Fourth movie in the franchise is unnecessary but still delightful

It's been 24 years since the first “Toy Story,” so this is really a franchise that has crossed generations. As in some people who saw the first movie when they were kids may well be watching “Toy Story 4” with their own children.

It's also a “franchise” that has topped each movie with a fulfilling ending. Was “Toy Story 2” even necessary? No, but it was great.

And did we need a third chapter a decade after the second one? No, but “Toy Story 3” brought both a lot of fun and possibly the most tear-jerking scene in the series.

“Toy Story 3” also ended on a great note for the series … even though the script for a fourth movie was reportedly already being written before the third was released. Still, Pixar's commitment to quality has kept this series from ever truly feeling like a play-it-safe cash grab (and we're in the season of this kind of calculated sequel).

Woody (voice of Tom Hanks) and the gang are still, um, toys, only now they belong to Bonnie, the little sister of Woody's original person, Andy. When Bonnie begins her kindergarten orientation she literally makes a new friend in Forky (Tony Hale), whom she crafts from a plastic spork.

Woody is dealing with a diminished role in Bonnie's playtime routine, but when Forky becomes her new favorite, he takes it upon himself to make sure Forky understands the importance of being a toy.

Then a family road trip becomes a source of new adventures, new friends and new perils.

“Toy Story 4” certainly doesn't reinvent the wheel here, nor would you want it to. There's still some creative room to play in this simple idea: that a child's toys have lives of their own, which are most fulfilled when they are being played with.

One thing that has changed over 24 years is Pixar's envelope-pushing animation. Early in the movie is a scene set in a downpour, and it's some of the most photo-realistic CGI you'll see. In fact, the movie feels closer to live-action than animation at times. It's somehow eye-popping without being distracting.

In terms of heart, the warmth is still there if some of the magic has worn off. The story may be the least engaging of the series, although there's still room there to be better than most. Still, there's some fun, fresh blood in a motorcycle stuntman toy named Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) and a pair of carnival prize stuffed animals (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele).

“Toy Story 4” isn't in the running for franchise best, it may even be the “worst” of the series, but it's still hard to imagine that anyone would be more disappointed than delighted here.