The mere existence of Toy Story 4 is a little bittersweet. As fans of the series know, the final moments of Toy Story 3 (which, BTW, came out NINE years ago) seemed a pitch-perfect ending to the series, with all the toys we know and love moving on from their original owner, Andy, so that a new child, Bonnie, could grow up with them.
But no matter why Pixar decided to go ahead with a fourth film, it remains an utter pleasure to spend time with the characters that made the studio the powerhouse it is today. This time, Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack), Hamm (John Ratzenberger), and more are on a road trip with Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) and her family. Bonnie, who recently started kindergarten, has created her new favorite toy, Forky (Tony Hale), and thanks to Forky’s strong desire to throw himself in the trash, Woody takes it upon himself to protect Forky at all costs.
This proves an exhausting job, and one of Woody’s many attempts at rescue leads them both into a small-town antique store, where Woody thinks he has found the long-lost Bo Peep (Annie Potts). There, they also encounter Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), an old doll who has long lingered on the shelf thanks to a broken voice box. When she discovers Woody is a pull-string toy, she covets his voice box to make her whole again.
Those are the basics, but there is so much going on in the film that it would be impossible to cover it all in a synopsis. Written by Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom and directed by Josh Cooley, the characters have an adventure more-than-worthy of previous entries in the series, buoyed by the outstanding humor and emotion that Pixar has brought to nearly every film in its history.
As they’ve done in the other films in the series, the filmmakers seamlessly integrate a variety of new characters. Forky is hilarious from the start, as are carnival toys Bunny (Jordan Peele) and Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key), motorcycle daredevil Duke Kaboom (Keanu Reeves), and Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki). Gabby Gabby is ostensibly the villain of the film, especially when she calls in a troupe of ventriloquist dummies to protect her, but she comes with a heartbreaking backstory that makes her feel less than evil.
Unsurprisingly, the film’s animation is absolutely gorgeous. While the core characters are still recognizable from their debut in 1995, the advance in the amount of detail the animators can now show on them and the world in general is staggering. There are many times where, with a little suspension of disbelief, the film could plausibly be passed off as live action, especially when it comes to things like water and hair.
Now, the bittersweet feeling comes with knowing — absolutely this time — that it will be the final experience watching and listening to these iconic characters. For the past 25 years, they have set a standard that most other films can’t match. They will live on in the hearts of children and the young at heart, but the tears that come at the end aren’t merely because of the stellar storytelling.
It may not have truly needed to be made, but Toy Story 4 is just as good as any of the other films in the series and proves once again that Pixar is the undisputed master in the animation field.