Who else but Pixar could extend a trilogy many agreed had concluded with its best installment nine years ago? And not only extend it but improve on what is already among the highest-rated franchises of all time? And center it on a literal piece of trash—a super-endearing, crudely cobbled-together kids’ art project made out of a spork?

Indeed, Pixar has done it again with Toy Story 4, the (final?) chapter in the series that first put the studio on the map back in 1995. Directed by first-timer (and former Pixar storyboard artist) Josh Cooley, the film is as heart-warming, tear-jerking, hilarious, and ultimately brilliant as anything PIxar has done before, surpassing even Toy Story 3 in its ability to wrench genuine emotions from the most surprising of places.

Having spent more than two decades with Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), and their buddies, we’ve legitimately come to feel as though they’re old friends. Many of the folks sitting in the theater, in fact, have never known a cinematic world notpopulated by the Toy Story gang, so certainly the familiarity with the characters is a key to the series’ success. But this fourth installment takes it to a whole new level. Forky (Tony Hale) looks like the result of the Pixar brain trust going out of its way to create the ultimate challenge: “If we can make a dirty, discarded spork endearing, we can do anything.”

Toy Story 4 begins by flashing back nine years—to just before the events of the third film—as we watch Bo Peep (Annie Potts) get donated to a local collector. (So thatexplains her absence from Toy Story 3!). Back in the here and now, Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) is being shunned by her classmates at her kindergarten orientation, so she creates the homely Forky out of a spork, some yarn, a popsicle stick, and a blob of Play-Doh. Despite Buzz and Woody’s best efforts, poor Forky can’t wrap his head around the idea that he’s a toy and instead spends every waking moment trying to return to the trash can he came from.

Bonnie and her family (and the toys) then head out for a quick road-trip vacation, and outside the sleepy mountain town of Grand Basin, Forky finally makes his getaway, setting in motion the events of the film. Woody eventually tracks Forky down, but when they wander into town, they pass an antique store, where Woody spots Bo Peep’s lamp. Creepy ventriloquist dummies and a sinister Gabby Gabby doll (Christina Hendricks) ensue, as Woody and Bo reunite.

To go into any more detail would run the risk of ruining the enjoyment of the film; this is one that needs to be experienced to truly appreciate. Kids will have an absolute ball (particularly with the addition of new characters Bunny and Ducky, voiced by Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key, along with Keanu Reeves as the scene-stealing Duke Caboom), though adults may, in fact, enjoy it even more. With allusions to everything from The Shining to Star WarsToy Story 4 is an Easter egg-filled joyride that never stops entertaining as smartly as any movie that has come before it. It’s a testament to the continued brilliance of the Pixar team that although we may outgrow toys as we get older, we will never (and why would we want to?) outgrow the world of Toy Story.


5/5 stars