To infinity and beyond!

Compared to most of the people who read this newspaper (and all newspapers, statistically), I’m still pretty young, but I sure felt old walking into “Toy Story 4” with Kellie and Wyllo on Friday for opening night at the Center Theater and realizing that I was once the anxious child who couldn’t wait to see Buzz and Woody on the big screen.

           

The first film, released in 1995, remains one of three that I consider central to my childhood, along with “The Lion King” and “Space Jam.” It was nothing short of an epiphany when I saw it, and, like most of the other four and five year-olds of the time period, I had all the action figures (and my Buzz Lightyear still works). I watched it over and over again, and I particularly obsessed over the scene in which Woody uses a remote control car to weave through traffic and eventually land back on the moving van.

           

Whether I got too cool or just simply forgot, I never got around to seeing the first two sequels. By the time “Toy Story 2” came out, I was eight years old and had moved on to watching nothing but sports and the morning news (we had rabbit ears, and yes, I know I was weird), and the third installment was released when I was in college.

           

Life offers some wonderful opportunities to reconnect with the experiences that defined us when we were younger, and since Kellie and I have been together, I’ve gotten a heavy dose of kids’ movies. I’ve seen “Sing,” “Trolls” and “Moana” more times than I can count and grown to love them, but even in that company, the “Toy Story” series is something special.

           

It’s probably the most universally beloved animated film series of all time, and it gives those of us in our mid-to-late 20s an excuse to revisit the magic of the earlier installments and remember how excited we were when our parents took us to the theater to see it.

           

And, as shocking as it may be to say, “Toy Story 4” is still great! Anyone who’s ever talked movies with me knows that I’m inherently skeptical of sequels (except “Final Destination”—they can make as many as they want), remakes and reboots: “Terminator” and “Alien” fell off after “Judgment Day” and “Aliens,” and I’m too intimidated to even attempt working my way through “Star Wars” because there are simply too many episodes. I like films that stand on their own, and constantly attempting to retread on the same ideas usually leads you straight into an artistic ditch. 

           

But the Pixar team has pulled off the impossible. While nothing will ever top the original in my mind, the latest “Toy Story” still has all of the elements that made me love it in the first place, and Forky, Keanu Reeves’s Duke Caboom and Jordan Peele and Keegan Michael Key as Ducky and Bunny are all wonderful additions to the cast. It’s funny, it’s goofy, it’s heartwarming and it’s fresh. It’s the rare film that pretty much everyone can agree on with another wave of strong reviews and what’s sure to be a massive box office haul.

           

I could feel the old man in me coming out as the movie was about to start. Some of the kids were still talking, wandering around the aisles and generally being kids. But eventually, I realized that this wasn’t about me, my personal film going experience or how I felt. It was about Wyllo and all of the other kids, some of whom were taking in their first “Toy Story” movie. It was about passing the torch to the next generation, and most of all, it was about remembering that regardless of whatever we’re mad about in our day-to-day lives or from watching the news, there are still a few cultural experiences that have the power to unite us all and make us feel like kids again. It’s pretty remarkable, really.