For a majority of Toy Story fans, it was believed 2010’s Toy Story 3 was the definitive end to Woody's (Tom Hanks), his friends and his kid Andy’s wild adventures. But apparently John Lasseter (director of Toy Story 1 & 2) and Andrew Stanton (co-writer of Toy Story 1 & 2) had an idea for a fourth film back when Toy Story 3 was in production. If you remember, Bo Peep (Annie Potts) was absent during Toy Story 3 and it just so happens she’s returned for this fourth go-round (obviously, keep her in mind throughout 4's proceedings). So, despite Andy giving away his beloved toys to young Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) Pixar felt there was more to tell and the idea Lasseter and Stanton imagined was good enough to share with the world.

Still, could Toy Story 4 accomplish the unimaginable and create another great send off, considering Toy Story 3’s perfect ending? I’ll tell you this – this third sequel is incredible and good enough to have hardcore fans consider rearranging their Toy Story best-to-worst pecking order.

In 4, Woody is no longer the alpha because Bonnie simply doesn’t gravitate to a male-centric toy. In fact, there is a quick scene where Bonnie takes Woody’s sheriff badge and places it on Jessie (Joan Cusack). Simply put, Bonnie almost never picks Woody to play with and it’s evident that Woody wants to be Bonnie’s favorite, just like he was with Andy.

Bonnie is about to begin kindergarten and she’s experiencing separation anxiety. In order to conjure up enough courage to take this next step in life, Bonnie makes a new toy during orientation. That “toy” is a spork named Forky (Tony Hale), and he is now Bonnie’s favorite, most precious toy. Forky is not a traditional toy and would rather be in the trash because that’s what happens to sporks after use. Woody takes it upon himself to make sure Forky doesn’t throw himself away, but in the meantime Bonnie and her parents go on a family trip, thus providing plenty of adventures for Woody, Dorky and the rest of the toys.

If nothing else, the Toy Story series is most effective at providing emotion. Plot has always been secondary and it’s normally a variation of one (or some) of Andy’s toys getting lost, and it’s up to the rest of the gang to find/save them, or in the original’s case, save themselves. Woody again is the focus despite always on the verge of being replaced. Even though Woody has remained a vital part of Andy’s childhood, it remains to be seen what role he’ll play in Bonnie’s. That uncertainty has forced Woody reevaluate his purpose since he’s always dedicated his life to his kid; remaining loyal and choosing a safe path as opposed to seeking out the unknown.

That unknown is going sans kid and living a life as a lost toy. Since the first Toy Story, Woody has viewed being lost as a negative – the worst thing a toy can be. But during Bonnie’s family vacation he witnesses things that has him questioning his maxim (something explored in Toy Story 4’s prologue). Upon seeing Bo Beep’s new life, who was given away years ago, Woody's eyes are wide open. In addition, Woody harbors a love for Bo that's quite interesting (and pure). It’s been teased for years but was forced to sit the sidelines because Andy was always the priority. But Bo’s return, combined with Forky’s quirky (and hilarious) mindset, makes for an interesting predicament.

Adding to Toy Story 4’s complexity is Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a talking doll living in an antiques store whose demure and graceful disposition belies a more sinister plan. Gabby Gabby will remind viewers of past antagonists Lotso (Ned Beatty) and Stinky Pete (Kelsey Grammer), but Gabby Gabby offers a more nuanced and layered villain. She, too, is seeking purpose, which directly relates to Woody’s plight, although both toys have accepted different paths to achieve inner peace.

That desire for inner peace (and making up for regrets) is at the center of Toy Story 4. Despite Toy Story 3’s near-perfect ending, 4 provides another excellent conclusion that wraps up Woody story arc. If you think about it, 3 is Andy’s ending. He left for college and his toys’ usefulness reached its inevitable end. Toy Story 4 represents an opportunity for Woody to be a little greedy by having him give in to the needs he painfully set aside. The amazing part about all of this is 4 still comes through as light-hearted, entertaining and humorous. It is a perfect “but wait, there’s more” scenario to a 24 year old franchise that still has plenty to offer.

Probably the only flaw (and for some it may be a big one) is that many of the toys we love and care about sit this one out. Trixie (Kristen Schaal), Dolly (Bonnie Hunt), Hamm (John Ratzenberger), Slinky Dog (Blake Clark), Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles, R.I.P.), Mrs. Potato Head (Estelle Harris), and Buttercup (Jeff Garlin) play minor roles, left only to distract Bonnie and her parents. Even Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), a major character in the past, has little to do. Some new (and memorable) characters, like Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key), Bunny (Jordan Peele), Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) and Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki) take center stage as they join Woody, Bo and Forky in an intimate adventure. It’s the one sacrifice Toy Story 4’s writers (which include Lasseter, Stanton, Rashida Jones, Will McCormack, Josh Cooley, Valerie LaPointe, Martin Hynes and Stephany Folsom) had to make, but they obviously wanted to give Woody a worthwhile and emotional ending.

Toy Story 4 represents a rare second yet fitting ending to the franchise. From that perspective it achieves the impossible, and Toy Story 4 is that much better because of it. Toy Story 4 is scaled down, more personal and less epic, but it still packs a ton emotionally and is balanced out with its trademark fun. Great job, Pixar, for reigniting my love for this franchise by reminding me why it’s so amazing in the first place.

4.5 stars out of 5


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