Did we really need another “Toy Story” movie? Turns out, we did.
Nine years ago, “Toy Story 3” seemed to nicely wrap up the saga of Woody, Buzz and the gang, who found a new home — after their original kid, Andy, grew up — with a happy, imaginative little girl named Bonnie. But happy endings aren’t necessarily permanent, even for toys, so here we are again; this time, on a wistful road trip for a story of friendship, adventure and poignant reflection on what it means to be needed.
After a brief prologue that takes us back to Andy’s childhood, we’re returned to the present day, and a time of transition. Cowboy doll Woody (voiced, with that trademark everydoll sincerity, by Tom Hanks), longtime leader of the toy gang, is coping with being a toy who isn’t often played with; Bonnie’s more interested in cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack) and later in Forky (Tony Hale), a neurotic little toy she makes out of a plastic fork. Bonnie herself is facing change: the imminent, anxiety-provoking start of kindergarten, from which her parents distract her by taking her on a vacation in the family RV, toys in tow.
Along the way are great escapes, thrilling battles (one of which involves a cat and a tiny doll named Giggles McDimples), death-defying stunts (some of them performed by an actual stuntman toy, named Duke Caboom) and that unmistakable Pixar sweetness. We visit an antique store, where picture-perfect dust coats shelves crammed with things that aren’t needed any more, and a carnival, whose candy-colored nighttime lights create a magical world. We learn that a long skirt (belonging to the porcelain Bo Peep, whose surface glows with the polish of generations of small fingers) can be repurposed as a cape for a renegade doll on the go, and that ventriloquist dummies run with their heads flopping. (Yes, it’s a bit creepy.)
And we fall in love, one more time, with the idea of toys come to life — aching to be held and played with, not quite existing if they’re not in a child’s hands. “Toy Story 4” has its goofball side, bolstered considerably by a pair of funny new plush characters voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, but its primary focus is on gentler emotions: Bonnie’s tiny, quiet fear upon entering a noisy classroom; Woody’s blissful expression when, by accident, Bonnie holds him at night instead of Forky; a glassy-eyed talking doll named Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) who’s afraid that a child might not like her; the break in the voice of a weary cowboy who isn’t quite sure he’s ready for a different life; the phrase “To infinity and beyond!” when you’re pretty sure you’re hearing it for the last time. (I mean it, Pixar. No matter how much money this one makes, we’re done; there’s no “Toy Story 5,” right? Right?)
Like the toys of a child now-grown, or an antique lamp gathering dust on a shelf, “Toy Story 4” isn’t needed. But it is, for many of us, very much wanted: one last adventure, one last chance to say goodbye.
★★★½ “Toy Story 4,” with the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Joan Cusack, Ally Maki, Madeleine McGraw. Directed by Josh Cooley, from a screenplay by Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom. 100 minutes. Rated G. Opens June 20 at multiple theaters.