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SYFY WIRE reviews

Toy Story 4 reviews: New playdate is 'rambunctious' fun, if 'less moving' than threequel

By Josh Weiss
Toy Story 4

Following a near-decade hiatus, Pixar's Toy Story franchise (the one that started it all for the animation company) is returning to the big screen for a fourth time. Out June 21, the upcoming installment was helmed by Josh Cooley, co-writer of Inside Out.

Now, initial reviews for the sequel are pouring in, and critics are wasting no time in praising the eye-popping animation and profound themes of Toy Story 4, which seems to be another surefire hit for the House of Mouse. That being said, some reviews are pointing out that this entry in the family-friendly series isn't better than Toy Story 3, which seemed to wrap things up in a tight emotional bow that reduced adults into blubbering puddles of their former selves.

Following the events of the third movie, Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), and the rest of the gang are adjusting to life with their new kid, Bonnie, who is about to start kindergarten. Feeling alone at orientation, Bonnie makes a new friend, Forky, via a discarded spork, googly eyes, a popsicle stick, and a pipe cleaner. Forky (a showstopping Tony Hale) comes to life, but, not understanding his role as a toy, constantly wants to throw himself in the trash, prompting Woody to keep a close eye on him, which segues into a foot-tapping number about throwing one's self away by the great Randy Newman.

Things get more complicated when Bonnie goes on a road trip with her parents — an excursion that reunites the gang with Bo Peep (Annie Potts) and her sheep (who were noticeably absent from the last installment) and putting Woody at odds with a defective doll in a dusty antiques shop by the name of Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks).

Written by Stephany Folsom and Andrew Stanton, Toy Story 4 also features the voices of Joan Cusack, Wallace Shawn, Timothy Dalton, Bonnie Hunt, John Ratzenberger, Don Rickles, Estelle Harris, Blake Clark, Jeff Garlin, Kristen Schaal, and Laurie Metcalf. You should also prick up your ears for Mel Brooks and Carol Burnett near the start.

The real standouts of this picture are the fresh newcomers: Forky, Bunny (Jordan Peele), Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key), and Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves). In particular, Ducky and Bunny get the best gag in the entire movie.

OK, playtime is over, find out what critics are saying about the movie below...

"Cooley’s feature debut is by far the most cinematic of the series, doing incredible things with lighting, from the sparkling, rain-drenched driveway of the opening scene to the film’s breathtaking carnival-roof finale. Though practically photoreal in so many details, this latest installment couldn’t quite pass for live-action — but then, why would it want to? Toy Story ushered in the era of computer-animated cartoon features, and the fourth movie wraps up the saga beautifully. At least, for now." -Peter Debruge, Variety

"Ultimately, what gives Toy Story 4 genuine heft is that it's a tale of second chances and characters who take advantage of them. Like its predecessors, the film is rambunctious, noisy, genial, unpretentious, action-packed, and old-fashioned in a very good way... With some Pixar franchises having worn out their welcome and lent the impression of a capitulation to Disney's desire for more sequels at the price of less preparation and care, this one conveys the confident feel of a creation that, as a big man used to say, has not been served before its time." -Todd McCarthy, THR

"If Toy Story 4 doesn’t tarnish the series, it doesn’t polish it either. It’s a smaller, less moving, and mercifully, less traumatising entertainment than the last one, and less satisfying in its plotting and less provocative in its themes. But it does start promisingly." -Nicholas Barber, BBC

"Above all else, the one thing Toy Story 4 needed to do was make itself worthy of the title Toy Story. That’s a name with a grand tradition in animation. A name that promises excellence, not some by-the-numbers cash-grab. And while it’s certain to grab a lot of cash, the movie somehow lives up to that high standard. It’s an exciting, surprising, incredibly funny film that’s just as poignant and heartfelt as you’d expect from this franchise." -Germain Lussier, Gizmodo

"Clever, breathless, and never manic just for the sake of keeping your kids’ eyes busy, the action in Toy Story 4 is character-driven and paced to perfection ... Toy Story 4 takes a step back and forces Woody to re-evaluate his own sense of frontier justice. Yes, he was manufactured for the love that he has to give. But he’s only alive because of the love that he’s received in return." -David Ehrlich, IndieWire

"Toy Story 4 is a celebration of love more than anything — the magic in it to transform us and the terminal pain that arises when that love goes unreturned. If love sustains us, as Woody explains to Forky in so many ways, then we do everything we can to return and preserve it. It’s what pulls us through the rough patches, and it’s the one thing that keeps us going. And for toys, love has mortal implications: To love, and to be loved, is their life’s entire purpose." -Alex Abad-Santos, Vox

"Toy Story 4 does an even better job than Toy Story 3 of managing mature themes while remaining kid-friendly ... The film doesn’t even need the early reprise of Randy Newman’s 'You’ve Got a Friend in Me' to open the floodgates. It’s wonderful as it is, and has even more of a note of finality to it than Toy Story 3, which, at the time, seemed like the height of introspective, emotional final installments." -Karen Han, Polygon

"While treading in familiar themes of nostalgia and identity – and playing your heartstrings like a vintage Stradivarius – the fourth flick benefits from a funnier story than usual, neato debuting characters (Keanu Reeves for the win!), improved animation and a welcome reunion ... Toy Story 3 seemed like the end of the story, but there’s a finality to this film, too, and one that finds certain beloved mainstays making mature life decisions. Generations have grown up with the “Toy Story” movies, and it’s fitting that these lovably loyal pals do so as well." -Brian Truitt, USA Today

"Toy Story 3 left you, me and anyone in any movie theater in tears the moment it seemed that Woody, Buzz and all the other toys were about to perish in a junkyard. Toy Story 4 only left me in tears during a Family Guy-style non-sequitur that was so funny I couldn't help but cry ... In terms of quality, this puts Toy Story 4's story somewhere in between the quality of the previous films and the Toy Story Toons shorts that Disney has released over the past few years. It's not a bad story, and it shoots to be better than something made for TV, but no one will be weeping in the audience when they watch this film's climax." -Mike Sorrentino, CNET

"The Toy Story series has always been just as satisfying for adults as for kids, but this might be the first film that actually feels more relatable to the grown-ups, offering a surprisingly nuanced tale of coping with change and moving on after loss. While Toy Story 3 felt like the perfect ending for these characters, Toy Story 4 offers an unexpected epilogue that’s just as meaningful as the films that came before it. It may not have been necessary, but somehow, it still feels right." -Laura Prudom, IGN