Sheriff Woody: Complex Messiah

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Woody and Forky

He seeks out to save those who are lost. He loves without expecting or receiving anything in return.  He gives of himself to fix those who are broken. He instills an inner voice in the one closest to him to carry on in his absence. And, in the end, he ascends.

He's Sheriff Woody, stuffed savior and prophet of Pixar. And nowhere is that made more evident in this (final?) chapter of the Pixar pioneer franchise, TOY STORY 4.

We begin where it all began -- at Andy's house, and the donation of an outgrown toy. Bo Peep (ANNIE POTTS) is being given to another child, and Woody (TOM HANKS), as always, is prepared to rescue her. But it's Bo's time to move on -- although she does make a tempting offer for Woody to follow along, reminding him that toys "get lost" all the time. But realizing that Andy still needs him, he has no choice but to remain and let Bo move on.

Time then passes to Andy moving to college and the Toy Story gang being passed along to young Bonnie. But Bonnie isn't much of a "cowboy" girl, and Woody spends a lot of time in the closet while Bonnie plays with Jessie (JOAN CUSACK), Buzz Lighyear (TIM ALLEN) and her other toys. Woody isn't happy, but what's important to him is that Bonnie is happy. But when it's time for her to go off to kindergarten, he can't let her go it alone and sneaks off in her backpack. Seeing that she's having trouble and being left out of arts and crafts, he throws her whatever he has at hand in the wastebasket -- and we bear witness to the birth of Forky (TONY HALE), who still believes himself to be trash instead of toy. Seeing how much Bonnie needs Forky to be happy, Woody takes it upon himself to ensure Forky keeps from getting lost.

There are echoes of the same style of threat we saw in TOY STORY 2, when our heroes ran up against bullying toys at the daycare center. This time the antagonist comes in the form of Gabby Gabby (CHRISTINA HENDRICKS), who has languished in an antique shop waiting for the owner's granddaughter to notice and play with her. But for that to happen, she needs Woody, and with the help of her henchmen (ventriloquist dolls, all named Vincent, who resemble, no doubt on purpose, Slappy from the GOOSEBUMPS series), she gets him to agree to make a huge sacrifice all to save Forky and in turn Bonnie.

But on this adventure, he reunites with Bo, who has been a "lost toy" for years now, having been living in the wild and surviving without a child. So when resolutions all come to a head, he is again torn between going with Bo and staying loyal to his child. As with all the TOY STORY films, this one mixes lots of laughs with some very poignant points about life-changing moments. Only the life changing here isn't to the child, but to the toys.

It's not hard to see the parallels in the tale between Woody and Christ. Woody's tale is one of going out to save those who are lost and making ultimate sacrifices to fix a broken toy who hasn't done anything to deserve that sacrifice. He's tempted in the beginning to give up his role and become lost. He finds a toy who believes he is trash, and gives him worth and purpose. He even gives philosophical instruction to Buzz, making him his Peter, on how to make right decisions when it comes to fulfilling their function and leading by example.

To reveal any more of the story would be to spoil it beyond the bits already shared here. KEEGAN-MICHAEL KEY and JORDAN PEELE are a welcome addition to the cast as stuffed carnival toys Ducky and Bunny. Can it get any better than that? Oh yes it Canada, with the addition of motorcyle stuntman Duke Kaboom, voiced by John Wick himself, KEANU REEVES. 

Listen carefully early in the film as Woody watches from the closet with the other toys Bonnie has lost interest in or outgrown, because it's a Who's Who of comedy legends. MEL BROOKS, ALAN OPPENHEIMER, CAROL BURNETT, BETTY WHITE, and CARL REINER. I certainly hope there's a bonus feature on the Blu-ray of this devoted to just this scene -- and a Pixar short putting them all in a 15-minute variety show skit.

4.5 / 5.0