Building Entertainment: The Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Pixar edition. Toy Story 4

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: Toy Story 4

Year: 2019

Budget:  $200 milliom

Box office: $1.073 billion


Nine years earlier, following the events of Toy Story 2, Bo Peep and Woody attempt to rescue RC, Andy’s remote-controlled car, from a rainstorm. Just as they finish the rescue, Woody watches as Bo is donated to a new owner, and considers going with her, but ultimately decides to remain with Andy.


Years later, a teenage Andy donates them to Bonnie, a younger child, before he goes off to college. While the toys are grateful to have a new child, Woody struggles to adapt to an environment where he is not the favorite as he was with Andy, apparent when Bonnie takes Woody’s sheriff badge and puts it on Jessie instead, not even bothering to give him a role during her playtime.


On the day of Bonnie’s kindergarten orientation, Woody worries over her and sneaks into her backpack. After a classmate takes away Bonnie’s arts and crafts supplies, Woody covertly recovers the materials and various pieces of garbage from the trash, including a plastic spork. Bonnie uses these to create a bipedal spork with googly eyes, whom she dubs “Forky”. Forky comes to life in Bonnie’s backpack and begins to experience an existential crisis, thinking he is garbage rather than a toy and wishing to remain in a trash can. As Forky becomes Bonnie’s favorite toy, Woody takes it upon himself to prevent Forky from throwing himself away.


When Bonnie’s family goes on a road trip, Forky jumps out of the RV window, and Woody pursues him. After Woody explains how important he is to Bonnie, Forky decides to accompany Woody and return to her. Near the RV park where Bonnie’s family is staying, Woody spots Bo Peep’s lamp in an antique store window and goes in, hoping to find her. Inside, he and Forky encounter a talking doll named Gabby Gabby, who desires Woody’s voice box to replace her broken one. While Woody is able to escape, Gabby captures Forky. At a playground, Woody is reunited with Bo Peep and her sheep Billy, Goat, and Gruff, who now live as “lost” toys that are not dedicated to one child. Bo agrees to help Woody save Forky and get back to Bonnie.


Meanwhile, Buzz searches for Woody but gets lost at a fairground and becomes a carnival game prize. He escapes with plush toys Ducky and Bunny, and they meet up with Woody and Bo. With the help of pocket toy cop Giggle McDimples and stuntman toy Duke Caboom, they unsuccessfully try to rescue Forky from Gabby, her ventriloquist puppethenchmen, and the store owner’s cat. In the aftermath of the failed rescue, Bo and the other toys argue over whether to go back. Woody declares that rescuing Forky is his remaining purpose and tells Bo that being loyal is something a lost toy would not understand. Alone, Woody encounters Gabby again, who expresses her longing for a child’s love. Woody sympathizes with her plight and willingly trades his voice box for Forky.

image.jpegDuke Caboom Solo Toy Story 4 Poster copy

The toys part ways, but Woody watches Gabby as she is rejected by her ideal owner, Harmony. Woody comforts a heartbroken Gabby and invites her to become one of Bonnie’s toys. Bo returns with the others to help and reconciles with Woody. They head for the carnival, while Forky fetches Buzz and Bonnie’s toys; they interfere with the RV’s controls, forcing Bonnie’s father to drive back to the carnival. When Gabby sees a crying girl lost in the carnival, she decides instead to become that child’s toy, emboldening the child to approach a security guard and be reunited with her parents.


At the carousel, Woody and Bo share a bittersweet goodbye, but Woody is hesitant to leave Bo again. After Buzz tells Woody that Bonnie will be okay even without him, Woody decides to stay with Bo instead of returning to Bonnie. Woody passes his sheriff badge over to Jessie and bids a heartfelt farewell to his friends


Woody and Bo begin a new life with Ducky, Bunny, Giggle, and Duke, dedicated to finding new owners for lost toys. On her first day of first grade, Bonnie creates a second impromptu toy out of a plastic knife. It suffers the same existential crisis Forky once did, and is then smitten with her.

