Toy Story 4

Nine years after the emotionally cathartic Toy Story 3, a perfectly fitting conclusion to Pixar's signature franchise, my first thought about Toy Story 4 was, "Why bother?" The previous installment took our plastic protagonists to the literal brink of death – what more can the studio do with them? Yet Pixar still stands for a certain level of quality, in spite of sequel burnout, so I bought a ticket to Toy Story 4, figuring that, no matter what, at least it wouldn't be bad.

And, of course, it isn't bad. In fact, it's delightful.

The plot quickly falls into the typical Toy Story routine: some character gets stuck/lost, in a milieu somewhat relevant to toys (here an antique shop), and the rest of the gang must save him while keeping out of the eye of humans.

Toy Story 4 freshens up the proceedings with a slew of new characters, chief among them "Forky", a handmade concoction consisting of a spork, pipe cleaner, and googly eyes. Voiced by Tony Hale, who was born to voice animated characters, Forky is convinced that he is not a plaything but a piece of garbage, in a running gag that, thankfully, is not played for pathos but for comedy. After a series of mishaps, Forky winds up in the aforementioned antique shop and is held hostage by a 1950s dolly (Christina Hendricks) who yearns for a working voice box. Woody, Buzz, etc. to the rescue.

The film relies heavily on the basic Toy Story premise that every toy's purpose is to be loved by a human child, while simultaneously challenging this philosophy in the guise of the porcelain Bo Peep (Annie Potts), who, after being left out of Toy Story 3, reemerges as a "lost toy" who cherishes her independence. As a love interest for Tom Hanks's Woody, Bo may in fact be Pixar's most physically attractive creation, confusing the budding young hormones of children everywhere.

Toy Story 4 is sweet, often adorable, and serves up a number of solid laughs. Its backgrounds are photo-real, its narrative clockwork-precise. On most levels, it's a perfect film. Yet a day after seeing it, I still feel that there's something inessential about it – that even if this serves as another proper goodbye to the franchise, like Toy Story 3, there's nothing stopping Pixar from giving us a Toy Story 5 a few more years down the line.