Woody (Tom Hanks) has always been confident about his place in the world and that his priority is taking care of his kid, whether that's Andy or Bonnie. But when Bonnie adds a reluctant new toy called Forky (Tony Hale) to her room, a road trip adventure alongside old and new friends will show Woody how big the world can be for a toy.
Coming into 'Toy Story 4', it's reasonable to question its existence in the first place. For one, 'Toy Story 3' conclude the story of Andy, Woody and Buzz with a grace and care that spoke to a true understanding of storytelling. It had everything you could want in an ending. For all of this, and more, 'Toy Story 4' is starting on the back foot. Nevertheless, one can only expect that when you have the original cast happy to return, the track record for Pixar speaks for itself.
'Toy Story 4' doesn't have the same emotional heft that 'Toy Story 3' has, but it does make a strong case for its own existence. The story picks up with Woody and Buzz now belonging to the toddler, Bonnie. Woody is being played with less and less, and begins to question his own worth and value in the world. This is only compounded by the arrival of Forky, a creation of Bonnie that's made from a fork and some playdoh, who wants nothing more than to be trash. Woody attempts to reason with Forky that his purpose in life is to be a friend to Bonnie, and that without that purpose, he's nothing.
A toy's purpose is a big part of what makes 'Toy Story 4' tick. The villain - if you can reasonably call her that - is a defective toy, voiced by 'Mad Men' alum Christina Hendricks. Gabby Gabby came out of the box without the ability to speak, and has now been consigned to an antiques shop where she has genuinely creepy-looking dolls acting as her henchmen. It's smart, funny stuff and exactly the kind of ever-so-edgy stuff that always made Pixar great.
Likewise, Tom Hanks and Tim Allen now imbue their roles with the weight of time, but it's Annie Potts as Bo Peep who often is leading the action throughout. Compared to some other summer blockbusters this year, it easily creates a believable female action hero and doesn't once land itself with a tokenistic moment purely for the sake of kudos. Instead, Bo Peep seems to take its cue from 'Mad Max: Fury Road' and Charlize Theron's character (yes, really) and it works. She's a survivor, and happily patches herself up whenever she breaks.
If there's a complaint in 'Toy Story 4', it's that it lays on the humour thick to cover up some of the flatness in the story. Keanu Reeves' character, Duke Caboom, steals each and every scene he turns up in - as do the plush toys voiced by Jordan Peele and Keegan Michael-Key. The established characters like Woody and Buzz happily take a back-seat to allow the new characters come forward, all of them unique and memorable enough in their own right. Its ending does offer up the possibility of more stories, but to explore it further would only cheapen everything. If there is to be a fifth 'Toy Story', it really will have a huge task on its hands of creating a layered, emotional story like the previous three.
As it stands, the fourth 'Toy Story' is an excellent encore to one of the finest animated properties of the modern era.