On the one hand I thoroughly enjoyed myself, had a nostalgic blast seeing these characters again, almost cried and found myself laughing out loud on plenty of occasions. But on the other hand... I came out of the film with no real swell of feeling towards what I'd just seen. I think one of the main reasons for that was that, whilst the plot was perfectly fine and hit all the right beats, it never really felt like anything more than that. It wasn't a retread of what we've seen before (far from it, in fact), nor did it feel rehashed from other movies, nor stereotypical. But it also didn't feel necessary.
Ultimately, I think that's my main criticism of Toy Story 4: I'm not sure why it was made. The cynical answer is for the 💲 (money), but I'm not even convinced that's accurate; there's enough here that it does feel like it was made to honour the legacy of the franchise too. The second cynical answer is that it enables Pixar/Disney to begin creating spin-offs, focusing on different characters rather than the core crew, considering how they're no longer together. Maybe that's the real answer; maybe they're sitting on a whole host of scripts that star Buzz or Jessie or even one of the newer/lesser characters like Rex or Mr. Prickles, but the scripts just don't work if we have to keep coming back to that central theme of the connection between Andy and Woody. So they created a film that ties that theme off completely, allows it to finally end, and now the door's open for some different stories in the Toys universe. It's possible.
Any other negative points are entirely vanity based. I loved the focus on Bo Peep, who was a character that felt a little abandoned when Jessie became the main female character, but I feel like she was a little too shiny. I get that she's porcelain and they leant into that nicely with the arm gag (one of the best in the film, imo), but she was so shiny in a couple of scenes that it actually took me out of the film. Bo was the most egregious at this, but actually it rang true for Woody and a few other characters as well; it turns out that making walking, talking toys too realistic lands you a little into the uncanny valley at times. I also felt that the morals of the story were a little too on the nose, and quite scatter gunned. What the Toy Story franchise does best is tell a layered moral which teaches kids something about kindness or friendship or imagination, whilst hitting parents right in the feels with the stark reality that having children equates to desertion at some point. Toy Story 4 definitely does land both of these, but the first one isn't as clearly defined as previous films. Is the main takeaway to listen to your conscience? To not project your own insecurities onto others? To accept who you have become rather than how you were born? That failure is okay? Or is it all just to make people feel incredibly guilty about consumerism... well sure, it's definitely that last one, but honestly I'm not sure which of the others it is.
Because, for the first time ever, we don't get neat little endings to all the plot threads. We never really get a good answer as to why Forky exists; he can hardly be the first "self-made" toy (I mean, I made dozens as a child and I'm sure almost everyone else in the cinema has done the same) but even Woody, who has been around since the 80s, has never come across this phenomenon before. It's a fairly major plot thread and revelation that has been leaned on heavily in the movie, but actually could almost be entirely removed from this film. The only real purpose it serves is to give Woody a reason to keep going out alone and pushing the other toys away, making his final decision to do something for himself (and Bo) that little bit more poignant.
Which is all to say... I did genuinely enjoy this film! I feel like that isn't coming across well enough... but it's true! I loved the creepy mafia doll vibe with ventriloquist dummy henchmen, I love that Bo is back in it and think she was a fantastic character, I love that it's set in an antique store and carnival, giving us insights into some varied and completely different places that toys end up. The film is funny throughout, but there are some truly stellar moments. The arctic "action guy" never getting a high five had me in stitches (the facial expressions were perfect), the scene where the toys take over the car is just brilliant (and lands a great running gag with the unicorn that hates Dad), and I dare anyone not to love the outburst of "Yes I CANada!" after a perfect build up.
New characters aren't that well fleshed out, but they do the job well enough; returning characters have already had three films to be built up and the movie uses them well, without going overboard. Pacing is pretty much on point, the soundtrack is as great as ever and obviously animation is exceptional, particularly with some of the more dazzling scenes. If you're a fan of the previous three films (and honestly, who isn't?) then you'll definitely have fun and get a little emotional during Toy Story 4, I just feel it should be considered an extra to the original trilogy, rather than a dedicated part of the set. Though perhaps I just need to go back and rewatch the first three...