Without R. Lee Ermey’s Sarge, Things Go Off the Rails in ‘Toy Story 4’


If you thought 2010's "Toy Story 3" was the perfect ending to the story of Woody and Buzz's life with Andy, then Pixar has a surprise for you: "Toy Story 4" (out now on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital) finds a way to extend the story in a way that makes sense. It's at least on par with the original "Toy Story" movie, even if it doesn't quite match the heights reached by the previous two sequels.

Salty oldsters may not realize that Marine Corps legend R. Lee Ermey was just as famous to younger generations for being the voice of the plastic Army man Sarge as he was for playing Gunny Hartman in "Full Metal Jacket." His figurine unit provided essential recon and intel that allowed the crew to succeed in their impossible missions and the banter between Woody (Tom Hanks) and Sarge was always a treat.

We lost Ermey last year, but it's unlikely that Sarge was ever going to be a part of the "Toy Story 4" mission. At the end of the third movie, Sarge and his unit joined Ken and Barbie on playground duty while Woody and Buzz moved on to live with their new kid Bonnie.

"Toy Story 4" introduces Forky, a homemade toy/art project that Bonnie creates a school. Forky (voiced by Tony Hale and actually a spork) becomes her favorite toy but doesn't understand a toy's job and goes on the lam during a family trip.

Woody tries to track him down so that Bonnie doesn't feel the pain of his loss and the crew spends the movie trying to break out of an antiques store and negotiate its way through a carnival before the family returns home.

Sarge fans will notice multiple moments in which Woody's mission would have gone much better if he had access to the plastic Army man intel he depended on so much in the first three movies. Chaos reigns and he has to solve his own problems this time.

"Toy Story 4" introduces a few new characters who offer more than just marketing opportunities for the movie. Duke Caboom (voiced by Keanu Reeves) is a Canadian knockoff of an Evel Knievel toy that lots of grandparents will remember fondly. Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) is a vintage doll who's collected dust in the antique shop for generations and will do almost anything to get a chance to connect with a kid. Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele reunite as the carnival prize stuffed animals Ducky and Bunny. They're all strong additions to the series, but, you know, they aren't Sarge.

Fans of Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) might find some issues with the movie. This one tells Woody's story and reduces the intergalactic hero to his most supporting role yet.

As with almost all Pixar home video releases, there's a director commentary and a host of documentary featurettes that break down the production process (including a half-hour of unfinished deleted scenes) that are essential for anyone who's interested in how these movies get made.

"Toy Story 3" seemed like a perfect ending to the movie series, and a lot of viewers wondered how they could possibly make a fourth. "Toy Story 4" actually tells a story that holds up and elevates this movie far above the cynical marketing opportunity it might have seemed back when Pixar announced that the movie was in production. You'll miss Sarge, but Pixar's "Toy Story 4" finds a tale worth telling.

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