Toy Story 2 (1999)

D: Ash Brannon, John Lasseter, Lee Unkrich
S: Voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen

Entertaining sequel to the 1995 hit which enlarges upon the premise of its predecessor and manages to both repeat all that was successful last time and add enough so that it remains fresh and funny. The plot revolves around what happens when Woody is stolen by an unscrupulous collector and discovers his hitherto unknown heritage as the star of a vintage TV show. While Buzz and the gang go in search of him, Woody finds himself facing a choice, as it has become clear to him that Andy is growing up and he won't play with him forever. Things get even more complicated when the gang enter a giant toy store and encounter, among other things, a new, improved Buzz Lightyear, who suffers from the same delusion that affected our Buzz in the previous film, and the evil emperor Zurg, with whom Buzz is locked in eternal struggle.

The action is considerably broader in scope this time out, with most scenes taking place outside the boundaries of Andy's room and the family environment of the first film. In a sense this breaks some of the rules established in the original, as the toys seem to spend more time active and outdoors than indoors (the adventure outside was meant to be extraordinary before, now it seems like a merry jaunt). It hardly matters though, as Lasseter and his team of co-directors and co-writers have come up with a variety of action and an almost endless stream of in-jokes, gags, and bits of business which will keep both young and old enthralled for as long as the film runs. It blends humour, pathos, and genuine drama as easily as before, and with less sentimental interference from Randy Newman's songs, it holds its tone more successfully on this occasion. Though it covers many of the same issues as its forebear (the cowboy/astronaut divide is again the subject of pointed observation, though the focus is more on the cowboy this time, questions of loyalty, loss, and friendship are central, etc.), the blend of fast and silly adventure with quieter and more reflective moments is paced more effectively to allow just enough time for each to make an impact before moving on to the next. Overlaid with as much visual humour as before and the ever-more impressive touches which Pixar's distinctive computer style bring to the art of animated pictures, the film achieves and sustains a comic and dramatic momentum which is impossible to dislike, even if it never does manage to touch the emotional heights of Disney classics like Dumbo and Pinocchio (or even, arguably, its most recent non-Disney rival The Iron Giant).

As before, one of the real pleasures of the film is the marvellous voice acting by a huge cast including Tom Hanks and Tim Allen in the leads, but also support from Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, R. Lee Ermey, and Jim Varney, all reprising their roles from Toy Story. New additions include Kelsey Grammer, Joan Cusack, and Estelle Harris, and there are irresistible cameo contributions from Andrew Stanton, Dave Foley, and Roe Ranft (of A Bug's Life). The human roles are also filled by familiar voices, including Laurie Metcalf, Wayne Knight, and Jonathan Harris (in a sneaky in-joke as the elderly star of the Pixar short Geri's Game). The animators match the vocal performances with a range of funny facial expressions, but it is the delivery which makes it work. Particularly hilarious is the encounter between our Buzz and the new Buzz, where Allen gets to work in both registers of the character simultaneously.

Toy Story 2 is very enjoyable. There is plenty to look at and admire, lots of genuine fun for young and old and enough sly pop culture references to please even the cynical critic. Adults won't be either bored or deafened, children will simply have fun. At the end of the day, these are the most important considerations in any recommendation of the film, and though it has been perhaps over-hyped to an extent which makes almost any result a slight disappointment, this is certainly just as good as the first film and in many ways slightly better. It is well worth seeing and will bear repeated viewings on video and DVD, and though no, it's not Bambi or Beauty and the Beast , it is as good an animated feature as has been made in the final years of the twentieth century and bodes well for the twenty-first.

Included with the theatrical release of the film (and bound to feature on the DVD) is the classic Pixar short Luxo Jr. which is still as deft and bright as it was on is original appearence over a decade ago.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 2000.