Sequels must be difficult. Their nature practically necessitates returning to already established characters or settings for another time. And with a successful first outing, there is also an increase in pressure from an overly-loving fan-base, craving more of what they loved. Such is the case with Toy Story 2, the 1999 follow-up to the ground-breaking first feature from Pixar. Today it is regarded as one of the few films that manages to trump its predecessor in almost every single way, whilst touching on similar themes. It is possibly my favourite in the series too, although we’ll see about that when I review the long-awaited Toy Story 3.
Woody is accidentally damaged and then abducted by a fanatical antique toy-collector. He then discovers his unique value and the rest of the Roundup Gang, becoming convinced to accept life in a museum with them. His disappearance prompts his companions to launch a search and rescue operation to bring him back and convince him otherwise. It is strange to think that you may have found Toy Story 2 in the bargain bin of some supermarket – it was originally intended as a direct-to-DVD release in the time-honoured tradition of Disney (Return of Jafar, etc). The head honchos however, decided that with the strength of its story it deserved a full cinema release, and the rest is history.
From the very first scene (one of my favourites in cinema), it is evident that the 4 years since the original have brought about huge steps forward in animation technology. Everything is more colourful, detailed, and rich, making this a joy to behold. The stellar voice cast also seem to have upped their game, with fantastic additions such as Wayne Knight, Kelsey Grammer, and the wonderfully exuberant Joan Cusack, all making sure that their characters slot effortlessly into the Toy Story mythos. They are sped along through a series of poignant reflections and action set-pieces, ranging from a not-so-covert road crossing up to the heart-pounding chase finale in an airport. The script is even better than the first in my opinion; sharp and witty, mining the resources of the first film for a torrent of in-jokes and references, sure to please both adults and children.
What impressed me so much about this film, on my repeated viewings, is how Pixar balances emotion and comedy with deft touches. The emotional core of the story is laid bare in the beautifully mournful sequence where Jessie (Joan Cusack) reminisces about her former owner and laments for the fleeting nature of childhood. Tackled here is the truth that we all face; the carefree innocence of childhood cannot last completely, no matter what we do. the toys come to grips with this too; they know it, but ultimately decide to make the very best of it while it lasts. Overall, the success of Toy Story 2 is in its ability to build on what has come before it. It boasts greater production values, a funnier, more intelligent script, and a deeper emotional resonance. This all combines for one of the most enjoyable animations, and one of the best sequels out there.
P.S. Pixar’s sense of fun is no more apparent than in the brilliant outtakes that accompany the credits. Sit back and enjoy.