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Toy Story 4 (2019)

Toy Story 3 was such a perfect culmination of the story began in the 1995 original, that it felt like the perfect end to the trilogy. It's generally been held up as not only the best trilogy in animation, but one of the best trilogies in cinema full stop. So when news emerged that Pixar were making a fourth one, it's no wonder that people were worried. Such worries were only added to by news of behind-the-scenes problems, losing its original director, writers and seeing considerable delays, surely they couldn't pull it off again?

Toy Story 4 is directed by Josh Cooley, who previously co-wrote the screenplay for Inside Out and wrote and directed the short Riley's First Date. The screenplay is written by Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom.

Improbable as it may seem, Toy Story's third sequel is right up there with its illustrious predecessors. Toy Stories 1-3 remain a perfectly crafted trilogy. But the fourth acts like a kind of epilogue or encore. Like your favourite band coming back for one last jam on their farewell tour. A film that stands well on its own, but gains so much more significance if you're familiar with the series.

While nine years has passed in the real world, Toy Story 4 takes place shortly after the events of the third film. Woody is struggling with his place in the pecking order with new owner Bonnie, finding himself no longer to be the favourite toy. In fact, her new favourite toy is Forky, a toy she made herself from a spork, some googly eyes and pipe cleaners. Forky, finding himself alive is very confused and afraid- and seems to have a death wish. Woody takes it upon himself to keep Forky safe for Bonnie's sake. Things take a turn for the dramatic when Forky escapes from a campervan window while Bonnie's family is on a road trip. Woody takes off in hot pursuit, but along the way he's very surprised to run into a figure from his past- Bo Peep!

Each Toy Story manages to feel quite different from each other, while retaining the things that made us fall in love with them in the first place. The first movie was a pretty small scale buddy comedy, while the second movie expanded the scope and filled in more about the world. The third movie did so even further and turned unexpectedly into a twist on the prison escape genre. The fourth one is the most expansive of them all, part buddy movie, part rom-com and part road movie.

The early part of the film is mainly concerned with the relationship between Woody and Forky and it plays out like a different spin on the Woody/Buzz relationship that defines the first movie. Like Buzz, Forky has trouble getting to accept the fact that he's a toy- but in his case he believes he is trash rather than a space ranger. The very concept of the character is inspired, and feels almost like a nod to all those blog posts or YouTube videos that question the rules of the Toys Story or Cars universes. He's also brought to life brilliantly, with the way the animators chose to make him walk being a truly wonderful touch.

The road-movie aspect allows the film to take in a variety of locations, and meet a whole range of new characters. The ones we spend the most time in are the funfair and the antiques shop. The latter of these allows the film to bring in a horror style and creep-factor that we haven't really seen in the series since the encounter with Sid in the very first movie. The ventriloquist's dummies are pure nightmare fuel.

The rom-com element, of course revolves around the reunion of Woody and his one-time beau, Peep. The news that Bo Peep was coming back was one that you wouldn't have been blamed for not necessarily being that excited for. She was barely in the first two, and her character chiefly existed to just be Woody's girlfriend. But out of a single line of dialogue in the third movie that revealed Bo had been lost along the way, they have spun a compelling story. In a flashback cold open, we get to see a version of Bo who is much more fully rounded and interesting than anything we've seen before. And then we see the emotional moment when she was forced to leave the other toys behind.

The Bo we catch up with nine years later cuts quite a figure. From her cape, to her can-do attitude and the way she brandishes her staff, 2019 Peep is the most bad-ass character the series has seen. While we never really saw enough of Woody and her together in the first two movies to really be invested in their relationship, its more than made up for here. The screwball comedy style relationship between the two of them in this movie is a definite highlight.

Forky is just one of numerous new characters, all of whom acquit themselves well. Special mention must go to carnival prizes Ducky and Bunny, voiced hilariously by Keegan-Michael Key and his comedy partner (and genius director) Jordan Peel. Much of their dialogue is apparently improvised, and they bring a brilliantly manic energy to their performances. Also excellent (although a much smaller part) is Canadian stunt driver Duke Caboom, voiced by the internet's favourite Keanu Reeves.

The new characters are often given a lot of the spotlight at the expense of the more established ones. The likes of Rex, Slinky, Jessie and Hamm are reduced to side-characters this time around. Although Tim Allen is second billed, even Buzz Lightyear doesn't get that much to do- although he does have a handful of great scenes- and is all important in the film's most emotional moment. But then really this is Woody's story- it only makes sense for him to have the biggest amount of screentime.

The animation improves with each and every Pixar film, and it's very noticeable when comparing Toy Story films. There's a virtual quantum leap in technology between the first movie and this one, but there's even a noticeable jump from the third to fourth films, too. The toys may look pretty similar, but it's really noticeable when looking at human characters (of who there are more here than ever before)- or in one case, a cat. It's also there in the effects. The opening sequence, taking place on a rainy night. astonishes with its photorealism.

The script is utterly packed with hilarious dialogue and visual humour. While it's hard to pick out the best movie in the series, Toy Story 4 is definitely in the running for the funniest. Combine this with the sheer number of easter-eggs and references, and there's definitely more here than you can take in in a single viewing.

The voice cast is also uniformly brilliant. Tom Hanks brings his trademark warmth to Woody as always, and Tim Allen is also excellent. In a much-expanded role, Annie Potts gives Bo the combination of steely-determination and warmth that the character needs. Among the newcomers, Tony Hale is great as Forky and Key and Peele are hilarious as Ducky and Bunny.

Pixar have become notorious for making films that can make grown adults cry, and this is not going to change that one iota. There's definitely an emotional climax, but the nostalgia factor is also likely to hit many hard, particularly for anybody who has grown up and with the series. Yet for all that, the emotion I most associate this film with is sheer joy. Revisiting these old friends was an absolute pleasure from beginning to end.

Toy Story 4 is no so much a continuation of the original trilogy than as it is a kind of cherry on top. If this should be the last Toy Story film (and it's arguable that it probably should be) then it's hard to think of a better way to go out.

FORMAT: Cinema  FROM Disney Pixar RATING: G[US] U [UK] RUNNING TIME : 1hr 40m 

IN A NUTSHELL: Funny, touching and full of typical Pixar genius, the perfect epilogue for Pixar's best series.