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Toy Story 2, written by Andrew Stanton, Rita Hsiao, Doug Chamberlain and Chris Webb from the story by John Lasseter, Peter Docter, Ash Brannon, and Andrew Stanton, directed by Ash Brannon, John Lasseter, and Lee Unkrich, 1999, 95 min.

Toy Story 2 is one of those rare movies that can make grown-up audiences let go of their cynicism and experience life like a child, and it also proves that the studio system can (sometimes) live up to its promise of entertainment. Toy Story 2 also assembles an unwieldy team of writers and directors -- multiple writers usually are a sign of imminent disaster -- that actually delivers a product that is coherent, funny, fluid, and worth the trip to the theatre. Toy Story 2 should really obey the law of sequels -- less entertaining, less original, less money returned for more money invested -- but somehow it manages to become its own marvellous realm of dreams and ditties, humour and just a bit of horror. I was expecting it to mildly amuse me in the same way as the first Toy Story movie did, but in every way the second movie is better. It's funnier, and Pixar has come a long way in terms of technology; this movie is graphically light years ahead of its famous predecessor.

In the previous Toy Story movie, a group of toys that belong to a boy named Andy were all anxious at the arrival of an exciting new toy named Buzz Lightyear. Would they be forgotten? By the time of the sequel, Woody, the cowboy toy who is the leader of the toys, has befriended Buzz, and everything seems to be going fine. But many scenes in the movie consistently look at life from the point of view of a toy, and in the first one of them, a day of panic has arrived: yard sale! Woody bravely goes outside to rescue a toy by the name of Wheezy; Wheezy gets away, but Woody is left behind, and by the laws of the toy's world, he has to act lifeless when under the attention of any human. He gets spotted by a nefarious toy collector, stolen, and whisked away to be re-painted. Unbeknownst to Woody, he is the star of an old hit TV show, Woody's Roundup, and now, along with the other members of the show, he is going to be sold to a Japanese museum at a premium price. Woody's best friend, Buzz Lightyear, can't stand by while this happens, so he sets out with a brave band of friends, to rescue Woody, with often hilarious results. Toy Story 2 has much less of an edge to it than the first movie, which had an evil neighbour boy named Sid. Sid scared even me, and some of the kids I know refused to see the sequel until I reassured them that it wasn't as scary as the first one. The two movies are quite different in the story department, with the sequel standing on its own as more warm-hearted and less sinister. The sequel also has quite an exciting finale.

The characterization in Toy Story 2 is wonderful, and each toy has a peculiar foible that supplies much of the rich humour. The dinosaur Rex gets lots of mileage out of the fact that his short arms can't do much (as well as the fact that he is obsessed with videogames), while Hamm the piggy bank talks a lot about money and how much change he is carrying. Of course, Buzz Lightyear now knows that he is only a toy (a main part of the plot of the first movie), but after a side trip to a toy store, the band of friends picks up a serious Buzz who is still dead set on defeating the evil emperor Zurg. Pixar resolves the storyline between the new Buzz and Zurg in perhaps a too-clever way, but it's one of a number of pleasing pop-culture references in the movie. The new-found friendship between Woody and Buzz is given lots of attention, and it becomes the crux of the movie. Will Woody choose to go back with his friends or go overseas to a museum? The other members of Woody's Roundup are convincing as well, especially Jessie and some her phobias: Woody's Roundup has been an incomplete set for a long time and Jessie does not want to go back in the box. The characterization is supported by many little moments, and it pays to see the movie twice to catch some of these smaller details.

Toy Story 2 uses the stereotypical toys that have been around for a long time, and each of those toys acts according to their nature. However, it's still irritating to have the boy toys going out on a big quest in the wide world, saying goodbye to the girl toys who wait at home for them. This is the only major flaw in the movie.

When the cowgirl toy, Jessie, starts her song about her previous owner, I was cringing in anticipation of what could have been a dreadful wrong turn into sentimentality for the movie. Instead, the song is a shocking look at how hard life can be for toys. Quite a nice surprise for this viewer. I'm glad that movie held up its standard of high quality from beginning to end, and also its consistent and thought-out approach to its world. That's a mark of the best fantastical storytelling. Pixar also gives us a strong plot, lively characters, and some impressive graphics -- a remarkable movie all told.

DVD Note: Toy Story 2 is available in an Ultimate Toybox edition that has both Toy Story movies and a third DVD dedicated to extras. Each of the movies has some audio commentaries and the Pixar short that accompanied each film on release (a nice touch). Disk 3 has everything anyone could want to know about the world of Tory Story and how Pixar accomplished such wonderful things, about five hours of extras in total. A cheaper 2-DVD set is available but the complete Toybox is definitely recommended.


First posted: January 9, 2000; Last modified: March 1, 2004

Copyright © 2000-2004 by James Schellenberg (james@jschellenberg.com)


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