I have to admit to being very skeptical about Toy Story 4. It felt like a potential cash grab in an era where franchises won't die. Plus Toy Story 3 was an emotionally rich ender to a perfect trilogy. And yet I should have known better. Pixar can dip back into this world a few more times and find new depth in the plight of toys trying to find their place and worth in the world. Toy Story 4 is a delight, full of heart and humor.
While Toy Story 3 had a theme of grief and death, this entry is much more about loss. Particularly for Woody (Tom Hanks) who finds himself with a loss of purpose and value at the film's beginning. His new kid Bonnie doesn't play with him as often as Andy did. Bonnie is about to head off to her first day of Kindergarten and Woody makes it his mission to be there for her. In class she makes herself a new toy out of a spork and some googly eyes. This brings about one of the new characters and he is a great one. Forky (voiced by Tony Hale) believes himself to be trash and keeps wanted to return to the rubbish. Forky means a lot to Bonnie and so Woody feels responsible to look out for Forky. On a family road trip, Forky is lost and this sends Woody and the gang on a mission to save him from a sinister group of old dolls stuck in an antique shop. There is also a near by carnival where Woody find Bo Peep (Annie Potts), his long lost love. They also find Duke Kaboom (Keanu Reeves) a Canadian stunt man toy.
Toy Story 4 is very funny and has some of the biggest laughs in the film. Jordan Peele and Keagan Michael Key voice a pair of carnival plush dolls that provide the film with its best gag. Forky is a wonderful creation as someone who doesn't even know why he exists. Ultimately though, this is Woody's story. With his best days behind him, Woody must look to the future and find a new path for himself. The film daringly urges the main hero to retire, focus on his life and happiness instead of the happiness of a child. He must evolve to a world that no longer needs him. It is a deep theme to explore but Pixar has always excelled at balancing heft with humor.
While Toy Story 4 doesn't top the previous films, it is a sneakily effective film that ends up fully justifying its existence. The ending packs an emotional punch. The 80 minutes before that are hilarious and entertaining.