Let's be real. There was no reason to continue the "Toy Story" series beyond that perfect face-melter of an ending in Part 3 - other than the opportunity to fill an entire aisle at Target with new overpriced playthings that my son will keep asking about. And yet, "Toy Story 4" is good enough to convince us that there was more story to tell, more for these characters to teach us about ourselves. 
 


It's too good to be a Part Four. In fact, "Toy Story 4" is so good that it'll be an excuse for other series that should end at three movies to continue on with a fourth because it worked THIS TIME. But boy, does it ever work.

We pick up not long after the events of "Toy Story 3" with Andy's toys now owned by Bonnie, who's starting Kindergarten, and she makes a new friend: "Forky," a plastic sport with pipe cleaner arms, googly eyes and Popsicle stick feet. This new character voiced by "Veep's" Tony Hale looks like a throwaway - and he even thinks he is - but Forky encompasses so much of what this movie wants to delve into: a sense of purpose and belonging. 
 
Taking place over a road trip, this "Toy Story" movie follows some of the familiar plot beats including lost toys and rescue operations, but it's the most different of the movies since the first one in terms of story. Even the would-be villain is more complicated. 
 
As with all the "Toy Story" movies, this is primarily Woody's story, and Tom Hanks is wonderful again. Please make an Oscar for this type of performance. Tim Allen's Buzz Lightyear has less to do this time, but other old characters like Bo Peep (Annie Potts) get fleshed out nicely. And the new characters are keepers, especially Keanu Reeves' Duke Caboom. 
 
It's so impressive that "Toy Story 4" feels like a natural continuation of a perfect series of movies, rather than extraneous. Familiar themes are deepened and character arcs are elongated to an emotionally satisfying conclusion. What a great relief and surprise. 
 
EPPLER'S RATING: * * * * 1/2
 

RATING SCALE

* * * * * Incredible - One of the best of the year
* * * * Excellent - Touches greatness with only minor quibbles
* * * Good - Plenty to like, definitely worth seeing
* * Mediocre - You can do better
* Awful - The worst, an insult to movies