Grade: A-
Entire family: Yes
Animation
2019, 100 min., Color
Rated G
Pixar/Disney
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: B
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital
Trailer
Amazon link

The buzz (no Lightyear pun intended) on Toy Story 4 was that it’s the saddest (translation: most poignant) entry yet, and that Pixar really fumbled the ball by naming a new character Forky when it’s so clearly a spork.

But if that’s your biggest complaint, you know Pixar/Disney has created another hit. In fact, if there’s a more critically successful film franchise, it’s not coming to mind. The first two Toy Story animated features earned a remarkable 100 percent “fresh” rating at Rotten Tomatoes with audience ratings of 92 and 86 percent, respectively, while the third entry received a 98 from critics and 89 from the audience. Their latest exercise in animated wizardry merited a 97 from critics and a 94 from audiences. That’s amazingly consistent, given that there’s only so much you can do, plot-wise, with a family’s toys that come to life when no humans are looking.

This time western sheriff doll Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) is having an existential crisis. He’s spent three play days in a row left in the closet, wondering what his purpose is if it’s no longer to be played with by his special human. And in case you’re thinking, “Wait a minute, his special human Andy went off to college,” in Toy Story 4 Woody’s a hand-me-down that’s now in the possession of Andy’s little sister, Bonnie.

When Woody stows away in Bonnie’s backpack to make sure she has the comfort of a toy her first day of kindergarten orientation, he watches her make a new toy doll out of a spork, pipe cleaners, and popsicle sticks. But Forky, as she calls him, is a kind of cheerful fatalist who keeps jumping into wastebaskets and trash receptacles and such because, well, that’s where plastic forks end up.

Pixar/Disney keeps the series fresh by rotating characters who get the spotlight, and this time Woody, Bo Peep (Annie Potts), Forky (Tony Hale), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), and a fun new character, motorcycle stuntman Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), take center stage. The animators also moved up the ladder of progressive possibilities for toys that are no longer wanted. Having already explored the Goodwill option, the rabid collector option, and the donated-to-preschool option, they set this entry in an antique store where Bo ended up.

The series has always resonated with adults because of the nostalgic pleasure viewers derive from seeing old toys they once had (or saw advertised) now animated, but there’s also a great deal of satisfaction that viewers get from seeing Pixar’s photo-realistic backgrounds and objects. The antique store comes to life because of detail and authenticity. Like many viewers, I’ve seen this store before: the chandeliers and light fixtures hanging from the ceiling, the black-and-white checkerboard floor, the shelves and shelves of toys and signage, the narrow aisles, and yes, the sexagenarian proprietor—in this case a sweet old grandmother.

As always, the plot involves a rescue, and as always there’s a new nemesis that the toys have to outwit or defeat. This time it’s a doll named Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) who, because she’s defective and lacks a pull-string voice box, has remained stuck on the antique store shelves for longer than she can remember. Any good villain needs henchmen, and Gabby Gabby has a bunch of lookalike ventriloquist dummies—more Pixar/Disney attention to detail and humor, because who ever saw a bright henchman?

It’s those small touches that set the studio apart from other animation production companies, and Pixar/Disney continues to bring familiar worlds to life. In Toy Story 4 the toys end up at a carnival, where animators can have fun with the clichés and particulars of carney life. But as with previous entries in the franchise, there’s an emotional payoff as well.

Toy Story 4 earned a G rating, so there’s nothing to report in the way of parental advisories except to warn that the ventriloquist dummies are pretty menacing and might unsettle very young viewers unless parents cue them on how to react (“How do you think Woody and the others will get away from them? Will it be a funny way?”). It all works out in the end, of course, and Toy Story 4 makes us look forward to next franchise installment rather than dreading it.