Pretty much the same old story, and we love it for just that

A lot of movie franchises out there may have their ups and downs through the years, but Toy Story is likely an exception to that. It seems not much can really go wrong with this beloved walking, talking toy saga. Not in 1995 when it first debuted and not now in 2019 when it is making a comeback to the big screen.

After leaving audiences crying like a baby at the end of the last film when our favourite sheriff Woody bid farewell to his grown-up kid Andy, Toy Story 4 begins a new chapter in the toys' journey, now with their new kid-owner Bonnie. When Bonnie's new toy Forky gets separated from the group, Woody takes it upon himself to retrieve the spork-toy. This, of course, sends the gang on yet another adventure that involves creepy dolls in an antique shop and plush toys from a carnival, as well as reuniting Woody with his girl Bo Peep who was given away before the events in Toy Story 3.

In Toy Story 4, the old tricks and charms work well with the new without losing the story's heart or tone. The resulting film is a heartwarming and quite funny story that knows what its audience wants and loves, and delivers without making things feel too repetitive. Sure, the format feels familiar to those who have watched the previous three films, with Woody setting out quite recklessly on a mission, getting separated from the team, and the whole adventure that follows becomes a game of rescue and near miss. But when it's well-executed -- the team at Pixar seems to have concocted the right recipe for its long-standing franchise -- things fall into place and the film works just right.

At the same time, there were moments when we asked if it's necessary to have this film at all, and how long exactly will this charm last -- or even wear out. The ending of Toy Story 3 was considered by many to be a perfect conclusion to this beloved animated trilogy. So now, how does the fourth movie fit into the whole picture? Suffice to say it's a new beginning. We could call it a reset, even -- a new life with a new kid and a whole new world of possibilities. What Pixar does with this is, of course, open up even more possibilities by the end of the film. It's a fun old friend you've always known and loved, though by now you can sort of anticipate all the twists and turns. The humour is more crude. The jokes may not always land. It's also not as emotional as its predecessors, though that doesn't mean we weren't crying by the end of it.

While it's young at heart, Toy Story has been growing up with its audience as each film in the franchise progressed. Toy Story 4 is no different. The film touches on different themes such as dealing with separation, letting go, moving on, rejection, identity crisis and sense of purpose told through the friendship of these lively and colourful toys. Audiences who grew up watching the film and are now adults will find that they are still not too old for the story. At the same time, younger audiences can also enjoy it, making Toy Story 4 a crowd pleaser and an easy favourite for people across different generations.

A new addition that is noteworthy is the increasing role of women in the story. Toy Story started out with the focus on a boy and his boy toys of cowboy and space ranger. Over the years, we've seen more inclusion as different female characters take turn sharing the spotlight, from Jessie the cowgirl to even Barbie. Now, it's Bo Peep's turn.

Her role has grown from simply being Woody's girlfriend who has had minimal involvement in the gang's action and adventure to become a butt-kicking, pants-wearing and independent toy who takes the action with her. And for the first time in the franchise, the antagonist in this film, too, is female.

We did anticipate this shift at the end of the last film when the toys were given to the girl Bonnie. The torch was passed. A new era is born that aspires to offer a more equal representation of men and women. We will see how the franchise will continue with this development and direction. With how things go, the fifth film could be coming our way in a few years.

Toy Story 4, despite minor hiccups, is still a welcoming breath of familiar air in the otherwise lacklustre season of blockbuster sequels.