Pixar were contracted to Disney to provide five full length features, the first of these being the previously reviewed Toy Story. After that roaring success Pixar produced the quaint, yet to this reviewer not top mark, A Bugs Life. Sure it was enjoyable enough but, for me, didn't have the subtle depth that its predecessor encapsulated.
It was time for Pixar to get back to basics and Disney requested a direct to video release of Toy Story 2. Some way through the production an executive decision was taken to elevate Toy Story 2 from a humble straight to video release to a full blown cinematic main feature, then the arguments started. Was this to be included in the aforementioned five picture deal or not? Pixar wanted it to be included (it was after all Disney's change of heart that instigated the request), Disney didn't. Legal protractions outside, the film went ahead to become a full blown sequel and the relationship between Pixar and Disney was somewhat tarnished to say the least.
There have been numerous occasions in the past when a sequel has followed a successfully initial venture. Most of these sorry hangers on have been shadows of their former selves, with little to add to an ongoing storyline, and only exists to bloat the already deep pockets of some of the studio executives. Of course there have been notable exceptions which continue to prove the rule, Godfather II, The Empire Strikes Back, Aliens, Back to the Future II and a few others. Now Toy Story 2 can be added to that elite list. When first watching this film I must have been under the influence of flu or something, because I didn't quite think it came up to the standards set by its predecessor. Yes the animation was still as glorious, and in some parts much better, the characters had the same charm and wit, but I always thought the actual story was just slightly subpar on what they had produced before. Many viewings later prove that those original ideas of mine were completely wrong and Toy Story 2 does in fact live up to, if not better, the standard set by the original.
Toy Story 2 essentially continues where Toy Story left off, Christmas has passed; Andy enjoys the puppy he received from Santa but he still plays with his favourite toys Woody and Buzz. Through a series of misfortunate events Woody is kidnapped by a toy collector, Al, who realises his true worth. Woody is in fact a doll from yesteryear... part of the Round-Up Gang consisting of Woody, Bullseye (his horse), Jessie and the yet to be unboxed, perfectly preserved Prospector, or Stinky Pete to his friends. It falls to Buzz, Rex, Ham, Mr Potato Head and Slinky to rescue Woody from his imposed incarceration.
The story is as wonderful as the first, Woody now being able to take centre stage as the desirable toy just as Buzz was in the first instalment. It is Woody who is the star of every child's heart, Woody who is the must have purchase, and Woody who stole the show as the hero of the Round-Up Gang. Never mind saving the world from the cruel dictatorship of Zurg it's Stinky Pete you really have to look out for! It's worth mentioning Zurg at this punt though because he does in fact have a minor role as the toy brought to life and on the hunt for the moral guardian of peace and tranquillity.
Everyone but everyone returns for the sequel and this provides a level of continuity that has to be supplied for the viewer to feel comfortable and not short changed. Was this to have been the direct to video release that was first rumoured, then I doubt that all of the original cast would have returned. Monetary demands, if nothing else, would have dictated that the famous stars would have been unlikely to return for this second instalment. Mr & Mrs Potato Head have settled down to a life of marital bliss, the aliens are still in tow and are essentially adopted by our pre peeled chums. Buzz has settled down to become a bone fide member of Andy's room, his delusions of being the saviour of the galaxy now well behind him. Boo-Peep still chases after Woody, no doubt for some romantic hay making, while Rex, Ham and Slinky haven't changed.
There are other new faces and all are welcomed into Andy's room and the Toy Story fold. There's Bullseye, Jessie and The Prospector, all making up Woody's old gang; and it's Jessie that your heart really goes out to. It has been said by others here and elsewhere that the recent Pixar production UP is the most emotionally connected computer animated film ever to have graced our silver screens, and that this level of connection had not been seen to that degree before in this art form. I have to disagree to a certain extent; whilst UP does indeed provide a consistent connection throughout the entirety of its run length, please leave a thought for poor Jessie as she tells her heart wrenching tale of being abandoned by the side of the road. Like Dumbo all those years ago, whilst our floppy eared flying elephant's mother cradles him through the bars of a window, I task any grown rugby playing man's heart not to be moved during Jessie's individual scene.
The animation has moved on a little, the hair on Andy's, or his Mother's, head seems to be a little smoother and the family dog is vastly superior to the crude animated Scud we had in the first. All else appears to be much the same and this is a welcome also. To have our erstwhile heroes and heroines looking any different would just not fit. Just because the technology has moved on somewhat doesn't necessarily mean you have to use it and Pixar took a wise decision here I feel. Use it when needed, the dog for instance, but leave well alone when you're providing a level of consistency between the first and the second.
The attention to detail, again from a story point of view and the animation, is incredibly detailed, and at times stunning. Cast your mind back to Toy Story when Woody is discussing the plastic corrosion awareness meeting. Whilst in Toy Story we had the names of books in the background casting our memories back to earlier Pixar shorts, this time we're able to see brief snippets of those animated shorts on television as Ham goes round The Horn changing the channels. Woody on the airport baggage carriages, crossing them as he was on the top of a steam train in the old west, complete with train like sounds. This level of detail shows that the animators and story tellers always do enjoy putting these little, not so hidden, Easter eggs into the films they produce; they are absolutely dedicated to their art form.
There is much more of this to be seen within this film: the references to Empire Strike Back, that other science fiction sequel and the inclusion of Barbie dolls in Al's toy shop (Ham and Mr Potato head's reaction to them is a screen gem). We manage to get a glimpse of the astro nut Buzz that we loved from the first film, including the reaction to his helmet being taken off. All in all this is one of the best sequels that have been released in recent years. Still engaging, still amusing, characters you would welcome into your family home, and still a film which both young and old people alike can truly appreciate.
Toy Story 2 continued the adventures of our plastic / cloth eaten old toys and we enjoyed the ride with them. Back in 1999 we thought that was the end of the road for these particular characters as Pixar went from strength to continued strength. However now, in 2010, our friends are returning for Toy Story 3. Ensure you recap the first two instalments on your home cinema systems before shackling the family to join you at your local multiplex. Like Toy Story, this second instalment is an absolute must have for anyone's collection.
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