Toy Story 2 (1999)
Directed by John Lasseter, Lee Unkrich, Ash Brannon
Cast Voices: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, Annie Potts, John Ratzenberger, Kelsey Grammer, Wayne Knight, Laurie Metcalf, Jodi Benson.
1999 90 minutes
Rated: (nothing objectionable).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, November 25, 1999.
The third computer generated animated film from Pixar, "Toy Story 2" can be regarded with ease as one of those very rare sequels that actually improves upon its predecessor. Watching the original, in its entirety, for the first time since its theatrical release in November of 1995, and then going to see the sequel two hours later, it is abundantly clear that "Toy Story 2" is richer and more awe-inspiring in the animation department, has a stronger, appreciatively non-preachy message to make about the act of growing up, and, most importantly, is at least twice as imaginative. Sure, there are a sampling of corny jokes (as in the first one) to satisfy the children in the audience, but also like the original, it is a film that has a snappy pace, clever writing, and is condescending to neither kids nor adult viewers. Those attributes are, at least, something I doubt you could find in the new "Pokemon" movie.
Picking up a couple years after its precursor, this immensely entertaining sequel reintroduces all of the old toys that are owned by the young boy named Andy, most notably Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), a cowboy, and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), a space explorer. Now all friends, the gang of toys, which also include Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), Slinky the Dog (Jim Varney), Hamm the Piggy Bank (John Ratzenberger) and Rex the Dinosaur (Wallace Shawn), find their worst fear come true when, through a chain of unfortunate events, Woody is stolen at a yard sale by spiteful toy owner Al (Wayne Knight). While Buzz Lightyear and a select few of the other toys set out to rescue Woody, Woody himself discovers why Al wanted him so badly: he unknowingly used to be the star of a popular television show, and is the one missing character in the collection. Meeting and becoming quick friends with the other toys from the show, cowgirl and confidante Jessie (Joan Cusack), a horse named Bullseye, and the old paternal figure called The Prospector (Kelsey Grammer), Woody begins to have second thoughts about going back to Andy because he believes he might have finally found his rightful place in the world of toys.
What is so utterly delightful about "Toy Story 2" is that it never once rehashes the original, instead consistently coming up with sensationally innovative new ideas and branching the story off into many enlivening directions. Due to this, it dodges the usual fate of becoming an unnecessary sequel because, for once, Walt Disney Pictures does not seem to be aiming for a quick buck, as they have patently directed all of their efforts into making an exemplary continuation of a recent beloved family film.
While the 1995 picture grew a little frustrating because of the majority of the action taking place in bedrooms, "Toy Story 2" is akin to the also superior 1993 sequel "Addams Family Values," in that it takes the characters into a much-needed outside setting. Opening in Andy's bedroom, then going into the city, through a toy store, and culminating at an airport (with pit stops in between), the film is a grand achievement and another step forward in the world of animation, appearing more sharp and detailed than even Pixar's last film, 1998's "A Bug's Life." Never short of being colorful and visually extravagant, certain shots are so very impressive that they almost look like live-action, while the human characters also appear slightly more real than their artificial representations in the original.
Staying true to the memorable toy characters he previously created, director John Lasseter does not try to miraculously alter the personalities of Woody, Buzz, or the rest of the ensemble, but simply continues their evolvement as regular people. By doing this, Lasseter also has introduced several fresh characters, including Mrs. Potato Head, The Prospector, Bullseye, Tour Guide Barbie, and the most effective, Jessie. Marvelously voiced by Joan Cusack, Jessie is one of the most well-written and realistically portrayed modern animated characters in some time. In an unusually touching and meaningful flashback for a family movie, we watch how Jessie's life has lead up to this moment. She used to have an owner, a loving girl who was her best friend, but as the years went by, the girl turned into a young woman, the places where her toys used to be changed into posters and make-up, Jessie stopped being played with, and finally, ended up being thrown away. "You never forget your owner," Jessie tearfully says, "but they forget you." This line is so powerful and stirring because it is completely true, and even if toys aren't actually alive in real life, its connotation remains wholeheartedly valid.
For every minor instance where something doesn't work (in a throwaway ode to the first "Star Wars" trilogy, Buzz Lightyear discovers his arch nemesis, Zurg, is actually his father), there are no less than twenty other things that do. The climax, for example, is ingeniously set at a busy airport, and stands as one of the most exciting action set-pieces this whole year. Joyous and lighthearted, "Toy Story 2" is ideal family entertainment, and the most satisfying Disney movie since 1991's "Beauty and the Beast."
©1999 by Dustin Putman