll’s purpose, and he risks his life multiple times to find Forky for Bonnie. 

Change is inevitable. Yes, that’s one of the themes of the entire series, but Toy Story 4takes it to another level with Woody, who eventually finds purpose in life after being placed in a closet. Bonnie, too, is experiencing change.

Humility can bring purpose. Woody is searching for meaning in life after being set aside for other toys. He seems to find it through a series of selfless actions. 

Different is OK: Forky is different from the other toys. Verydifferent. But Woody -- like a friend to the new kid in the neighborhood -- introduces Forky to the other toys and defends him. No one ever bullies Forky.

Worldview/Application

How do we receive guidance each day when important decisions arise? Woody thinks he knows. He listens to the “voice” inside of him -- the voice that “tells you … what you’re really thinking,” he says. At first, Buzz Lightyear doesn’t understand what Woody is referencing, but by the end of the film, Buzz is on board when they’re confronted by a critical matter. 

“Listen to your inner voice,” Buzz tells Woody.

But such advice can lead to disaster in the real world. What if that inner voice conflicts with God’s will? What if it’s wrong?

God speaks to us primarily through the Bible, but also through prayer and the Holy Spirit. We should train our “inner voice” to align with God’s “voice” -- not our own.

Partners

Toy Story 4 has more than a dozen partners. Among them: McDonald’s, Kellogg’s, Danimals and Juicy Juice.

What Works

The new characters. (I could have taken moreForky). The emphasis on loyalty. The humor. (Bonnie exclaims after the first day in school: “I finished kindergarten!”) 

What Doesn’t

Some moviegoers will love the ending. I didn’t.

Bo Peep’s outlook on life also deserves inspection. Had she found purpose in the midst of tragedy? Or had she become anti-kid? (“Who needs a kid’s room when you can have all this?”)

Discussion Questions

  1. Should we listen to our “inner voice”?
  2. Did Woody make the right decision in the end?
  3. Is loyalty always a virtue?
  4. What is the “secret” to finding purpose?
  5. What does Toy Story 4teach us about accepting those who are different?

Entertainment rating:3.5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating:5 out of 5 stars.

Toy Story 4 is rated G.