WFTB Score: 15/20
The plot: When Andy’s favourite toy Woody is spotted by portly and unscrupulous shop owner Al, he is toynapped because he is the valuable final piece in a collection of ‘Woody’s Roundup’ figures. Destined to spend his days in a Japanese museum, Woody likes both his new-found celebrity and new friends Jessie and Bullseye; but his old friends – Andy’s other toys – are determined to see him restored to his rightful place.
Disney have exploited their ideas as thoroughly as any studio over the years, as indeed any sensible and profit-seeking business should; but while they have turned out some undistinguished sequels to great films, the vast majority have been released directly to video and DVD as an acknowledgement of their lesser status. Toy Story 2 was initially destined for the same fate, so its promotion to theatrical release is an indication that Disney were very impressed with what the clever folks at Pixar delivered.
As the film begins, all is well in the world of Andy’s toys. Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen), the hero/troublemaker of Toy Story, is now just one of the guys, a plaything loved just as much as dependable old sheriff Woody (Tom Hanks). But an accident damages Woody’s arm, meaning he’s left behind when Andy goes to Cowboy camp; and worse, he’s put on the shelf where non-squeaking penguin Wheezy (Joe Ranft) has lain for ages, gathering dust. Wheezy is subsequently put into a yard sale, forcing Woody into a heroic rescue with the help of the family puppy Buster.
Wheezy is saved, but in exposing himself to the outside world Woody brings himself to the attention of Al (Wayne Knight), the greasy, greedy proprietor of Al’s Toy Barn. Naturally, Andy’s mother refuses to sell Woody; but Al creates a diversion and steals him, the reason why soon becoming apparent: Woody is in fact an extremely rare toy, a piece of merchandising from an old puppet show called ‘Woody’s Roundup’, and Woody completes the set of characters which includes enthusiastic yodelling cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack), grizzled prospector Stinky Pete (Kelsey Grammer) and faithful horse Bullseye.
Woody loses an arm in a foiled escape attempt but is pieced together again and buffed up to be sold to a museum in Japan. Convinced by Pete and Jessie that Andy will move on and forget him, Woody resigns himself to his new life; but no sooner does he do so than the daring rescue committee of Buzz, Hamm the piggy bank (John Ratzenberger), Rex the dinosaur (Wallace Shawn), Slinky the dog (Jim Varney) and Mr Potato Head (Don Rickles) come to rescue him. With the added complications of an undisabused Buzz Lightyear toy and his mortal enemy Zurg to cope with, Woody has to decide where he belongs and what to do with his new, Tokyo-bound acquaintances.
The trouble with sequels is that they are often little more than retreads of their predecessors, and the rescue plot of Toy Story 2 does feel very familiar, though this time the boot is on the other foot with Buzz rescuing Woody, along the way reminding him about his status as a toy. Despite some refinement to the graphics – the humans look a bit more human, the dog moves much more realistically, and there are some excellent particle and reflection effects – the film inevitably fails to amaze the way Toy Story did; and though they have fun on their mission, the toys causing chaos on the roads and in the Toy Barn (the Barbies are fun and there’s a great Jurassic Park gag), Buzz’s rescue team does feel like more of the same.
The same cannot be said of the other story strand, however, and Toy Story 2 demonstrates huge amounts of invention and love for the subject when it recreates the world of ‘Woody’s Roundup’. The TV puppet show and its quirky merchandise are immaculately rendered, and the three new characters each have their own intrigue: Bullseye is cute as a button, Stinky Pete has an old, tired dignity but eventually lives up to his name, and Jessie’s overbearing cheerfulness hides the sorrow of being given away by her beloved owner Emily, who – unlike Jessie – grew up. The sentiment of Jessie’s story is brought out in a wonderful sequence accompanied by the lovely Randy Newman song When She Loved Me, made all the better by the fact that it is not sung by Newman but with infinite tenderness by Sarah McLachlan. This moment is the undisputed star of the show, but on the back of it the film trumps the excitement of the first Toy Story as Woody, Buzz and Bullseye rescue Jessie from a speeding plane in scenes as breathlessly exciting as any action adventure.
Toy Story 2 is good, very good in fact, but it’s not the equal of its ground-breaking predecessor. Though it’s marvellously inventive, some of the invention stretches the concept of toys coming to life, without anyone noticing, to its absolute limit (they can drive!); and there’s a niggling sense that Pixar are becoming rather pleased with themselves – there’s the in-joke about Buzz Lightyear toys, for example, or the faux outtakes that I don’t get at all (since these scenes go through the same painstaking animation process as the rest of the film, they neither are, nor feel, spontaneous). Despite these minor reservations, there’s more than enough to justify Toy Story 2’s appearance in cinemas, and one can only hope that when Toy Story 3 makes its appearance in 2010* it still displays as much love and affection for its characters.
*NOTE: While I could have rewritten this bit, I thought I’d leave it to reflect the perspective of the review, i.e. from a world in which the third instalment (and news of the fourth) did not yet exist.