Toy Story 4 ★★★★½

This is maybe the most fun I've had at the movies in years. I got absurdly close to tears during the opening titles, and proceeded to insanely laugh like a little kid through the whole movie. It was a blast.

I really love how they reference, homage, and even recreate minor elements from the original movies. Things like the extra stitching on Woody's right shoulder, the way Woody climbs through mail flaps or flails his limbs when he's frustrated, when Duke Kaboom closes his eyes and gracefully soars through the air like Buzz's initial "falling with style" sequence, or even Forky's entire arc being a mirror of Buzz's toy-acceptance arc from Toy Story 1. I even loved little details like the peeling stickers on poor old Buzz, or how they naturally introduced tons of diverse skin tones and body shapes in the human characters. There were tons of other fantastic callbacks and continuity details that I noticed, and I don't think I've even seen the first two movies since I was a kid. Maybe they're just ingrained in my mind indelibly.

The music nearly broke me. Randy Newman has some great new score pieces, but in just the right moments they reprise the classic themes and it was nearly overwhelming for me. I couldn't contain my excitement and emotional resonance, and my inner joy became outer glee and exhilaration. It was awesome and nostalgic and satisfying and spectacular. I love this movie.

These sequels, from Toy Story 2 to 4, are really the best kind of sequels you could ever ask for. Each movie builds on the original narrative, outwits your expectations, develops the core characters meaningfully while building the cast and rules of the world, and stays true to itself while progressing into the future. And what's more, each movie could be totally standalone. Beyond each installment having a satisfying ending, they all gracefully recap the necessary background info without ever burdening the film, even at the fourth one in. You could watch any of the films cold and still love it. I can't think of any other film series with consistently high quality sequels which are all this purposeful yet enjoyable, independent yet faithful.

While the film's strengths powerfully outweigh its weaknesses, I acknowledge this isn't a perfect movie. Ducky and Bunny didn't always land for me. I felt it dragged a bit between the second and third acts. The narrative felt a little circular and repetitive heading towards the end. Reminded me of a bloated short film. Some logic and editing flubs, etc. Truthfully, none of that really matters. I feel so lucky to have grown up with Toy Story almost from the beginning, and to be here now, able to appreciate the complete nuance and emotional impact of this wonderfully entertaining new film as an adult. Although at heart, it seems I'm still just a little kid who loves this series more than he ever realized.

This is a good movie.

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