Playing for keeps: Toy Story 4 holds its own in the popular film series

Toy Story 4 adds more characters and continues the witty dialogue and crisp animation we’ve come to expect from the Pixar series.
Walt Disney Pictures. Toy Story 4 adds more characters and continues the witty dialogue and crisp animation we’ve come to expect from the Pixar series. Walt Disney Pictures.

Somehow, against all odds and conventional wisdom of movie sequels and their diminishing returns, the Toy Story series just keeps getting it right. The mere fact that there is a conversation about which is the best one shows just how successful it is. No one says the same about Incredibles 2, Monsters University, or Cars 2 and 3—some of which are good, but the superior movie in those series (the original, always) is so clear that it’s not up for debate. Not so with Toy Story, where each installment has so much to offer that it could legitimately be someone’s favorite; including, miraculously, this new entry no one asked for that comes nine years after an indisputably conclusive ending.

We meet Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and the gang shortly after the end of 3. With Andy off to college, they are now officially Bonnie’s toys. As they get to know her and her toys, Woody struggles to find his place; he’s not Bonnie’s favorite like he was Andy’s, and he’s not the leader of this new group. Woody sees his chance to save the day on Bonnie’s first day of kindergarten, when he sneaks into her backpack and helps her create Forky (Tony Hale), a spork with googly eyes and pipe cleaner arms that is baffled by his own existence. Bonnie loves Forky so much that Woody deputizes himself as his protector. Things go haywire when Woody and Forky fall out of the car on a family trip, and in their journey back they discover the long-missing Bo Peep (Annie Potts), plus a vintage Gabby Gabby doll (Christina Hendricks) in an antique shop that takes interest in Woody’s voice box, and will stop at nothing to get it.

The struggle faced by all of the toys, new and old, is how to fulfill their purpose. For some, it’s as easy as being whatever Bonnie wants them to be in the moment, but that’s not easy for Woody, who wrestles with not being the special one anymore. It’s also not that easy for Gabby Gabby, who was built to love an owner but has never had the opportunity. Meanwhile, Forky, a toy made of trash, wants nothing more than to return to the bin. Even minor characters like Canadian stuntman Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) and carnival prizes Ducky and Bunny (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) have exciting and endearing arcs of their own.

The worst criticism one could offer about Toy Story 4 is that it can be repetitive; once the characters are established, the main plot devices are chases and rescue missions. It’s not quite at the level of its predecessor, and there is no scene in 4 that matches the dread of 3’s climax, but it’s so much fun that you won’t even notice. It’s not the best of the series, but it is the funniest, and still packs an emotional punch at just the right moments. TS4 doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it does make a satisfying conclusion to the series—assuming it actually is. Who can say what the future holds?

Toy Story 4 / G, 100 minutes / Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX, Violet Crown Cinema

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema 377 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056, z Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213, z Violet Crown Cinema 200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000, z Check theater websites for listings.

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