Films like Toy Story 2 (1999) are staggering examples of how sometimes the sequel can be just as good, if not superior to the original. That the geniuses at Pixar managed to pull the hat trick again with the third instalment in the series speaks volumes about the talent of their writers. Surprisingly Walt Disney Studios was initially considering releasing the second movie straight-to-video, and the production was apparently very troubled. However director John Lasseter not only salvaged a children’s movie, but also delivered a great movie for all ages.
The first Toy Story ended up in the VHS collection my parents dutifully provided for my brother and I, and I loved the idea that toys had their own adventures going on between them. Just like Andy in the films I have been growing up with the release of each film, but was still young enough to go see the sequel in theatres when it came out in the Christmas season of 1999. This was one of the rare times when my family and I went home to Canada for Christmas during the time when were living in South America, which really enhances the experience. There is just something about going into a warm movie theatre to see a fantasy film, escape for a few hours, and then come out when it’s gently snowing. It’s just not the same if you come out and it’s warm and sunny.
On paper you would think it would be difficult to come up with a story, let alone two, for a group of talking toys. In the first movie toy sheriff Woody (Tom Hanks) felt threatened by the arrival of delusional space hero Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), and had to survive a deranged neighbourhood kid who enjoys blowing up his toys. Woody and Buzz bonded and became co-leaders of the toys in the bedroom of their owner Andy (John Morris) who in this has grown up, and must start deciding which toys to throw out.
This leads to Woody being mistakenly placed at a yard sale, and the introduction of the villain, Al McWhiggin (Wayne Knight) the greedy owner of a toy store who makes commercials while wearing a chicken suit. Realizing Woody is actually a rare collector’s item he steals him from the yard sale while Andy’s mom is not looking, leading Buzz, Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), Hamm the piggy bank (John Ratzenberger), Slinky Dog (Jim Varney), and not-so-brave Rex (Wallace Shaw) to mount a daring rescue operation into the city. Now, how is that for a plot involving toys?
As if that was not cool enough of a concept, the writers raise the stake by having Woody wonder whether or not he wants to be rescued. Inside Al’s apartment he learns he is not only a collector’s item, but also part of a collection that includes cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack), prospector Stinky Pete (Kelsey Grammer), and loyal steed Bullseye. Al’s plan is to sell them as an expensive package deal to a toy museum in Tokyo, which initially horrifies Woody because this would break Andy’s heart. However Jessie and Pete point out in Tokyo Woody would not bring joy to just one child, but hundreds of them every day. There is also the fact that one day Andy will have to discard Woody, just like Jessie’s owner did.
If don’t get a little teary-eyed during the flashback sequence that show’s Jessie’s owner outgrowing her and leaving her in a box to the tune of Randy Newman’s When She Loved Me, you have a heart of stone. It’s true, in real life toys are just inanimate objects, but when you were a kid wasn’t there a small part of you that thought they might have been up to something when you left the room? Yet eventually you grow up and have to leave them behind.
Heavy emotionally baggage aside, Toy Story 2 is also filled with laughs for the whole family, many of which involve the gang trying to rescue Woody. One of my favourites is them driving around the aisles of Al’s Toy Barn in a toy car and stopping dead in their tracks at the sight of the Barbie pool party, and Mr. Potato Head reminding himself that Mrs. Potato Head (Estelle Harris) is waiting for him at home. Then of course after the credits roll Pixar animators actually bothered to create a blooper real of the toys messing up their lines and having on-set accidents, and it is hilarious.
You may not be able to revisit your childhood toys once you grow up, but like many of Pixar’s films you can revisit Toy Story 2 plenty of times and still have fun no matter your age.