Background: Disney officially announced Toy Story 4 during an investor’s call on November 6, 2014. Then-studio head of Pixar John Lasseter, who directed the first two films and executive-produced the third, was scheduled to direct after writing a film treatment with Andrew Stanton, with input from Pete Docter and Lee Unkrich. Rashida Jones and Will McCormack joined as writers, with Galyn Susman returning as a producer from Ratatouille. Lasseter explained that Pixar decided to produce the sequel because of their “pure passion” for the series, and that the film would be a love story. He felt that “Toy Story 3 ended Woody and Buzz’s story with Andy so perfectly that for a long time, [Pixar] never even talked about doing another Toy Story movie. But when Andrew, Pete, Lee and I came up with this new idea, I just could not stop thinking about it.”


At D23 Expo in July 2017, Lasseter announced he was stepping down and leaving Josh Cooley as sole director, saying he could no longer commit to directing the film between his positions at Pixar, Walt Disney Animation Studios, and Disneytoon Studios. Jones and McCormack withdrew in November 2017, citing “philosophical differences.” By January 2018, Disney had confirmed that the screenplay had been written by Stephany Folsom, who rewrote three quarters of Jones and McCormack’s original script, according to Annie Potts. Folsom had collaborated on the screenplay with Stanton, who co-wrote the first two films. By September 28, 2018, recording for the film had begun.

Music: Randy Newman, who composed and wrote songs for the previous three films, was confirmed to be returning at D23 Expo 2015. Newman wrote new themes for Bonnie, Gabby Gabby, and Duke Caboom. He also reused his previous orchestral themes from the first three films. He wrote two new songs for the film, titled “The Ballad of the Lonesome Cowboy” and “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away”, with Newman also performing the latter.

Voice Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Estelle Harris, Blake Clark, Bonnie Hunt, Jeff Garlin, Kristen Schaal, Carl Weathers and Timothy Dalton reprise their character roles from the first three films and specials. Keegan-Michael Key returns as Ducky.

Don Rickles intended to reprise his role as Mr. Potato Head, but died in April 2017, before any lines were recorded as the script was still being rewritten. According to Cooley, Rickles’ family contacted Pixar and asked if there was any way to include him in the film. Pixar reviewed 25 years of archival material that Rickles had participated in, including unused lines from the first three Toy Story films, video games and other related media for the franchise, and other works, and re-purposed them for use within the film.

Tony Hale as Forky. He is known for his role in Arrested Development as  Buster Bluth. Hale also played Gary Walsh on Veep. He has appeared in feature films including In My Sleep, The Heat,and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip. He has provided voice-work for The Tale of Despereaux, The Angry Birds Movie, and , The Angry Birds Movie 2. Hale also voices Archibald in the DreamWorks show, Archibald’s Next Big Thing. Jordan Peele as Bunny. He was a cast member on Mad TV for five seasons. He co-created the show Key & Peele. Peele co-created the series The Last O.G. and  Weird City. He has also served as the host and producer of  The Twilight Zone revival. Peele and Keegan-Michael Key wrote, produced, and starred in Keanu and Peele has voice acted in Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie. His directorial debut,  Get Out, earned the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, along with nominations for Best Picture and Best Director. He received another Academy Award nomination for Best Picture for producing BlacKkKlansman. He directed, wrote, and produced the acclaimed horror film Us (2019).

Christina Hendricks as Gabby Gabby. Hendricks had recurring roles in several television series, including Beggars and Choosers,  Kevin Hill, and Firefly before being cast as Joan Holloway on Mad Men. She appeared in Drive, Ginger & Rosa, Lost River, Another Period, Hap and Leonard, The Neon Demon, Fist Fight, and The Strangers: Prey at Night. She returned to television in Tin Star and Good Girls. Keanu Reeves as Duke Caboom. His breakthrough role was as Ted “Theodore” Logan in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. This was followed by  Parenthood, Point Break, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, My Own Private Idaho, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Speed, Johnny Mnemonic, Chain Reaction, The Last Time I Committed Suicide, The Devil’s Advocate, The Matrix trilogy,  Constantine, Thumbsucker, A Scanner Darkly,  The Lake House, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Street Kings. Most recently he started in the John Wick series.

