The announcement of a fourth Toy Story film would always earn a mixed reception; regardless of the general love for the franchise as a whole, many agreed 2010's Toy Story 3 perfectly wrapped up the story, leaving no room for more. But alas, nearly another decade later, those at Pixar have given us what many now believe to be the true final chapter to the beloved animated saga; and one that certainly does impress considering the limited potential for a further story, at least at first glance.
Sheriff Woody's (Tom Hanks) life takes a unique turn when he and the rest of the gang find themselves at a travelling carnival during a family road trip, joined by Forky (Tony Hale), an insecure spork crafted into a toy by their new owner Bonnie. When Forky's repeated attempts to dispose of himself leave him trapped and in need of rescue, Woody's efforts lead him on a journey that finds him reuniting with a long lost friend from his past; soon challenging his own decisions when it comes to the future ahead.
Considering once again how well Toy Story 3 acted as a conclusion the franchise, this fourth entry succeeds surprisingly well in terms of overall narrative heft, exemplifying the potential still to hand providing those involved know what they're doing. Whilst throwbacks to previous instalments are of course present, most notably the return of the beloved character Bo Peep (Annie Potts), the story remains focused on its own new path and never forcibly retreads the same ground as its predecessors; leaving elements concluded by Toy Story 3 behind and featuring some major plot developments of its own that justify it as its own conclusion to the series, albeit one that may not leave everyone entirely satisfied.
The story embraces this new path with some unique twists, but things aren't always as refined as one might hope; this is notable when it comes to the development of its primary characters. Bo Peep finds herself drastically different in every respect to her original cute and calm persona from the older films, though this actually makes her one of the most interesting characters in the film alongside Woody himself; the chemistry they consequently share also helps bolster their charm as the key protagonists. But when it comes to the many supporting roles, including our entire toy gang (Buzz, Jessie, Rex, Ham, you name it), they offer plenty of approachable humour but nothing else to make them as consistently interesting; quite a disappointment when these are the starring roles that launched the series. The newer cast of characters, including Forky, the obnoxious yet charming Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), or the easily agitated (and extremely funny) stuffed toy duo Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele), end up much more memorable throughout and thus may leave you much more entertained in the long run.
Toy Story 4 is without a doubt a prime example of how much computer animation has developed since its inception. Simply comparing a frame of this to the admittedly somewhat dated visuals of the original film, and even the still refined ones of its 1999 sequel, proves it is an art form that has prospered significantly. It is certainly one of Pixar's best looking films, beautifully rendered and animated throughout, and further brought to life through superb voice acting from its talented cast of old favourites and brilliant newcomers. When rivalling the standards set by its predecessors, this fourth entry perhaps ranks as the weakest entry, and is certainly not quite the emotional tear jerker I was expecting, but it still remains another fine piece of work from one of the film industry's best animation studios that more than justifies its own existence.