Rated G - Running Time: 1:32 - Released 11/24/99

Back in 1995, Toy Story introduced us to Sheriff Woody, an old time cowboy, Buzz Lightyear, a state-of-the-art spaceman, and a host of other personable playthings who lived in the bedroom of a boy named Andy. But more importantly, it introduced us to Pixar, the computer-animation company that is revolutionizing the industry. Pixar had been producing animated shorts since the early '80s, but Toy Story, distributed through Walt Disney Pictures, marked the first ever feature-length film produced completely on the computer. But this film was not only distinctive because it was an important milestone in the history of geeks. It was also just an excellent movie. It had an action-packed story, a sparkling script, hilarious characterizations by a star-studded cast, and an excellent musical score by Randy Newman. After its wild success (about $500 mil and counting), Pixar/Disney turned out A Bug's Life, also fabulously effective.

Now comes Toy Story 2, with the same creative team, the same actors (plus a few additions), and, amazingly, the same standards for excellence. Seldom has there been such a brilliant sequel to such a brilliant predecessor. Toy Story 2 is crammed full of fun and excitement from the first second to the last, with the crisp animation we have come to enjoy from Pixar, incredibly lifelike detail that perhaps even surpasses the original, and absolutely no diminishment of script or cast performance. Directors Ash Brannon and John Lasseter, who also wrote the film with the help of Peter Docter and several others, should be proud to produce such high-quality entertainment in a bloated industry that regularly settles for mediocrity.

In the latest saga of Andy's toys, Woody (voice of Tom Hanks), through a yard sale-related accident, falls into the opportunistic hands of Al the toy salesman (Wayne Knight) and winds up on the 23rd floor of an office building, waiting to be shipped to a toy museum in Japan. You see, Al knows that Woody is a collector's item — finding him means completing his set of priceless vintage dolls from the popular "Woody's Round-Up" TV show of the '50s. So Woody finds himself in the company of Jessie the cowgirl (Joan Cusack), Stinky Pete the prospector (Kelsey Grammer), and, of course, his own faithful steed, Bullseye. They inform him of his previous stardom, showing off Al's vast collection of Woody lunch boxes, records, posters, and even videos of the old show. Woody is awestruck. Not to mention starstruck.

Meanwhile, Buzz (Tim Allen) knows he must save his friend at all costs, so he embarks on a mission to Al's Toy Barn, taking along Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), Hamm the piggy bank (John Ratzenberger), Slinky Dog (Jim Varney), and Rex the timid Tyrannosaurus (Wallace Shawn). They go on a hilarious, action-packed journey, encountering other toys like Barbie (The Little Mermaid's Jodi Benson), the evil Emperor Zurg (Andrew Stanton), and even another Buzz Lightyear (also Allen).

This film is one of the most enjoyable I have seen in ages. The detail of the animation is impeccable; every moment is dripping with characterization. The script is a riot, making many humerous asides to grownups, and even some that the kids can get. Hanks and Allen are once again stupendous in their vocal characterizations, and the rest of the cast members support them impeccably with the many great lines and situations in the effervescent text.

On hand again is composer Newman, but he doesn't warble his own tunes this time, leaving it instead to other artists like Riders In The Sky ("Woody's Roundup"), Robert Goulet ("You've Got A Friend In Me"), and Sarah McLachlan ("When She Loved Me"). The latter selection, the one moment of the film where the pace slows for a few minutes, is a heart-wrenching piece written from the perspective of a toy which has been forgotten by its beloved owner. Newman's music and lyrics are deeply touching, and McLachlan's delivery haunting. This moment provides a perfect counterpoint to the otherwise hilarious and fast-paced experience.

Of course, there's no question that one of the objectives of Toy Story was to create a market for Buzz and Woody merchandise, which was manufactured in perfect sychronization with the film's release. But that film, and now its sequel, have proven that commercialism doesn't have to be a soulless endeavor. Unlike so many kids' movies made to boost toy sales (Pik--Pik--Pikachu! — excuse me), Toy Story actually makes us want to shell out the dough for the dolls. *****

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

See Current Reviews

See FilmQuips Archive