Ally Maki as Giggle McDimples. She is known for the shows Wrecked, Dear White People, and Cloak and Dagger. June Squibb as Margaret the Store Owner. She is best known for her role as Kate Grant in Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, for which she received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She made her Broadway debut in the original production of Gypsy starring Ethel Merman, taking over the role of stripper Electra in 1960.

Jay Hernandez as Bonnie’s dad. Hernandez made his film debut in Crazy/Beautiful. He has since appeared in Friday Night Lights, Hostel, Bad Moms, and as Chato Santana / El Diablo in Suicide Squad. He portrays Thomas Magnum in the reboot of Magnum P.I. Lori Alan as Bonnie’s mother. She has played a long-running role as Pearl Krabs on the animated television series SpongeBob SquarePants. She also voiced Diane Simmons on Family Guy, the Invisible Woman on Fantastic Four, and The Boss in the Metal Gear video game series.

Comedians Carol Burnett, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, and Betty White were added to the cast to voice a set of four toys that Bonnie played with as a toddler but had since outgrown, acting as “veteran” toys to help Woody prepare for when the same happens to him.

Critical Reception:

  • The film received a four-star rating from Matt Zoller Seitz of, who wrote, “This franchise has demonstrated an impressive ability to beat the odds and reinvent itself, over a span of time long enough for two generations to grow up in. It’s a toy store of ideas, with new wonders in every aisle.”
  • The Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday also gave the film 4 out of 4 stars and praised its, “visually dazzling concoction of wily schemes and daring adventures”, as well as achieving, “a near-perfect balance between familiarity and novelty, action and emotion, and joyful hellos and more bittersweet goodbyes.”
  • Peter DeBruge of Variety wrote, “Toy Story ushered in the era of computer-animated cartoon features, and the fourth movie wraps up the saga beautifully. At least, for now.”
  • The Daily Telegraph’s Robbie Collin wrote, “Toy Story 4 reaffirms that Pixar, at their best, are like no other animation studio around.”
  • Writing for IndieWire, David Ehrlich gave the film a grade of B+ and wrote, “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.”
  • Peter Travers of Rolling Stone, who gave the film four-and-a-half stars out of five stars, praised its, “visual pow, pinwheeling fun and soulful feeling” and lauded the voice performance of Tony Hale as Forky.
  • Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal said, “the new film isn’t flawless, but it’s hugely enjoyable and speaks, with bewitching buoyancy, to nothing less than the purpose of living and the mystery of life.”
  • While Peter Rainer of The Christian Science Monitor wrote that the film did not put him, “through the emotional wringer the way its predecessor did,” he still gave it a grade of A- and said, “it’s consistently inventive, funny, witty, and heartfelt. In other words, it’s a lot better than it has any right to be. It’s more than good enough to justify its existence.”
  • Conversely, Kyle Smith of National Review called the film “the weakest effort in the series so far”, finding its subject matter was unclear and the motives of the characters opposed and undermined the series’ previous instalments. He further critiqued the film for prioritizing its comedy while the story’s underlying themes were “tossed out haphazardly without much follow-through”, saying, “It may be an essential element of Disney’s corporate strategy, but as a film it’s forgettable.

Legacy: . It won the Critics’ Choice Movie Award for Best Animated Feature and the Producers Guild of America Award for Best Animated Motion Picture. At the 92nd Academy Awards, it was nominated for Best Original Song, and won Best Animated Feature. Since we discussed Toy Story 3, the Toy Story Land area has opened at Hollywood Studios.

My take: I am just going to put it out there: I was angry at the ending. I felt that Woody leaving his owner was out of character. I also felt the movie was unnecessary after the incredible ending of Toy Story 3. I also feel that Dolly wasn’t as a compelling villain. That being said, the new characters of Duke Caboom, Ducky, and Bunny were incredible and if the series were to continue, I would like to see more of them.

Available on Disney +?: yes

Next Week: Frozen II