Excellent story, animation and voice talents? Check.
Adventure, action and emotions galore? Check.
Children laughing and adults laughing while sometimes crying at the same time? Check.
Pixar, you’ve done it again with “Toy Story 4,” which brings us heart and humor and the satisfying closure that we didn’t know we needed if this is the last time we see our animated little friends.
“Toy Story” was the first computer-animated feature film in 1995, introducing us to a colorful collection of toys in a boy’s room led by Woody, the cowboy sheriff and “favorite” toy suddenly threatened by the arrival of a slick new space ranger named Buzz Lightyear.
What seemed so simple was actually a deconstruction of human emotions, from jealousy to usefulness — toys just want to be loved (read: played with), and don’t we all want that?
Future films wove in stories touching on loss and abandonment with rescue missions and jailbreak escapes, all while making us laugh, cheer and, yes, cry occasional tears that have been professionally jerked.
“Toy Story 4” repeats some of those same themes and some of those same toys-on-a-mission maneuvers but with such clever creativity that you don’t care if it’s familiar.
It all feels fresh as this sequel picks up a couple of years after 2010’s “Toy Story 3,” when the toys’ first child, Andy, headed off for college and handed over his toys to a little girl named Bonnie.
That jumping-off point — people come in and out of our lives, and things change, and you may have to change with them — is seen immediately as we view a shy, scared Bonnie head off to a kindergarten orientation day.
When we see a lonely child focus on a craft project, adorning a spork with pipe-cleaner arms, popsicle-stick feet and a pair of black googly eyes, we see a girl who has created something of a security blanket that is now her most cherished toy.
The arrival of “Forky” is a further disappointment to Woody, who’s been increasingly left behind as Bonnie chooses which toys to play with, but when Forky keeps running away, Woody is determined to make himself valuable by bringing him back into the fold.
This is another consistently satisfying “Toy Story” fit: One of the most overriding themes of the series has been about finding one’s purpose in life.
Initially, Forky (a smartly nuanced turn by Tony Hale) only knows that he came from recycled trash and not that he might have more potential — like making a little girl smile.
And for Woody, it’s about seeing the world in a larger way beyond a child’s room because, as a surprise reunion with long-missing friend Bo Peep reminds him, “You know, kids lose their toys every day.”
Your purpose in life can change, she’s saying, because the one constant in life is change.
The adventure really kicks off with the family leaving on a road-trip vacation before school starts, with toys in tow.
They take off in a small RV to great-outdoors areas like Grand Basin, where an antique store in town and a visiting carnival become new settings for Woody to rescue Forky from, and for Buzz to rescue both.
The voices of Tom Hanks (Woody) and Tim Allen (Buzz) are the constants here, and the return of Annie Potts as Bo Peep, as a toy given away many years before and now an “independent woman” embracing life as a “lost toy,” is a superb way of showing such an evolution.
The new voice talents are as inspired as ever.
On the humor side, the comedy team of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are hilarious as a best-friend pair of cheap carnival-game plush toys with ridiculous ideas for each rescue mission (there are several).
As Duke Caboom — something of a Canadian motorcycle daredevil version of Evel Knievel — Keanu Reeves brings his natural “whoa” talents to the action.
A real showstopper among these is Christina Hendricks as Gabby Gabby, a 1950s-style, pull-string doll stuck in the antique store with a broken voice box who shows us she has a very dark side.
That happens, however, before she ultimately stars in a scene that will rip any parent’s heart out and stands as one of the most moving moments in any Pixar film.
The magic of “Toy Story 4” and these movies is seen in that incredible balance of making great entertainment, while at the same time making simple but all-important comments on our human existence.
Put simply, Pixar has done it again. Please pass the tissues.