Should I Watch..? 'Toy Story 2'
What's the big deal?
Toy Story 2 is a computer-animated family comedy film released in 1999 and is obviously the sequel to arguably the film that kick-started the feature-length CG genre, Toy Story. The film stars Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Kelsey Grammer, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn and John Ratzenberger. The film focuses on a villainous toy collector who steals Woody to add to his collection while the rest of Andy's toys follow Buzz Lightyear in his ambitious quest to rescue his friend. Directed once again by John Lasseter, the film was a critical smash and would go on to earn more than $497 million worldwide as well as an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song. It is considered one of the rare sequels that actually improves on the original and would be followed by Toy Story 3 in 2010.
What's it about?
After discovering that their old friend Wheezy is to be sold in a yard sale, Woody engages in a daring rescue to save him. However, he is spotted by an over-excited man who steals Woody after failing to negotiate a sale with Andy's mum. Shocking that Woody has been kidnapped, the other toys recognise the thief as Al McWhiggan who owns a vast toy store across town called Al's Toy Barn. Buzz then convinces Hamm, Mr Potato Head, Rex and Slinky Dog to help rescue Woody from Al's Toy Barn.
Meanwhile, Woody finds himself cleaned and repaired before being placed alongside other western-themed toys. He discovers that he was the star of a Fifties TV show called Woody's Roundup that also starred his fellow captives - Jessie, Stinky Pete the prospector and his faithful horse Bullseye. Pete explains that they were all toys that were discarded by their owners and that Al intends to sell them to a museum in Tokyo. Unaware of Buzz's rescue, will Woody want to go back to Andy if offered the chance?
Mr Potato Head
John Lasseter, Ash Brannon (co-director) & Lee Unkrich (co-director)
Andrew Stanton, Rita Hsiao, Doug Chamberlin & Chris Webb*
Release Date (UK)
11th February, 2000
Animation, Comedy, Family
Academy Award Nomination
Best Original Song
What's to like?
As great as the original is, things do slow down somewhat when the reality of his existence dawns on Buzz Lightyear before picking up again for the climatic showdown with the villainous Sid. Toy Story 2 doesn't forget about this intriguing set-up but amplifies it, ramming home the sweet nature of being a toy not just in Andy's room but overall. Even if you're not being played with, a new life can exist outside of the toy-box and the dilemma Woody is faced with makes for an uncertain ending (assuming you were unaware of Toy Story 3). All the new characters make an instant impact, especially Jessie the cow-girl and Mrs Potato Head who has some of the best one-liners in the film. My personal favourite is Buzz's nemesis, the evil Zurg, who not just poses a threat but has a character development arc all of his own. Of course, Pixar have assembled the absolute best cast they could find and every actor smashes their role out of the park.
Aside from the in-jokes, the movie is a delirious riot from start to finish and feels much more entertaining than its predecessor. It's just so much fun being back with these characters and while the story might lack a little of the originality of Toy Story, it delivers the same amount of enjoyment for viewers of any age that the first film had. Plus the animation is crisper and more detailed and Randy Newman's classic soundtrack is there as well, lifted by the genuinely heart-breaking song When She Loved Me which, I'm not ashamed to say, prompts the odd tear from this usually stoic individual. Without question, it is one of the saddest sequences ever seen in a Pixar film.
- Glad to see I'm not the only one moved by When She Loved Me - both Hanks and Allen have admitted to crying during that scene. Newman had to be persuaded to include the song as he felt children wouldn't sit through it.
- Driving around Al's Toy Barn, Tour Guide Barbie says that toy retailers did not order enough stock in 1995 for the popular Buzz Lightyear toy. This is true as many retailers felt Toy Story would bomb but also a dig at Mattel, the makers of Barbie. They refused permission to use the character in the first film for the same reason.
- According to Etch-A-Sketch, the address for Al's Toy Barn is 1001 West Cutting Boulevard. This is actually the address for Pixar Animation Studios in Richmond, California.
What's not to like?
In all the fun and frippery of the picture, it's easy to forget that the film largely seems content to be a straight-forward action comedy with toys. This seems strange to point out but the film doesn't quite work on the same narrative height established in the first movie - there's nothing wrong with how the film plays out but this is probably the Toy Story best suited for younger viewers, much like how Cars is designed for young kids and merchandising. Personally, I love this movie but I know some people who might consider it a touch dumber.
Dumber is perhaps the wrong word - less cerebral might be better. But for all the pretensions, Toy Story 2 is something that few studios other than Pixar can seemingly produce, a family film for the whole family that is simply magical fun. It felt like the first time I saw The Incredibles which I maintain is the most fun I have ever had in a cinema. It's a relentless roller-coaster that has some brilliant moments from the opening scenes to the battle with Zurg in an elevator shaft but also some touching moments that put things into perspective. Toy Story may have introduced us to these characters but in this film, we truly love them.
Should I watch it?
For sheer enjoyment and runaway spectacle, this is the one in the series to watch. Its brighter, noisier and more entertaining than either of the other two and it does this by stripping away the sub-plots and philosophical musings of certain characters and concentrates on being a blast of a film. It might not be as deep as the first or third films but Toy Story 2 remains one of Pixar's undoubted highlights.
Great For: fans of the first film, family nights in, younger viewers
Not So Great For: snobs who consider CG films "cartoons", critics wanting something deeper
What else should I watch?
The first Toy Story, as we all know by now, was the first feature-length CG film in history and paved the way for an entire sub-genre by being a brilliantly executed family film. Stacked with memorable characters and a hilarious story, the film has only been weakened by the relentless march of technology which makes it look somewhat basic compared to later Pixar films like Brave or Inside Out. Toy Story 3, by contrast, is a much darker affair which combines elements of prison escape drama, mafia movies and the possibility of a real, actual death to these characters. It is a shock to the system but one which is handled with real care and delivers a Toy Story film that is more for adults than for children.
For anyone who thinks that Pixar aren't the masters of these types of films, I have yet to see a film from another studio that challenges their position. Some have come close - Despicable Me is good fun but has been dwindled by excess exposure to those blasted Minions while the same fate has befallen Shrek, itself weakened by lesser sequels. I wasn't really convinced by Kung Fu Panda and I simply have no interest in Ice Age or any of its sequels.
© 2018 Benjamin Cox