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The latest—but certainly not last—of these digitally animated Pixar charmers is just as witty and dear as the first installment, which created the equivalent of a sugar high in young audiences four Christmases ago. Whether kids will want to tune in for the further adventures of rangy cowboy-doll Woody (Tom Hanks), his former rival Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), and the whole retro gang—the Potato Heads, tiny toy soldiers, Troll doll, Etch A Sketch—is not debatable. The Toy Story franchise has managed to be more about the film than innumerable, cheaply made tie-ins, and the connection between kids and the lovable characters is therefore relatively fresh. Young audiences are eager not to consume more stuff associated with the gang, but to see another movie starring them.
Toy Story 2, in fact, exhibits an admirably staunch and old-fashioned attitude toward kid-fun. Acknowledging that its audience has waited four years for the sequel, the film addresses what happens when children outgrow or mistreat their toys. It observes toys in the limbo between being cherished by children and fetishized by greedy, nostalgic grownups.
The materialism of toy culture is in evidence from the film’s beginning, which features a breathless, action-packed Buzz Lightyear video game. Despite Buzz’s marketing potential, he is still part of the toy-chest community; owner Andy teams Woody and Buzz for imaginative rescues and other adventures. But when Woody’s arm accidentally gets ripped, Andy puts him on a shelf with long-forgotten Wheezy, a plastic penguin whose “squeaker” has pooped out. Woody’s terror of being discarded is only exacerbated when Andy’s mom collects Wheezy for that toy holocaust, the yard sale.
In attempting to rescue Wheezy from being sold for a quarter, Woody is stolen by Al of Al’s Toy Barn, store owner by day and obsessive collector of vintage playthings in his private time. It turns out that Woody is a representative of Woody’s Roundup, a massively popular ’50s TV show starring a puppet version of himself; a horse named Bullseye; Jessie, the yodeling cowgirl; and Stinky Pete, the old prospector. With Woody as the final, most precious prize, Al reunites the gang in a secluded shrine filled with Roundup memorabilia and videotapes of the show. His plan is to sell the collection to a Japanese toy museum.
In Al’s secret lair, Woody faces an ethical dilemma. Jessie (Joan Cusack), a rootin’-tootin’ redhead, and Stinky Pete (Kelsey Grammer) have been kept in storage for years; museum display is their only chance to leave the prison of a closed box. Although Stinky Pete is mint-in-box and can’t maneuver, he is a very convincing talker, and Jessie drops her spunky-firecracker persona to confess (in a sappy musical number) her pain at being abandoned by the owner she loved. Soon they convince Woody that Andy’s attentions cannot last, that life in a glass cage beats rotting in a landfill—in a word, he becomes a jerk.
Back at Andy’s, the plastic patrol is rolled out in search of their pal—Buzz, Mr. Potato Head, Slinky Dog, Hamm the piggy bank, and the short-armed dinosaur whose awkward physique is more of a liability than a benefit to the gang. (“I can’t watch!” he wails. “Could somebody cover my eyes?”) Toy Story 2’s script is zippy and loose, bristling with references that children may or may not spot—a meticulous toy restorer, possessed of an elaborate case full of drawers filled with eyes and the like, sprays a “bald spot” on the back of Woody’s head—but will keep parents engaged. The toys end up in the worst possible place to look for their pal—a toy store, where egotistical Buzz, awed at the aisle dedicated to himself alone, is taken prisoner by a new “Action Belt” Lightyear, who infiltrates the group. Although this Toy Story is not about being the best version of whatever you are, as the original was, it is fun to see a clueless Buzz in action again, arrogantly taking charge and calling Hamm “Slotted Pig.”
Toy Story 2 is heavy on the close shaves but relatively light on sap, and it takes a commendable pro-play, anti-collector stance. Toy fetishists are viewed as lonely, greedy, and completely disconnected from the kid self who fell for toy fun in the first place. The message is actually in keeping with the way the Pixar group has positioned its films—as films, not launch pads for merchandise and lousy Saturday-morning cartoons. The writers clearly have much more gold to mine in the realm of toy-to-big world ratios—Woody negotiates a minefield of Chee-tos to rescue his torn arm, and Buzz and his nemesis, Zurg, grapple atop a moving elevator, just like in the movies. CP
Toy Story 2 is screened with Pixar’s first digital film, an adorable short starring the hopping lamp that became part of its logo.