Toy Story 2

In March 2004, it finally happened.  The Hamilton Public Library began offering DVDs for borrowing.  Beginning with a small catalogue of over 2000 titles the Library never stocked the new discs on their shelves.  Instead, you had to reserve them at your local branch and pick them up there when they arrived. 
 
Today, there are over 7000 titles and the catalogue is steadily growing, and you can now get some DVDs right off the shelf.  (The 3 best movies I’ve seen in the last 3 years – The Assassination Of Richard Nixon, Kinsey and Frank Miller’s Sin City – were all spotted by my carefully trained eye, just sitting there on the shelf waiting to be taken home and screened.)
 
I went a little crazy when the DVDs started coming in back in March 2004.  I reserved 27 movies and screened 26 of them in 3 weeks.  (When I got Drumline I got a full-screen copy, not the widescreen version I wanted to see so it was sent back.  Long story short, an error was made and the Library never had a widescreen version of the film available.  They still don’t.)  I was watching between 1 to 4 movies a day and it was heaven.  I saw a lot of good pictures that month and Toy Story 2 was one of them.
 
Incredibly, this movie has a perfect 100% fresh rating at rottentomatoes.com.  When it came out in the fall of 1999, everybody seemed to be blown away by it.  Many argued that it was better than the 1995 original which I saw in the theatre.  I like the film but let’s face it, the first Toy Story was excellent and better.  It is the most influential animated film of the last 11 years.  Without it, there would be no Shrek, Ice Age, The Wild, A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc., Hoodwinked, and many others.  Ever wonder why there are so few old-style, two-dimensional animated movies in the theatres these days?  It’s because of Toy Story.  It breathed new life into the only genre of moviemaking you can really call "art".
 
I screened this movie on DVD on March 24, 2004, the same night I saw the terrible Men In Black II (and fell in love with Rosario Dawson who I also saw earlier that month in the deeply underappreciated Spike Lee movie, He Got Game.  Wonderful Denzel Washington film that is worth seeing, if you haven’t already done so.)  I felt Toy Story 2 was thoroughly enjoyable but not nearly as amazing as the original.  I don’t even think Shrek is as good as Toy Story and I liked that film very much, as well.
 
I agonized over my thoughts and feelings about this movie for a couple of days which precipitated this review, one of my all-time favourites.  I had to articulate in writing what worked and didn’t work about the movie so I could finally settle on my opinion.  Sometimes I wonder if I underrated it.  (It happens sometimes, you know?)  Maybe over time when I see the movie again I’ll feel more strongly towards it.  In the meantime, I stand by the review which makes it undoubtedly clear where I stand.  I was entertained and moved by the characters and the story.  Everything I wanted to say about this movie is in this review.
 
 

TOY STORY 2
By Dennis Earl

 

The most amazing thing about Toy Story 2 isn’t its technically flawless animation. Rather, it’s the sense of loyalty that the toys in little Andy’s bedroom feel for one another, especially when one of them is in dire need of assistance. They’re like the marines. They never leave a toy behind.
 
Consider the early dilemma of Wheezy the Penguin. He was supposed to be repaired ages ago and remains neglected on a shelf as a result. When Andy’s Mom (voiced by Roseanne’s Laurie Metcalf) takes him away to be sold at the family yard sale, Sheriff Woody (Tom Hanks) feels a deep sense of duty to retrieve him before he joins another family. I was rather touched by that. Because Woody himself is in a vulnerable situation (Andy left for camp without him because of his damaged arm), he easily sees himself in Wheezy’s shoes. And besides, he’s family. Just because he’s damaged, that doesn’t mean he should be thrown away.
 
After successfully rescuing the struggling penguin, Woody gets kidnapped by a greedy toy collector (Wayne Knight) who couldn’t convince Andy’s Mom to take money for the valuable toy. Fortunately, Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) caught the license plate number and discovers to his simultaneous dismay and relief that the kidnapper is a TV pitchman for his own chain of "Toy Barns". Buzz has a nice speech where he remembers the events of the first movie when Woody rescued him and in order to be a true friend (or, I’d argue, brother) he has to return the favour. It’s a nice moment that reveals once again that true acceptance involves fully embracing each other’s differences.
 
Before a repairman is brought in to restore his former luster, Woody gets the shock of his life when he discovers he was part of a set of toys called The Roundup Gang. He was even the star of his own TV show (same name) in the 1950s. (Some of the black and white footage shown is really funny even if the theme song stinks.) It was a marionette show for kids and despite spawning all kinds of merchandise it was cancelled before the plot was resolved. (Woody gets caught up with old videotapes.) We meet Stinky Pete (a nicely understated Kelsey Grammer), Jessie The Cowgirl (an empathetic but sometimes overwrought Joan Cusack) and Woody’s trusty steed, the adorable Bullseye who is responsible for the biggest laugh in the movie. He acts more like a dog than a stallion.
 
Back to the toy collector. He’s been having tremendous difficulty selling his Roundup Gang toys because for years he was missing that rare Woody doll. Now that he’s found him, the curator of a toy museum in Japan is all ears and ready to splurge. I like the dilemma Woody finds himself in here. He’s been loved by Andy for years but the rest of the Roundup Gang have not been so fortunate. Stinky Pete, the prospector, has never been taken out of his packaging and is deeply bitter. Bullseye and Jessie were deeply loved by a young girl who sadly grew up and gave them away in a surprisingly effective flashback scene which is backed by the forgettable When She Loved Me. They’ve been in storage ever since.
 
Jessie pleads with Woody to go along with the toy collector’s plan and Woody gives it serious consideration. Stinky Pete’s agenda doesn’t quite become clear until the third act where he explains that the museum gig is his only hope for attention and Woody’s not about to screw that up. His packaging represents an open coffin that no one wants to get close to but if he’s in a museum display case (essentially, a much larger prison with a window) he will be admired by more eyeballs than can be counted.
 
Which family has the strongest pull for Woody?
 
Meanwhile, in a series of mostly amusing misadventures, Buzz leads a small group of toys – Rex (Wallace Shawn), Hamm (John Ratzenberger), Slinky Dog (Jim Varney) and Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles) – on a rescue mission to bring Woody (and themselves) back to Andy’s bedroom before he returns from camp. It is a daunting task, particularly the sequence where they decide to cross a busy intersection by traveling inside pylons.
 
The original Toy Story was the last great animated film of the 1990s and as the years go by, it will increase in influence and prominence. It’s only flaw was that damned Randy Newman/Lyle Lovett duet, You’ve Got A Friend In Me. It had a superb villain (the evil Sid who did horrible things to his toys), brilliantly eye-popping animation and an overall good cheer. Plus, it was hilarious. As a result, Toy Story 2 has a lot to live up to. On the animation side, it is just as beautiful to look at as the original but the wow factor is gone. We’ve seen this before and that indescribable sense of discovery is sadly missing here. The villains in the sequel aren’t nearly as strong as Sid from the first movie (he was pure, unsupervised evil) but once Stinky Pete refuses to let Woody make up his own mind about his future and foils his attempts at escape at every turn, we know where our loyalties lie.
 
The movie isn’t nearly as funny as its predecessor but more than makes up for it with its interesting plot, lovable, endlessly charming characters and terrific action sequences. (The scenes at the airport pay off nicely.)
 
Watching the movie, I was reminded of the Muppets and how they, too, function like a family. They all have their differences but there’s deep love and respect binding them together. The toys in Andy’s bedroom know how to make us laugh and care for them in any situation they face, but their greatest gift is looking out for each other.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, May 3, 2006
1:17 a.m.
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Published in: on May 3, 2006 at 1:25 am  Leave a Comment  

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