Toy Story 4
Directed by: Josh Cooley
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale
Rated G
1 hr., 40 mins.

It’s hard to imagine a film series more beloved by adults and children than Toy Story. For almost 25 years, we’ve delighted in the adventures of cowboy Woody, astronaut Buzz Lightyear and their merry band of gizmo pranksters.

After Toy Story 3 was released in 2010, many thought the adventures were a wrap and that the fun would be in the memories the films would create for our children and grandchildren. Turns out we were wrong.

But Toy Story 4 is not a simple sequel. It is intended to broaden the story and focus on something we haven’t seen among our toy friends — romance. That’s right, there’s love in the air and this version intends to light it up.

The story picks up a few years prior to Toy Story 3, with Andy’s sister, Molly, giving away some of her toys. One of these is Bo Peep (Annie Potts). Woody (Tom Hanks) is enamored with Bo Peep and considers going with her, but she counsels him otherwise and he sadly watches her leave.

Fast-forward a few years and Woody and friends — following events in Toy Story 3 — are now owned by young Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw). As is true with all toys, they get used and eventually stowed away. Woody finds himself stuck in the closet as Bonnie chooses other toys to play with.

When Bonnie goes to kindergarten, Woody worries about how she will cope at her new school. He sneaks into her backpack to watch her. After a classmate discards Bonnie’s art tools, Woody secretly retrieves them from the trash.

Among the collection he brings is a “spork.” Bonnie is intrigued with the plastic fork/spoon and turns the spork into a new toy named Forky (Tony Hale). With mismatched eyes, clay mouth and eyebrow, a pipe cleaner for arms and two broken popsicle sticks for feet, he becomes the new favorite.

Forky, however, doesn’t want to be a toy. He’s more comfortable being trash and continuously tries to hide in the waste basket. Woody becomes preoccupied with helping Forky adjust to toyhood.

Bonnie’s family decides to take an RV vacation. As Bonnie’s toys travel toward a campsite, Forky panics and jumps out the window. Woody goes after him. On their way back, Woody discovers Bo Peep’s lamp in an antique store window. Bo Peep is here! But she’s not the same Bo Peep. Think Annie Oakley with a shepherd’s crook and a posse.

When Woody doesn’t return, Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) searches the campground to find him. Between Woody and Buzz, we are introduced to a new batch of toys, including doll Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) and plush toys Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele).

While Toy Story 4 may not reach the classic level of its predecessor, it’s still fun and funny. It’s fortunate that the final director was Josh Cooley, whose previous Pixar work included Inside Out and Up. Despite a room full of writers and a highway full of plot threads, Cooley manages to keep the story on the rails and moving briskly. It’s not quite a full cast ensemble as in the past. This really is Woody’s story, with Forky adding an emotional tug as he learns the values of toyhood.

Can toys grow up? It seems so and with that fact come more complicated personalities. Gabby wants her voice back so she doesn’t gather dust on the shelf. Buzz learns to trust his inner voice. Bo is an independent woman. Woody must decide what he really wants as a toy.

Credit Disney and Pixar for struggling through their content and giving us a more sophisticated vision of Toy Story. Will there be more sequels? Who knows, but one thing is certain. Where there’s a toy, there’s a story. We could be at this for a long time, which is OK by me. And if a toy ever needs a friend, or someone to listen to their story, hey, I’m there.