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TOY STORY 4: A SUMMERTIME TREAT

I was dubious about the first sequel to Pixar’s wonderful Toy Story, which turned out to be terrific. But a fourth go-round for Woody, Buzz and company? I harbored doubts but I should have had more faith in the Pixar team. This is a highly enjoyable film with laugh-out-loud gags, ingenious plotting, and endearing new characters. By the closing scene I found myself marveling at how my emotions were stirred by these innately inanimate objects.

The movie deals with the passage of time in clever ways, showing how Andy’s toys have made a series of transitions, acknowledging that this is to be expected in any toy’s “lifetime.” A little girl named Bonnie is the latest child to hold these characters close to her, literally and figuratively. Then she goes to kindergarten orientation and crafts a new “toy” out of a plastic spork. She calls him Forky and he means the world to her, completely eclipsing Woody and his pals. Their feelings are hurt, but they also want what’s best for Bonnie. That’s when the story begins in earnest.

Toy Story 4 never runs out of fresh, funny ideas which interlock into a marvelous mosaic. Subtle changes in the depiction of female characters like Bo Peep reflect societal changes that have taken place since the first film appeared in 1995, but never in a pedantic or heavy-handed way. The look of the film is breathtaking, putting its stars into hyper-realistic backdrops, including an antique store and an old-fashioned carnival. Randy Newman’s score makes good use of “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” as well as a new song introduced early in the proceedings. His sound remains as distinctive and appealing as ever.

Although we know by now that Tom Hanks provides the voice of Woody, Tim Allen is Buzz Lightyear, and other audibly recognizable actors like Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, and the late Don Rickles are part of the ensemble, there are other notable newcomers. I’m glad I didn’t study the cast list ahead of time; it was much more fun to get caught up in the characters themselves and then discover who was who. (I won’t be the one to create spoilers in case there are any other purists reading this.)

Pixar promotes from within its ranks, so this is Josh Cooley’s first solo directing credit. He has been involved with a number of the studio’s other movies and hits this one out of the park. He is also one of the many credited screenwriters, in what was known to be a troubled project. None of that shows in the finished work, I’m happy to say. Toy Story 4 is seamless and never wears out its welcome.

One important word of advice: don’t leave the theater until the film is over…really over. There is a great gag that comes at the very end when most moviegoers will already be in their cars heading home. They will be missing out on a hilarious coda to a delightful film.

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