When Pixar brought the original Toy Story out in 1995, many people were stunned at the quality of the movie. This was no mere theatrical release. It looked like live action, but it was all done on a computer (or, more precisely, many computers). The toys looked staggeringly real. They looked not like cartoon characters but what you might find on the floor of a kid’s unkempt room. And what’s more, they had more life than most characters played by real-life actors.
A standard axiom of animated feature films says that the greater the original, the lesser the sequel. The higher the roman or arabic numeral after the title, the worse the quality will be. There have been sequels to Snow White, The Jungle Book, Aladdin, The Lion King, and others that were measurably worse than the original films. It’s a pattern as old as movies themselves, and of course it applies to live-action movies as well. In general – good original = bad sequel; great original = so-so sequel.
And this is where Toy Story 2 breaks the rules. Ah, those folks at Pixar (and, of course, at Disney). While the original took place largely in Andy’s room, the second film wanders out into the streets of the city – and even to a toy store! All of the gang is back from the first one, including the late Jim Varney as Slinky Dog. What’s the plot? Woody (Tom Hanks) is swiped from Andy’s front yard (he wasn’t supposed to be sold, don’t fret!) by a toy-store owner (Wayne Knight) looking to cash in on Woody’s value as a collectible. Naturally, the other toys, led by Buzz Lightyear, launch a rescue mission. But does Woody want to be rescued? We’re introduced to three new characters, the other dolls in a collectible set from a long-ago TV show. You know, kind of like Howdy Doody, only everyone was a marionette. With Woody completing the set, these toys are to be sold to a Japanese museum. Will Woody go with his new friends and live in a museum, or will he return with Buzz and company to stay with Andy?
The movie introduces some wonderful, thought-provoking material. Kids will be entertained by the exploits of Woody and his friends, but they’ll learn without knowing they’re being taught, and that might be the most effective way for kids to learn lessons anyway. For example, Woody has a moral dilemma – go or stay – and while he resolves it diplomatically, he doesn’t (or the screenwriters don’t) take the easy way out. Also, our old pal Buzz seems to have matured since the last movie (!) and has his OWN dilemma to deal with. We see these toys’ frailities, and it makes them so real to us. Kids see them and identify with the toys. We don’t just have superheroes saving the day from evil. We have toys that might just as well be the children themselves, and you have to admire the verisimilitude of the script itself. It’s a script that’s racuously funny, with some references only the adults will get, and deliciously crisp – it’s not a carbon-copy plot