|If only they had come up with a more interesting title for the sequel to 1995’s computer-animated mega-hit Toy Story. The bland, thoughtless title Toy Story 2 simply doesn’t do this wonderful comedy justice. Don’t be fooled by the “2.” In the last 30 years, any numeral after a title (whether it be Roman or Arabic) has morphed into cinematic shorthand for “unoriginal retread of earlier ideas” or, more directly, “lazy attempt to cash in on previous success.” It is only in the rare sequel--The Godfather Part II (1974), Aliens (1986), or, more recently, The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)--that filmmakers makes unique films that differ and/or expand upon the originals (that doesn’t always work, of course, as exemplified by mega-bombs like 1977’s Exorcist II: The Heretic, but, hey, at least they tried).|
Toy Story 2 expands and builds upon the story and characters from the groundbreaking original in a way that is both meaningful and fun, which is why it is such great entertainment. Originally slated as a Disney straight-to-video release ala Lion King II: Simba’s Pride (1998), it was readily apparent early on that this film was of such superior quality that it demanded a theatrical release. John Lasseter, who helmed the original Toy Story and takes co-directing credit this time around with Lee Unkrich, has marshaled an army of talent and put together a funny, fast-moving sequel that is as good, if not even better, than the 1995 original, and certainly more light-hearted and whimsical (there is significantly less threat of bodily harm hanging over the proceedings).
The story once again concerns all the toys in young Andy’s room pulling together in order to rescue one of their own. In this case, their leader, Woody (Tom Hanks), a spirited cowboy doll, has been kidnapped by a greedy toy collector named Al McWhiggin (Wayne Knight, still best known as Seinfeld’s nefarious Newman), who realizes that Woody is a rare relic from the 1950s. Once kidnapped by Al, Woody is reunited with the rest of his “Round Up Gang,” including cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack), his horse Bullseye, and Stinky Peter the Prospector (Kelsey Grammer), who has never been taken out of his original packaging. By including Woody, Al’s collection is now complete and is ready to be shipped off to a Japanese museum as an exhibit.
Leading the rescue attempt is the determined Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), the spaceman action figure who now understands that he is, indeed, a toy (the original movie was centered around his dilemma of not understanding that he could not really fly). Buzz leads fellow toys Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), Slinky Dog (Jim Varney), Rex the dinosaur (Wallace Shawn), and Hamm, a plastic piggy bank (John Ratzenberger), from Andy’s room through the dangers of downtown (including an incredible sequence where they cross a major street amid rushing traffic) to where Woody is being kept.
Like all of Pixar’s films, Toy Story 2 is an astounding visual feat of ingenuity and imagination. Take, for instance, the opening sequence that reimagines a Buzz Lightyear video game as a full-scale space battle involving Buzz and thousands of evil robots. Or, for another example, witness the creepy sequence when Woody’s arm is torn, and he dreams that Andy has lost interest and thrown him away with other torn and discarded toy parts (it is only in this sequence that Toy Story 2 touches on the darkness that pervaded the second half of the original with its threats of dismemberment-by-rocket and a barbeque inferno). The imagination in both of these sequences is not just in the visuals on-screen, but in the screenplay’s vivid reworking of the everyday world through the eyes of a group of toys. Screenwriters Andrew Stanton, Rita Hsiao, Doug Chamberlain, and Chris Webb create a complex and believable point of view for their toy protagonists that makes Woody’s existential dilemma--whether to rejoin the toys in Andy’s room or to join the Round-Up gang in the museum, both places that need him equally--all that more affecting.
Toy Story 2 is also a wild pastiche of Hollywood conventions and recognizable parodies, which reminds us of the film’s multiple levels of operation in terms of audience address. The opening sequence is a funny and clever parody of both the Star Wars and Star Trek series, and the filmmakers work in great visual gags that play off scenes in Jurassic Park (1993) and Die Hard (1988). Lasseter even manages to work in a role for Geri, the wonderful old codger at the center of Pixar’s Oscar-winning short film Geri’s Game (1997).
Although visuals are the most oft-mentioned aspects of Pixar’s films, what many fail to fully appreciate is the masterful use of narrative in these films. Because they are so carefully planned and storyboarded prior to the expensive computer animation process, these stories tend to be shining examples of pure narrative economy. Not a single shot is ever wasted, and not a single character comes out one-sided or shallow. Even the corpulent and obnoxious Al is given a moment of sympathy, which reflects on the filmmakers’ good intentions and encompassing spirit. Of course, much of this is also due to the voice talent behind all the characters. They may be animated by computers, but the characters in Toy Story 2 are some of the most lifelike and affecting creations you’ll ever see.
Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick
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Overall Rating: (4)
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