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Toy Story 2 (2-Disc Special Edition) Print E-mail
Monday, 26 December 2005

Toy Story 2

Theatrical studio:
Pixar/Walt Disney Pictures
DVD studio: Buena Vista Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: G
Voices: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Kelsey Grammer, Don Rickles, Wayne Knight, Wallace Shawn, Jim Varney, John Ratzenberger.
Theatrical release: 1999
DVD release : 2005
film rating: Five Stars
sound/picture rating: Four Stars
reviewed by: Bill Warren

As the old song says, it aint what you do, it’s the way what you do it. Computer graphic animation is a technique that’s currently faddishly popular, but it’s not the technique that has made the Pixar movies so good—it’s the people who make them. And “Toy Story 2” is one of their best, a movie so good that it would approach sublime if it weren’t also so down to Earth and ingratiating. It’s the rare sequel that’s better than the original.

But it didn’t start out that way. Initially, the plan was to do an hour-long, straight-to-video sequel to “Toy Story,” cutting the budget where possible. But someone—Steve Jobs? John Lasseter?—realized that this might cheapen the name of Pixar, and anyway they had enough good story ideas involving the toys belonging to little boy Andy that they made a theatrical feature. And like the first “Toy Story,” it was a smash hit.

In amongst the many extras on this special edition, 2-disc DVD, director John Lasseter, the key man at Pixar, admits that the story grew out of his anxiety over his smallest sons wanting to play with the mint-condition, original-box, collector’s-item toys that crowd his office. The movie begins on a high note, with Buzz Lightyear (voice of Tim Allen) going through what seems to be a major space adventure pitting him against his arch-enemy Zurg, but turns out to be a video game (which Buzz loses).

Now safe in their new house, the toys in Andy’s room are still all friends who move only when Andy is gone. However, Woody (Tom Hanks) is beginning to worry about Andy outgrowing his need for his lanky cowboy doll. It doesn’t help when Andy accidentally tears Woody’s arm and his mother confines Woody temporarily to a high, dusty shelf. Up there, Woody encounters Wheezy (the late Joe Ranft), a squeezy penguin doll with asthma, long ago discarded by Andy. Can this happen to Woody? Can he help Wheezy?

When Andy’s mom sets up a yard sale on the front lawn, she tosses a few toys from Andy’s room into a box—including Wheezy. Woody enlists the help of Andy’s lively dog (who loves the toys) to rescue Wheezy. That part of the operation goes fine, but Woody is left on the sidewalk—where he’s spotted by avaricious Al (Wayne Knight) of Al’s Toy Barn, a giant, cut-rate toy store whose commercials have long irked all the toys, particularly Hamm the Piggy Bank (John Ratzenberger).

Al makes off with a puzzled Woody; brave Buzz tries to free his pal, but it’s no use. As the toys figure out who the guy with the LZTYBRN license plate is, we see pudgy Al gloating over his acquisition of Woody, complete with his cowboy hat. After he leaves, the startled Woody is confronted first by Bullseye, an exuberant toy horse, then by an excitable, enthusiastic Jessie (Joan Cusack, who’s great), a cowgirl doll his own size. There’s also Stinky Pete the Prospector, still in his box.

It turns out that back in the 1950s, Woody was an immensely popular character on a Saturday morning TV show. A Howdy Doody/Hopalong Cassidy-type media sensation, Woody generated dozens of products, most of which Al has there in his apartment. The scenes of the dazzled Woody seeing his old puppet show, all the toys and other paraphernalia, and finally realizing he’s a valuable collectible are among the best in the movie, and represent some of Tom Hanks’ best voice work.

Al is making a deal with a toy collector in Japan; with his acquisition of Woody, he now has a complete Woody’s Roundup set to sell, and he’s taking all the toys to Japan. At first, Woody only wants to get back to Andy, but after Al has him patched up and repainted, Stinky Pete begins to convince Andy that he has nothing to look forward to but to eventually be tossed aside by a growing Andy.

Meanwhile, led by Buzz, the other toys organize a rescue expedition. The team includes Buzz, Hamm, big plastic dinosaur Nervous Rex (Wallace Shawn), Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), who takes along a spare pair of angry eyes, and Slinky Dog (Jim Varney). They have some thrills and chills as they make their way to Al’s Toy Barn.

Inside, Buzz is awed to see an entire aisle of the toy devoted to hundreds of identical Buzz Lightyear dolls, one of which has a new accessory he covets, a Batman-like utility belt. There’s a very funny, rewarding twist at this point.

“Toy Story 2” is great fun, populated with appealing characters, written with panache and joy. It’s just about as irresistible as a movie ever gets; it’s hard to imagine someone disliking it. If they did, they’re nobody I want to know.

The two-disc set is crammed with extras, and because it’s Pixar, the extras are as good as the movie. As usual with the company, there are some specially-created “outtakes,” as if this was a live-action picture. They’re clever, to the point and never overdone. There’s a fine making-of documentary, lots of behind-the-scenes material, with “3D turnarounds” of the major characters, art galleries, tours of the 3D sets, and demonstrations of some of the many jokes that flavor the backgrounds. (Did you notice the toy store packages of “French Impressionist Action Figures”? The Van Gogh action figure is now equipped with severed ear.) There are demonstrations of what are called color scripts, an explanation about the puppet show—which doesn’t feature puppets, but CGI that perfectly fakes puppets. This is a mind-bending concept.

One of the best features is a commentary track by director John Lasseter, co-directors Lee Unkrich & Ash Brannon, co-writer Andrew Stanton. Everything you see about Pixar makes it sound like the greatest place on the planet to work; this track does nothing to dispel this belief. It sounds like a bunch of guys who really like each other enthusing over a shared project they’re proud of. Each speaker is identified on screen, a very good idea that other companies should follow.

Special attention is given to the heartbreaking “Jessie’s Song,” sung in the film by Sarah MacLachlan. The demo by Randy Newman of his song is also included. Sound designer Gary Rydstrom is frequently mentioned and seen briefly in one of the documentaries. His work is so good that I wish more space had been devoted to what he does. In theaters, the sound track was amazing; it’s almost as good on home video, sliding into surround sound where appropriate.

As always with Disney DVDs, there is a group of trailers for other recent DVD releases and for upcoming theatrical releases, too. Here it’s less annoying than usual, as one of the theatrical films is Pixar’s “Cars,” the last release in the original Disney-Pixar contract. It looks great.

Maybe it will even be as good as “Toy Story 2.” Pixar hasn’t let us down yet

more details
sound format: DTS 5.1 surround sound ES
aspect ratio: 1.77:1 (16X9 enhanced)
special features: Commentary track with director John Lasseter, co-directors Lee Unkrich & Ash Brannon, co-writer Andrew Stanton
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 36-inch Sony XBR

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