I enjoyed Toy Story 4, which is sort of like saying I like to breathe. It's nigh impossible to dislike Pixar's flagship series after 24 (!) years of laughs and heartstring-pulling. Now, along with most people I figured that Toy Story 3 was the end of it all, as Andy goes off to college and the toys wind up with another kid, named Bonnie. But oh, no! There are more feelings to be felt. Bonnie, then a toddler, is now entering kindergarten and is very anxious. Woody sneaks off to her orientation and watches sadly as Bonnie interacts with no kids and appears to feel excluded. Left to her own friend-making devices, she constructs a new friend all of her own, a spork with googly eyes, pipe-cleaner hands, and popsicle-stick feet named, uh, Forky. And by putting her name on his feet, Bonnie gives Forky life. So now we have an all-new toy, one who has never been a toy before (he insists he's trash, as his components were fished from a trash can). Woody sees how much Bonnie needs her new toy, as sort of a security blanket for the stress of kindergarten, and he's determined to make Forky understand his lot in life and his importance to Bonnie. Along the way, Woody has a chance encounter with a figure from his own past - Little Bo Peep, who appeared in early Toy Story films but who has been gone for some time. Bo has it going on, living the life of a "free toy," i.e., one not belonging to any kid - even though that's (apparently) what most toys want. Woody's been someone's toy forever - is this something he wants as well? This movie presents a bit of a crossroads for Woody (less so for the other toys), and as with special messages in the previous films, it is wonderfully handled and expertly expressed. First, let me look at the good stuff, of which there's plenty, from this movie. The voice actors are, as usual, pitch perfect - and it's nice to hear Annie Potts back as Bo Peep. Key and Peele are along for the laughs, and Christina Hendricks, Tony Hale, Keanu Reeves, and Ally Maki are each wonderful additions; everyone feels like a natural fit, not shoe horned into a role. Then there are the inevitable action scenes, some of which are copied from previous TS films and others that are brand spanking new. Very well done; if this were a live-action movie, I'd be praising the choreography. Also, despite the contemplative, life-affirming lessons presented by the plot, the story never stagnates, and the toys learn on the fly (as opposed to learning after deep inner reflection, I guess). Now, the only slight downside for me was that this, again the fourth effort in the series, doesn't quite match up with the others for pure sentimental grandeur. It's not that the plot is trite; kids should love it for the same reasons they loved the other movies. It's just that it feels as if we've been led to the emotional precipice more than once in the toys' journey, and the journey (even with its inevitable strong payoff) doesn't pack the same punch as the first one. And that's about the extent of it. For me, the best movies have several scenes where I hear a sentence like the following in my head: "This is why I love movies." There was one such scene in Toy Story 4, which is one more than most movies but fewer than the first t three in this series.
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