The first Toy Story (1995) confirmed what generations of kids had long suspected: that toys do have a life of their own, which begins the instant their owners are out of sight. It was also a landmark in computer animation, with the inventive work of Pixar Studios highlighting the possibilities of this new medium. So what could a sequel possibly accomplish? As it turns out, plenty.
On a technical level, Toy Story 2 takes the medium to new heights. Computer animation can often appear blatantly artificial (yes, by definition all animation is artificial, yet the trick is for the audience to forget that and accept the reality of the imagery). Toy Story 2 not only feels eerily real, but the animators – essentially the same Pixar team led by director John Lasseter – have broadened the scope.
Toy Story would often show ornate settings (like the fantastical Pizza Planet) then immediately pull in for a close-up. The sequel isn’t afraid to show large-scale imagery and have the characters interacting with their environment.
Thematically speaking, Toy Story 2 is richer and more poignant. The first film followed the toys – particularly Woody (voice of Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) – as they struggled to discover their place in the world. The sequel has them wrestling with their own mortality.
While Disney animation is nominally created for children, it also has a sizable adult following. So it’s fascinating that the villain of Toy Story 2 is someone Disneyphiles can identify with: an adult collector of vintage toys.
When Woody is stolen, a rescue party led by the gung-ho Buzz heads out after him. While they make their way through the hostile outside world, Woody finds himself the centerpiece of a valuable toy display. Unbeknownst to him, he was modeled after the star of "Woody’s Roundup," a popular 1950s children’s program. The oily owner of Al’s Toy Barn purloined Woody to complete his collection of that show’s paraphernalia, which he can now sell to a museum.
Woody encounters a toy who was abandoned when her owner outgrew her, and another who is valuable because he was never taken out of his box. So the question becomes: What is a toy if not an object to be loved by a child?
The surprisingly complex issues tackled by Toy Story 2 are wrapped in a funny, fast-paced, candy-colored film full of inspired chase sequences and well-rounded secondary characters (like the wisecracking piggybank, Hamm, and the sweetly docile dinosaur, Rex).
In discovering their own obsolescence, these whimsical yet wise toys are faced with a daunting memento mori. Yet they can see that, however brief, there’s an inherent value in playtime.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at email@example.com.