Following an incredible trilogy all about the bittersweet sorrow associated with children growing up, Toy Story 3 (2010) ended on the perfect note - that letting kids go is hard, but that life can go on afterwards. In the surprise sequel Toy Story 4 (2019) which sees Pixar revisit the franchise one more time with the original cast and crew, life is indeed going on for the toys, and the result is the first film in the series that's entirely about them.
Yes whilst the first three installments used Woody (Tom Hanks) and his pals as a parental allegory through which we can watch Andy grow and change, here the toys are struggling with the idea of moving on themselves and living their own lifes, and that thankfully makes for an interesting and entirely viable narrative for a sequel. As a result - given the fact that the original films mean so much to so many - the main feeling you're likely to come out of Toy Story 4 (2019) with is one of relief.
Pixar has done it. This isn't an awkward rehash or an unnecessary cash-grab, but a proper film with genuine thematic significance. Like any great follow-up, it explores its characters further, it delves deeper into a new set of themes, and works on its own as a film which packs the merits of its predecessors - in this case a whole lot of fun, emotion, and things for the whole family to enjoy.
The story picks up fairly soon after the end of Toy Story 3 (2010) where the toys are with their new kid Bonnie, but pretty soon Woody is pushed to the back of the cupboard, and when they all end up on a road trip together, he's forced to start appreciating his own life as he runs into friends both new and old. It's a great journey for a character who - like any parent - has devoted most of his life to his kids, and in the end it's a pretty hard-hitting affair that has a genuinely nostalgic sense of moving on after an era of great love and joy.
Toy Story 4 (2019) really is Woody's film, and even if the story arguably struggles to string out a three-act narrative around his thematic journey, it makes for a great step forward and ultimately another perfect conclusion for the character. Those narrative shortcomings are more than made up for by the new supporting characters too, as the humour and melancholy that surrounds them and their relationship to Woody fills the time nicely.
New addition 'Forky' (Tony Hale) - a character Bonnie made out of a spork who insists he's trash and not a toy - is continually hilarious, generating genuine laughs throughout. Fairground toys Bunny and Ducky (voiced by Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key) are also a very amusing duo, and the multitude of characters found when Woody ends up in an antique store show that the genius ways Pixar have always played with the talking toy concept are still very much alive (in fact, this film may well be the funniest of the bunch).
The usual Pixar magic hasn't been lost elsewhere either as it not only packs the emotion, but it's also executed absolutely perfectly with sublime animation (the nuanced expressions on these china-like faces is shockingly affecting), as well as plenty of tongue-in-cheek references to all sorts of other films, and another perfect score from the ever-reliable Randy Newman.
In the end then, Toy Story 4 (2019) successfully recaptures the joy and the magic of the Toy Story series, but it also does much more than that. It works as a genuinely viable sequel with an interesting thematic centre. For the first time it's a film truly about the toys (and Woody in particular) moving on and discovering their own life, and that makes for something that's fun for sure, but also thoroughly moving.
Ultimately then, it's just such a relief that they've pulled it off the way they have and made a sequel that builds to another brilliantly satisfying conclusion. Is there space for a Toy Story 5? You got away with it once Disney, I can't see it happening again...
I give Toy Story 4 an 8 out of 10.
Toy Story 4 • Run time 1:40 • Rated G