Toy Story 4 did it! It managed to continue the series’ nearly twenty-five year legacy of excellence. What could have been a disappointment or a money grab instead turned out to be a fun adventure and an even more fitting conclusion for one of the franchise’s most important characters. 

When I first saw the announcement of Toy Story 4, I was saddened because I was afraid that making a 4th movie in the franchise would tarnish the other three. Toy Story showed us what our toys do when we are out of the room, and ushered in the concept of fully CGI films. It changed the animation industry forever. Toy Story 2 was an excellent followup that explored the world of mint condition toys and toys that get outgrown by their owners. And Toy Story 3? To me, it felt like the proper end of a long era. It advanced time forward so that we saw Andy grow up. It took a fun look at the hyperactive toddlers that toys sometimes have to endure. It provided a peak at how toys might feel to be replaced by the same model. And it provided a tearful passing of the torch from Andy to the incredible cute Bonnie. Andy’s toys were safe with a new child and had another lifetime of adventure ahead of them. What more needed to be said?

Well, as positive as the Toy Story films were about the way our toys view us, the previous movies left a few dark corners unexplored. In Toy Story and Toy Story 2, we’re given the impression that lost toys and toys without a child to play with them are destined to be bitter or emotionally traumatized. Toy Story 3 showed us one way our toys can still be happy once we outgrow them. That by passing our toys down they can continue to be there for a child. But it also left open a cycle of happiness but with an ever looming sadness on the horizon. But now, Toy Story 4 has shown us that even the toys we lose track of can have happy endings. By showing us additional positive outcomes for toys without owners, Toy Story 4 earned it’s place among its predecessors.

Toy Story 4 did this by giving Woody an even better ending. I think it took a lot of effort and talent for Pixar to recognize that Woody’s story never really had a happy ending before. It wasn’t that Woody wasn’t happy to be passed down to Bonnie, he was, but was that enough for the character? I think someone must have come back to Woody’s quote from Toy Story 2 and realized that it left some little dark corner unfulfilled for the character. Near the end of Toy Story 2, Woody says, “You’re right, Prospector, I can’t stop Andy from growing up, but I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” This was a great decision for Woody in the moment, but even after being passed down to Bonnie, this same statement delays the inevitable for Woody. Or maybe it too strongly linked  Woody’s happiness to the times he has an owner. By the end of Toy Story 4, Woody no longer has dark times ahead of him. Toy Story 4’s ending is also in line with Woody’s character. Woody was always helpful and heroic, but was also always afraid of being left behind and even somewhat afraid of not being in charge. All of those fears are wiped away by the end of Toy Story 4. 

Along with wrapping up Woody’s story, Toy Story 4 also excels at everything the series is known for. It is prettier than ever. Having only seen it once, so far, I can’t give a lot of examples. Thing just looked amazing in general. I can’t wait to get this film on Blu-ray to pause and admire the sheer amount of artistry Pixar has put into this movie. Also, I didn’t catch many of the classic Pixar Easter eggs, so I can’t wait to hunt those down as well. 

Toy Story 4 is also well written, very funny, and is tearfully touching in the moments it wants to be. The story team did not check out for the fourth movie like I feared they might. I think the only things I wasn’t 100% happy with was the way that Buzz got just a little stupider between Toy Story 3 and 4, and the presence of Forky. Buzz not quite grasping the concept of his inner voice was hilarious but also slightly disappointing given that he seemed much more together in Toy Story 2 and 3. And Forky? He was a funny character and an amusing twist on the question of why toys even are alive… but ultimately I think they could have left him out and had some other toy lead our heroes to the antique shop just as easily. Is fun but unnecessary really want we wanted out of a new character four movies in?

Overall, maybe Toy Story 4 fails to find a new big issue to address, but it more than earns its keep with its clever, heartfelt writing, laugh out loud humor, and a second look at some of the more subtle troubles past movies set up. Visually, it looks as amazing as any Pixar movie made and storywise it stays consistent to its characters while finding new, positive solutions to their problems. This time around, Pixar showed it could continue to make Toy Story films after achieving a near perfect conclusion in Toy Story 3. Because of that, I think I would welcome a Toy Story 5 with much less trepidation that I greeted 4 with. It is beyond hard to find any entertainment property that has a string of four outstanding successes. But with Toy Story 4, Pixar has somehow managed to make a thoroughly enjoyable movie that does right by its predecessors. When the work you are being compared against is the Toy Story franchise, that is some of the highest praise that can possibly be given. 

I enjoyed Toy Story 4, and I hope to see it again soon.