“Toy Story” was a tough act to follow, but “Toy Story 2” succeeds in every way — the rare sequel that is just as it good as its predecessor, mainly because it doesn’t just rehash what we’ve already seen, but adds to it.
The first film was innovative (the first full-length all-computer-animated movie) and had a clever idea to play with: What if kids’ toys really do come to life when no one’s around? The interaction among them was heartfelt and warm, not to mention uproariously funny.
So while the first film let us see the secret world of toys, the second film had to do more than that. No longer would we be amused merely by seeing Mr. Potato Head talking to a Slinky Dog; there’s gotta be something else to catch out attention.
And there is. “Toy Story 2” is so full of sight gags, clever in-jokes and gentle satire (so gentle you could probably miss it) that it’s sure to be a favorite among children and adults alike.
Young Andy’s favorite toy, Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), is suffering from wear and tear as his arm starts to come off at the seam — a reminder of his own mortality, as it were. Then, while Andy’s away at cowboy camp, Woody accidentally winds up in the yard sale box, where he’s greedily stolen by a loser toy collector (Wayne Knight, “Seinfeld’s” Newman, acting very Newman-ish here). Seems “Woody’s Round-Up” (read: “Howdy Doody”) was once a very popular kids’ TV show, and the merchandise sold in conjunction with that show is hot property. And a Woody doll is all the collector needs to complete his set, which he plans to sell for tons of money to a toy museum in Japan.
At first Woody wants to return to Andy, of course, until his fellow “Woody’s Round-Up” toys convince him otherwise. In particular, Jessie (Joan Cusack) says that she, too, was once loved by a little girl. But when the girl grew up, she abandoned Jessie. Now, she’s just glad she’ll be on display somewhere so children everywhere can admire her. It’s the next best thing to actually being loved.
(The song that accompanies her story — the only full song in the film — is called “When She Loved Me,” and it is a truly poignant number, adding a layer of depth beyond the norm for a cartoon.)
Woody realizes Andy’s love for him will wear off someday, too, and he agrees that going to Japan is the best thing. Meanwhile, Buzz Lightyear and the other toys have set off to rescue him. On the way, they find themselves in a toy store, leading to a meeting with Tour Guide Barbie, who points out the huge inventory of Buzz Lightyear dolls. (“In 1995, short-sighted retailers didn’t order enough to meet the demand,” she says in reference to the real-life shortage of “Toy Story” toys when the first film came out.)
One of the Buzz toys gets out of his box and infiltrates the group, imprisoning the real Buzz for “breaking regulations.” The new Buzz is an amusing reminder of how naive our Buzz was when HE was fresh out of the box four years ago.
The action and jokes are non-stop, as Buzz and the gang follow Woody and Jessie (and old Stinky Pete, the prospector toy) to the airport. Watch for Buzz to get a luggage tag stuck to his rear end reading “Butte” — as in Montana.
Watch for about a thousand other great jokes, too, some of them so subtle you may miss them. The videos we see of the old “Woody’s Round-Up” TV show are hilarious take-offs of 1950s kiddie programs. There’s a brief “Jurassic Park” reference (don’t forget, one of the toys is a Tyrannosaurus Rex), and a hysterical “Star Wars” turn of events with the fake Buzz and his arch-enemy.
These references and inside jokes aren’t meant in the cynical, self-referential way that many comedies nowadays do things. Despite them all, the movie is still as sweet-natured and innocent as anything, with fantastic voice work from Tom Hanks, Joan Cusack and Tim Allen, just to name three of about a dozen. A feeling of child-like adventure and fun permeates the film from start to finish. Burn your “Pokemon” tickets in a very hot fire, and then go see “Toy Story 2.”
A (1 hr. 32 min.; )