There is no real reason for Toy Story 4 to exist. This is the franchise that seemingly concluded nine years ago with an emotional finale which promised new beginnings for Woody, Buzz and the rest of Andy’s toys after faithfully accompanying him through childhood.
And yet, Toy Story 4 is another masterpiece from Pixar. While never quite reaching the emotional highs of its predecessors, it’s arguably the most thought provoking offering of the entire series and one which entirely justifies its existence. In short, it’s the return to the toy chest that we never knew we needed.
As for those new beginnings, we find Woody facing an unexpected identity crisis after being handed over to Bonnie at the end of the last film. He’s still acting as the group’s cocksure leader, but finds himself in the back of the closet with worrying regularity – and it’s the farthest of cries from his close-knit relationship with Andy.
Instead, Bonnie’s new favourite toy comes in the form of Forky, a talking spork fashioned entirely from pipe-cleaners, plastic, lollipop sticks, and most importantly, her own imagination.
While this latest addition to the gang didn’t win over every fan in the film’s earliest trailer, he’s an absolute scene stealer – with Community‘s Tony Hale voicing what is essentially an existential crisis wrapped up in a kitchen utensil. Crucially, it’s brilliantly funny too.
But Forky’s big moment comes when the gang head out on a road trip and, being as reluctant as ever to be viewed as a toy, he makes a desperate attempt to escape.
What follows is essentially the same rescue mission that defined the three previous movies, though it’s centred around the string of events that see Woody reuniting with Bo Peep after spotting her sheep in the window of an antiques store.
It’s their relationship which defines the film’s greatest moments – this is Woody’s story after all. If the film is perhaps slightly hindered by the lack of screen time for the rest of the toys, it makes up for it in the way that his rootin’ tootin’ journey is presented.
No longer Andy’s favourite deputy, we instead see what happens when you’re faced with a life torn in two different directions. It’s the kind of unexpectedly profound dilemma that only Pixar could successfully present by way of a talking cowboy.
Still, it’s also full of the classic Toy Story humour, predictably crammed with gags that will fly over the youngest of fans and instead delight the young at heart. While Forky constantly delivers, there’s also greatness from one Keanu Reeves as Duke Kaboom – an adoringly neurotic stuntman toy who is determined to show his heroic worth.
It’s the same for Ducky and Bunny, two conjoined plush toys who provide the majority of the physical laughs for younger viewers.
Once again, it’s the winning combination of humour and heart that make Toy Story 4 such a successful proposition. It is, for this critic at least, the most satisfying of endings to the greatest franchise of all time.