Even with the bounty of animated movies there has been since “Toy Story” began, the tales in that franchise always have stood apart ... even against other product that also has come from Disney-Pixar.
Therefore, do not worry that “Toy Story 4” is a case of going to the well once too often. Not only is the final film in the series as effective as its forerunners, it just might leave you an emotional wreck. (I say that from experience.)
The picture’s main theme explores what happens when your time supposedly is up, which is the dilemma of cowboy Woody (again voiced by Tom Hanks), whose new owner is less interested in him than in a makeshift doll she has fashioned from a spork. It has the voice of “Veep’s” Tony Hale, and it’s seen by Woody as his avenue to becoming useful and wanted again.
Expectedly, it’s not quite that easy, and that gives “Toy Story 4” the means to yield the traditional mix of clever visuals and heart-tugging character development. Of course, Tim Allen also is back as the voice of Buzz Lightyear, and Annie Potts gets special kudos as she reprises the part of Bo Peep very affectingly. Even the sound of the late Don Rickles is worked in again as virtually all of the regulars get to take curtain calls.
Notable among cast newcomers are Keanu Reeves as a motorcycle-daredevil toy and Christina Hendricks (“Mad Men,” “Good Girls”) as a doll in search of a new voice box, and there’s also a welcome reunion of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, if in voice only. Listen, too, for assorted show-business titans (on the order of Mel Brooks, Carol Burnett, Betty White and Carl Reiner) along the way.
Since “Toy Story” also has sired some TV specials and a merchandising bonanza, it’s a rather bold move for Disney to end it now ... but the fact is that it truly never will be over. The existing movies will be cherished for generations, so actual toys of Woody and Buzz will remain quite marketable. And with the overall profits made by the franchise (including the considerable ones being added now by “4”), it’s not inconceivable that we may yet see more “Toy” stories somewhere down the line.
However, if this is indeed the end, “Toy Story 4” takes the series out exactly as it should – while very possibly being the most moving experience you’ll have at the movies this year.