Saturday, July 20, 2019

Toy Story 2

Note: The following review contains spoilers for Toy Story 2.

Following the success of the original Toy Story, it seemed inevitable that Pixar would want to cash in on that with a Toy Story 2. Though a Toy Story sequel was in development during A Bug’s Life, it was initially envisioned to be a direct-to-video feature, however Disney, who had a distribution deal with Pixar at the time prior to the later buyout, later wanted it to be a theatrical release following test footage. Pixar wanted to change things, however Disney insisted on the release date they had already set, leading Pixar to rework the movie and somehow finish it within a span of nine months. Despite these circumstances, the movie that came out of it was surprisingly good.

As Rex (Wallace Shawn) fails to beat a Buzz Lightyear video game, Woody (Tom Hanks) is busy searching for his hat as he is getting ready for Andy to take him to Cowboy Camp for a few days. Within the five minutes he has before he has to leave for camp, Andy (John Morris) manages to have a full play session with his toys, however at the end he accidentally damages Woody’s arm, causing Woody to get left behind on a shelf. The next day, Andy’s mom (Laurie Metcalf) gathers a number of Andy’s toys for a yard sale, including another shelved toy named Wheezy (John Ranft), a penguin squeaky toy who suffers from a broken squeaker. While attempting to rescue Wheezy with the help of Andy’s dog Buster, Woody ends up getting left behind, leading him to get stolen by an overweight toy collector named Al (Wayne Knight), who happens to be looking for a Sheriff Woody doll. That night, Buzz (Tim Allen) heads a mission with some of the other toys to go rescue Woody.

The story is easy to follow and provides an interesting narrative arc for Woody that expands on the original Toy Story. While being held “captive” by Al, Woody discovers he’s part of a larger Woody’s Roundup toyline with its own TV series, meeting a few other toys representing additional characters from the show in the process. This collection was accumulated with the intent to be sold to a Japanese museum, giving Woody an internal conflict on whether it’s better for him to be adored by many kids or just be played with the one he’s known his whole life. One of the other toys, Jessie (Joan Cusack), provides an excellent foil for this, as she had been abandoned by her own kid before ending up in Al’s collection.

One thing that the film addresses, however, is the popularity of Buzz Lightyear from the original film, including a scene in the Al’s Toy Barn toy store with some real-life subtext about how toy retailers underestimated the demand for Buzz toys. This movie also formally introduces the evil Emperor Zurg (Andrew Stanton), a minor antagonist in this film who was hinted at in Buzz’s bio in the original Toy Story. Perhaps as a testament to Buzz’s enduring popularity, the franchise treatment Woody received in this film would ironically be given to Buzz in real life, as he later received his own animated series, Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, which even had its own toyline.

Even as an adult, I unironically want to play this game
(Buzz Lightyear: Attack on Zurg).

Getting back on track, the movie also provides a lot of humor to balance out the more emotional scenes. Some scenes are recycled from the first film as a form of meta-humor, including one that implies that all Buzz Lightyear toys start off whole-heartedly believing they are their fictional counterparts. That said, while Pixar films largely steer away from bathroom humor, there’s a couple bits where it’s evident they couldn’t resist, such as one extended sequence in an airport terminal where Buzz has a luggage tag for Butte (location unclear) stuck to his rear. The movie also has one in a brief point where Pixar provided fake outtakes (outfakes?) during the credits; while they are mostly funny, at least one or two of them also divulge into unnecessary bodily humor jokes.

The animation is greatly improved compared to the original Toy Story, helped by a four-year gap between installments. Among other things, the character models are a lot more expressive and the texture quality is improved, even if it still doesn’t hold up to modern standards. That being said, one particular texture that still worked for me was the tiling found in Al’s Toy Barn, as it instantly made me think of the flooring that could found at retailers such as Toys ‘R’ Us. The animation of the human characters is also improved by comparison, as they are far easier to look at, though it still wouldn’t be until 2004’s The Incredibles that Pixar would start to get it right (and even then it was heavily stylized).

One of the new Woody’s Roundup characters, a horse named Bullseye, is still very well-animated, engaging in some fairly realistic horse movements while still retaining the element that he is a toy. As for his body language, as someone with some basic horse experience, while Bullseye does engage in some dog-like behavior at times, I found it more acceptable in this situation since he’s meant to represent a toy horse rather than a more realistic one. His fabric textures, on the other hand, were very realistic-looking for the time, however they would see a major visual upgrade in Toy Story 3.

In a more dog-like moment, Bullseye (center) has a stare-down with Slinky
Dog (Jim Varney, right) while Jessie (Joan Cusack, left) tries to break them up.

The voice acting in this movie still holds up well, particularly the performances of Tim Allen and Tom Hanks as Buzz and Woody respectively. Notably, this would be the last Toy Story film to feature Jim Varney as Slinky Dog prior to his death, after which he’d be recast in Toy Story 3 with Blake Clark; though Varney’s tenure as Slinky was short, he gives a no less memorable performance. Joan Cusack as Jessie is a standout amongst the newer characters, as she displays a wide emotional range that compliments her personality quite well. One instance that stand out include moments where she displays claustrophobia as a result of being left abandoned in a box, though the song that tells that story (“When She Loved Me”) was performed by singer Sarah McLachlan.

Another well-casted role was Kelsey Grammar as Stinky Pete the Prospector, who turns out to be the real main antagonist of the story. Though he’s probably better known as Dr. Frasier Crane (Cheers, Frasier) and Sideshow Bob (The Simpsons), Grammar shows a great range he’s previously displayed across both roles, with the Prospector seeming benevolent at first before revealing his true colors in the third act. It helps that the Prospector is actually a pretty well-rounded villain, as he displays a general disdain for space toys (such as Buzz Lightyear) and his insistence on Woody going to Japan seems implied to stem from being a shelfwarmer (in other words, a toy that for whatever reason remains on the shelf for longer than intended).

While definitely not as groundbreaking or iconic as the original Toy Story, Toy Story 2 is still a good movie in its own right that holds up pretty decently. The movie presents some very interesting ideas, some of which get better fleshed-out than others, though at its core it tells a very emotional story that also introduces what would go on to become additional core characters. With the caveat that one watch the original Toy Story first, I would definitely still recommend this movie to newer Pixar/Toy Story fans or to those looking for a good animated movie in general.

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