Toy Story 2: Love or Immortality

THE TOYS ARE BACK IN TOWN.

toystory2In the beginning, no one intended this film to be a theatrical follow-up to Toy Story (1995), the groundbreaking movie that made Pixar famous. The idea was to make a 60-minute sequel that would be released directly to video. When the project turned out to look very promising, a decision was made to expand the story into a 90-minute feature. Eventually, this film became a point of contention in the contract between Pixar and Disney, which led to the 2004 break between the companies.

One thing is for certain. The Toy Story franchise will always remain the studio’s most transformative experience.

Two years have passed since Woody first met Buzz Lightyear, and Andy is heading for summer camp. The idea was to bring Woody along for the trip, but an accident puts an end to those plans; Andy accidentally rips the cowboy’s right arm and leaves the toy behind. Woody is depressed, but when Andy’s mother arranges a garage sale he finds a reason to organize another expedition. She intends to sell one of Andy’s old toys, a rubber penguin called Wheezy. The toy is rescued, but Woody falls behind and is stolen by a fanatical toy collector. It turns out that Woody is very valuable. The toy was based on an old 1950s TV show where a cowboy called Woody was thrown into adventures along with Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl, a horse called Bullseye, and Stinky Pete the Prospector. The toy collector has the three other toys and Woody completes the franchise.

As Buzz organizes an expedition to rescue Woody, the cowboy has to choose between going back to Andy or have a brilliant future as an adored attraction in a Tokyo toy museum.

Keeping up a frantic pace
At first it’s hard to imagine that this sequel would be as good as the original, but director John Lasseter and his crew outdo themselves. Many details reconnect with the first film in clever ways; I love it how the tables are turned and Buzz ends up reminding Woody that he’s “just a toy!”. The movie is chock-full of amusing references to pop-cultural phenomena (such as Jurassic Park) and has terrific comedy dialogue, but the filmmakers never forget that they’re creating something that children are supposed to identify with; the portrayal of all these toys is true to the conditions of their existence, and definitely relatable. There’s a genuine interest in that world on display here. Once again, Lasseter keeps up a frantic pace; the drama that Woody becomes a part of is skillfully balanced with the risky adventure that Buzz and his buddies embark upon.

The idea of introducing a second Lightyear doll is a great, funny ingredient. The whole, zany hunt for Woody also includes a hilarious battle with Zurg, the villain from Buzz’s world, that ends up echoing The Empire Strikes Back! But it’s obvious that Lasseter takes the relationship between toys and their owners seriously – one beautifully animated sequence shows how Jessie was abandoned by the girl who owned her, and Sarah McLachlan’s interpretation of the song “When She Loved Me” is a moving accompaniment.

There is one thing that this sequel does better than the original. There seems to be more thought going into the screenplay, which addresses the anxieties of growing up; when you’re a kid you don’t think about those things, but these dolls are grown-ups to some extent and are aware of how little time they get to spend with the children who own them. Woody is tempted to choose immortality, but his love for Andy is the only thing that matters in the end. Imagine that. A mainstream animated film with this level of depth.

Toy Story 2 1999-U.S. Animated. 92 min. Color. Produced by Karen Robert Jackson, Helene Plotkin. Directed by John Lasseter. Screenplay: Andrew Stanton, Rita Hsiao, Doug Chamberlin, Chris Webb. Music, Songs: Randy Newman (“When She Loved Me”). Voices of Tom Hanks (Woody), Tim Allen (Buzz Lightyear), Joan Cusack (Jessie), Kelsey Grammer, Don Rickles, Jim Varney… Laurie Metcalf, R. Lee Ermey.

Trivia: Followed by an animated TV series (Buzz Lightyear of Star Command (2000-2001)), a direct-to-DVD release (Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins (2000)) and Toy Story 3 (2010).

Last word: “I was the sole director on ‘Toy Story’, but it really helps to be able to delegate and have more than one director. It’s just so complex, there’s too much work for one person to do. I’m not sure how it works with Disney and their co-directors, but here the way we do it depends on the people and their strengths. I worked with Andrew [Stanton] very closely on ‘a bug’s life’. On ‘Toy Story 2’, Lee Unkrich has strength in editing and he comes from a live-action background, so he took the lead in working with the layout dept. and the editorial dept. Ash Brannon, comes from animation, so he and I took the lead in the animation dept. and I took the lead in some other areas.” (Lasseter, Cinefantastique)

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