Arriving four year later, “Toy Story 2” was rescued from the fangs of obscurity. Oddly imagined a lowly DTV title, Pixar woke up and seized control of the production, reworking the plot and refocusing its efforts on the film after “A Bug’s Life,” the shaky second project for the studio, proved itself able at the box office, further encouraging the company. Regarded by many to be something of an animated “Godfather II,” “Toy Story 2” always struck me as a disappointment. It’s a fine movie with plenty of spirit, but the franchise formula feels diluted, lacking the spark of creativity that made the original film sing.Now the best of friends, Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) and Buzz (Tim Allen) are faced with a unique horror when Andy’s mother starts collecting items for a yard sale. Hoping to rescue pal Wheezy from a discount box, Woody instead captures the attention of diabolical toy collector Al McWhiggin (Wayne Knight), who ends up stealing the rare cowboy doll. Taken to Al’s dwelling, Woody meets the other members of his toy line, including cowgirl Jesse (Joan Cusack), mint-in-box Stinky Pete (Kelsey Grammer), and lovable horse Bullseye. Off to save their pal, Buzz and the toys invade Al’s toy store and apartment building, looking to bring Woody back safely to Andy’s room. Woody, sensing his importance to the collector’s market and new family, finds he might not be as willing to return home as he once thought.
"They've only slightly lost a friend in me"
For “Toy Story 2,” the director’s chair was filled by three faces: John Lasseter, Lee Unkrich, and Ash Brannon, underlining the scattered origins of the picture. Lest this be an attack piece on an adored sequel, I found “Toy Story 2” improved immensely on a second viewing, a good decade after I walked away from the film deflated, hungry for something as magical as the original picture.
As continuations go, “Toy Story 2” has a lot to offer the eager viewer, sprinting back into the thick of toy anxiety with Woody’s departure, raising new questions of worth and home. Taking the collector angle, the sequel is afforded a fresh perspective to the toy game, with Woody allowed a chance to learn about himself and his past as a television icon, developing a combustible relationship with Jessie and Pete, who want to keep the cowboy around, or else back in maddening storage they go. While “Toy Story 2” rehashes much of the first film, Woody’s subplot inventively adds new dimensions to his personality, rubbing off a tone of abandonment that compliments the Jessie character.
While beautifully animated and endearingly performed by Sarah MacLachlan, the “When She Loved Me” sequence is one I’ve never been entirely comfortable with. It’s the squeeze of the picture; the sympathetic sweet spot crafted to both mirror Buzz and Woody’s internal struggles in the first film and inject gravity into an otherwise featherweight sequel. Yet, it’s a suffocating, calculated moment, pried into a film that required a more thorough development of significance. I don’t dispute the teary quiver of the song, only its heavy-handed use. Jesse’s aching desire to find a new home still registers strongly without it.
Matters get back on track with Buzz’s rescue adventure, finding the aware toy meeting one of his doppelgangers, thus finally giving him Woody’s perspective on his behavior from the earlier film. Buzz and the boys get all the action and humor, livening up the picture with a few animated stunts and frantic comedy. It can’t quite compete with Woody’s psychological awakening and eventual domestic longing, but the toys get something to do besides fret, creating some memorable set-pieces (the traffic cone bit is a classic) on their way to slapstick heroism.“Toy Story 2” is cheery and familiar, which makes it a comfortable film, not always a thrilling one. It’s another lap with loveable characters, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I just wish the film expelled more effort to match the original picture’s lofty sense of wonder and generous sense of humor. “Toy Story 2” is Pixar becoming self-aware and guarded, and the caution reverberates throughout the film.
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originally posted: 10/16/09 09:28:44