★★★★★ - STUFF
There's a new Sheriff in town.
Yes, Woody (Tom Hanks) may have adjusted to life without his beloved Andy in his home with Bonnie, but he's also had to get used to playing second-fiddle to Jesse (Joan Cusack). In fact, having experienced being left in the closet for the third time this week, the cowboy doll has also gathered his first dust bunny.
But, as always, Woody's first concern is for his child. Noticing that Bonnie is clearly upset about her first day at kindergarten, he decides to tag along and stows away in her backpack – despite the concerns of his fellow toys. He feels justified though when he helps her literally create a new friend – Forky (Veep's Tony Hale). The repurposed spork though struggles with the concept that he's now a plaything and not destined for the trash.
However, with Bonnie having grown rather attached to Forky, Woody makes it his mission to ensure no harm comes to him. That's a decision he may come to regret, as Bonnie's family immediately decide to go on a week-long road-trip.
Live Free or Die Hard, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Hannibal: Rising, Batman & Robin. The history of Hollywood is littered with fourth instalments of popular franchises that failed to live up to their predecessors.
Here, the stakes are potentially even higher. 2010's Toy Story 3 was a charming and stunning finale that probably affected more adults than children – a movie so good that any subsequent return to the toy box was more than likely to end up disappointing.
Well, the good news is nothing could be further from the truth. Debutant feature director Josh Cooley (who co-wrote the Inside Out screenplay) and his seven fellow writers have crafted a terrific tale which only the hardest of hearts will fail to be moved by.
Cleverly seizing on an unexplored story thread from Toy Story 3 (the fate of the Annie Potts-voiced Bo Peep), the current horror genre penchant for creepy dolls (June 2019's exhibits A and B: Child's Play and Annabelle Comes Home) and the #MeToo movement, it's a story that will have different meanings for kids, parents and grandparents.
Cooley and his cadre also make the most out of Hanks' history, not only with Woody, but also his previous roles in the likes of Saving Private Ryan. Still very much espousing the belief that no toy should be left behind, Woody is forced to face his own fears about growing old and reducing usefulness, while his much vaunted loyalty is questioned as equating to living in the past.
And that's where this fourth Story's real strength lies – its characters are quite brilliantly shaded – and I'm not just talking about Pixar's usual top-notch animation techniques. Just when you think you've got one of them or their arcs pegged, a subtle shift takes place to make you re-evaluate them. That's not only true for Potts' excellent "off-the-shelf" Bo Peep, but also space ranger Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and 1950s doll Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) – a woman desperate to find her own voice.
The rest of the new additions provide the comedic highlights. Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key are the anarchic duo Ducky and Bunny, while America's latest renaissance man Keanu Reeves threatens to steal the show as "the Canuck with all the luck" – daredevil Duke Kamboom.
With its bright colours, funny voices and lashing of physical humour, newbies and littlies will have a G-rated blast (a rare thing in 2019), but, for those of us who've been there "through all the ups and downs" of the 24-year, four-film franchise, this might just be the most emotional experience you'll have in a cinema all year.
-JAMES CROOT, STUFF