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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Pixargust: Toy Story 2 (1999)

Talk about a sequel to Toy Story has been out since after the first film was released. Disney initially envisioned the film as a direct-to-video sequel and Toy Story 2 began production in a building separated from Pixar and was much smaller scale, with most of the main Pixar staff working on A Bug's Life. When story reels proved promising, Disney upgraded the film to theatrical release, but Pixar was unhappy with the quality of the film. Lasseter and the story team re-developed the entire plot in one weekend. Although most Pixar features take years to develop, the established release date could not be moved and the production schedule for Toy Story 2 was compressed into nine months. It thankfully opened as a gigantic success. Making over $485 million and getting very high marks from the critics, Toy Story 2 has been called a rare case where the sequel outshines the original. Quite the reputation. Is it the story? The ideas? The animation? The characters: both old and new? What was the magic behind this film? What made it so damn good?  And is it just as good? Well, it's time to join our old friends on a new adventure. This is Toy Story 2.

It's now been three years since the first film and all our old friends are back! Woody, Buzz, Potato Head, Slinky, Hamm, Rex, Bo Peep, all of them. We also get to meet some new friends like Mrs. Potato Head (Estelle Harris) and a squeaky penguin named Wheezy (Joe Ranft). Well, it's time for Andy to go to cowboy camp and every year, he takes Woody. But while playing with him, Andy accidentally tears Woody's arm, forcing him to leave Woody behind. He gets put on the shelf and finds out that Wheezy has been shelved the whole time with a busted squeaker and collecting dust. One day while Andy's gone, his mom collects things for a yard sale and picks up Wheezy. Woody rescues the penguin only to be stolen by a man named Al (Wayne Knight), the same Al of Al's Toy Barn, who takes Woody away to his apartment. It's up to Buzz now to save his friend since Woody did the same in the last movie. So he, Slinky, Potato, Hamm, and Rex are off to find Al's Toy Barn where they believe the cowboy is being held captive. Woody tries to escape but finds out that he was once part of a mega-hit show in the 1950's which lead to tons of merchandise  including a doll of him and the other characters on the show: Jessie the yodeling cowgirl (Joan Cusack)  Bullseye the horse (Frank Welker), and Stinky Pete the prospector (Kelsey Grammer). They're all being sent to a toy museum in Tokyo and they need Woody to complete the trip. Woody is reluctant at first due to his loyalty to Andy, but after getting his arm fixed and hearing their side of the argument that Andy will one day grow up and never play with Woody again, this leads to a big debate: return to Andy just to be abandoned eventually or go with them as children admire him through a glass box? Woody decides to go at first, but realizes that it's better to be there when Andy grows up. He wants to take the Roundup Gang with him, but the Prospector refuses. And after a really exciting climax involving an airport, Andy's toys defeat the Prospector and make it back home with Jessie and Bulleye. While the two enjoy a new home, Woody tells Buzz that even if Andy outgrows him, he'll always have his friends around for company, "to infinity and beyond".

Unlike the first film, the plot of the sequel allows for much more scope for the action to take place. Most of the original film revolved around Andy’s room with only a few other locations offering adventures for the heroes. This time around, the toys venture out into the outside world. This is a nice change of setting and allows for a lot of creative possibilities for humor and action and as expected, Pixar takes every single advantage of it.

The humor is still as sharp as it was in the first film. Most of it comes from the rescue gang: Buzz, Slinky, Rex, Hamm, and Potato Head and the situations they get into outside Andy's room and Al's Toy Barn. The humor is more irrelevant than the first and there's more pop culture references, but it never distracts from the story. They introduce another Buzz doll too that's just like Andy's Buzz in the first movie: he really thinks he's a space ranger. The gang mistake the new Buzz for theirs and follow him until near the end of the film. They also introduced his nemesis, Zurg, which leads to both an epic and hilarious battle on top of an elevator. It's just to precious to keep from you good people.

The most remarkable thing about this sequel, however, is how is expands one of the central themes of the original film and makes it more heartfelt and sincere. A toy’s purpose is to be there for its owner and while the first film explored this theme with the introduction of Buzz, a toy who didn’t know he was toy, in Toy Story 2 it is fiercely devoted Woody who questions his purpose of existence. Woody ponders the possibility that one day Andy won’t want him anymore, a prospect that is illustrated by the sad story of Jessie, who was abandoned by her child. Jessie’s story is told through the song When She Loved Me, which plays over a flashback sequence that would reduce a grown man to tears.  It’s one of the many sad aspects of growing up, when the treasured friends who you once took everywhere and experienced numerous adventures with gradually become just toys. Toy Story 2 delves into this idea from the toys perspective, just as the original film did, but the introduction of two characters, Stinky Pete and Jessie, offers two new perspectives of life as toys. 

As much as I love Toy Story, Toy Story 2 really does improve everything about the first film. The animation quality just keeps getting better and better. The humans actually do resemble people now and we also get some really fine detail from lighting and shadows to the seams in the toy's stitching. It also cleverly expands the ideas of what it's like to be a toy, with some legitimate drama, vast emotional depth, and clever humor along the way. It's a rare sequel that doesn't feel like it divided itself from the original. In fact, you could watch all of these movies back to back and swear you would be watching one movie. I really adore it and chances are I'll be watching it to infinity and beyond in the future.

Face it: we'll never outgrow these guys!

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