Toy Story 4, rated PG

Starring Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Tony Hale, Annie Potts, Joan Cusack, Keanu Reeves

Austin Family Critical Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Austin Family Family-Friendly Rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I first heard about Toy Story 4, I questioned the necessity of a fourth entry in Pixar’s beloved Toy Story series – namely because Toy Story 3 (2010) is not only the perfect ending chapter to these films, but also perhaps the best movie Pixar has ever made, period.

I shouldn’t have been worried. Even though Pixar has spent the last several years making highly entertaining but less-essential sequels to their greatest films (The Incredibles 2Finding Dory, Monsters University), there’s a standard of excellence when it comes to the Toy Story films, and Toy Story 4 more than meets that high standard.

Within minutes of its opening, the film not only completely justifies its existence, but also begins to deepen the already-complex ideas and emotions explored in the previous three films. In short, this is Pixar’s best film since 2015’s Inside Out (although I am happy to hear they’re moving toward more original stories with their upcoming slate of films).

Tom Hanks and Tim Allen return as our favorite sheriff cowboy and space commander toys, Woody and Buzz Lightyear. At the end of Toy Story 3, their now college-bound owner, Andy (John Morris), gives his beloved childhood toys away to young Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), where they’ve since found a new home and playmate. As Bonnie enters kindergarten, however, the ever-attentive Woody is deeply worried about her transition into a new world. With Woody’s discreet help, Bonnie creates a new toy, Forky (Tony Hale), a skittish spork cobbled together out of, well, trash. Forky becomes Bonnie’s new favorite plaything and a form of emotional support to help her through kindergarten. Forky, however, believes that he’s trash, and it takes a lot of convincing from Woody for the newly assembled spork to realize his responsibility to Bonnie.

Toy Story 4 really kicks off when Bonnie’s family embarks upon a road trip with all of her toys along for the ride. When Forky attempts to run away from the family’s RV, Woody has to rescue him – which leads the two toys to a charming antique store in a nearby town. Woody believes his long-lost love, Bo Peep (Annie Potts), may be inside the store – but instead, he and Forky are faced with a defective antique doll, Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), who is desperate to remove Woody’s voice box and have it for herself. (It’s a desire Woody can understand – she simply wants to be loved by a child.)

Toy Story 4 is packed to the gills with vibrant and hilarious new toys – Canadian stuntman Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), who feels he’s never reached the potential promised by his TV ads; Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele), two stuffed animals resigned to life on a local carnival game prize rack; the aforementioned Forky, who is a delight; and even a brief appearance by a toy named Melephant Brooks (Mel Brooks, of course), who has one or two lines that had me howling with laughter. Toy Story 4 is also just beautiful to watch – the fact that most of the film takes place in a vibrant antique store and a nearby carnival is an immensely visually-appealing choice.

In the midst of one joyous scene after another, Toy Story 4 is also deeply concerned with Woody’s existential crisis. He’s always lived to make his owner happy – first Andy, now Bonnie. But the choice has come at a cost – he has forsaken a joyful life with Bo Peep, who is now an ownerless toy roaming around the carnival with other free toys. Woody has survived for so long by simply loving and being loved by a child – but what happens when those days come to an end?

Toy Story 4 finds new ground here – the other three films are largely concerned with the toys finding a way to make Andy happy. In this film, the question arises – what makes the toys happy? When their intended purpose is finished (whether because of a defect, or because their owner outgrows them), what do they do with their lives? I’m always astounded by the way Pixar makes me consider the existential dilemmas faced by seemingly inanimate objects. In Toy Story 4, they’ve found the perfect closing chapter for this series, and I was charmed, moved and delighted to spend time with these loyal and loving toys.

Toy Story 4 is appropriate for all ages.

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