Toy Story 4

After producing three brilliant Toy Story movies, I had my doubts that Pixar could pull off a fourth. The last one had such a perfect ending that continuing the saga seemed like a recipe for mediocrity, and possibly even disaster. I could not have been more off-base with that assessment. Toy Story 4 is another winner, with an ending that feels authentic after twenty-four years of following these characters.

The film opens on a simple note. Young Bonnie anxiously starts Kindergarten. On her orientation day, she makes her own toy, Forky (voiced by Tony Hale), out of a spork, pipe cleaners, and a popsicle stick. Creating him helps her through the anxiety, so she declares him to be her new favorite toy. Forky was created from trash, so that's what he thinks he is. Woody (Tom Hanks) helps him adjust to life as a plaything. When Bonnie's family goes on a road trip, Forky gets lost, leading Woody to launch a rescue mission. And when he doesn't return, Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) launches a second rescue mission. All sorts of comic shenanigans follow.

Toy Story 4 deserves credit for finding fresh elements. Taking Woody and the gang on the road helps to liven things up. There are some intriguing new settings, primarily an antique store where a few old toys sit forgotten. Plenty of appealing new characters are here, as well. They include Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a doll who has never had a kid, and Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), a daredevil toy with a confidence issue.

Then there's Forky, who is uproariously funny. Early scenes find him struggling to accept that he's not being used for his intended purpose. The spork that comprises most of his body was, as he points out to Woody, made to be a disposable object. He doesn't want to be a toy. Big laughs are generated from watching him deal with this existential crisis.

The appeal of the Toy Story series has always been its use of lovable characters to examine the importance of toys in a child's life. Toy Story 4 finds a new way of coming at the topic. The plot is very much about “lost” toys – objects that have been left outside, unknowingly dropped in public, forgotten on vacations, and so on. While that sounds like a downbeat topic, TS4 looks at it from two sides. A toy being permanently separated from its kid is sad, but it can also be an opportunity for another kid who needs a toy to find one. The movie winds this theme into a powerhouse ending that's deeply touching and more than a little emotional. Bring Kleenex.

All the voice actors continue to do pitch-perfect work, and the animation is typically Pixar beautiful. This is set to be the final entry in the Toy Story franchise. Where the tale ends seems like a suitable conclusion for everyone. Buzz and Woody speak the last line together. No more graceful bit of dialogue could have been conceived for them to deliver.

What a stunning finale to a magnificent group of films.

out of four

Toy Story 4 is rated G. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.