Toy Story 2
Rating -

Animated (US); 1999; Rated G; 92 Minutes

Tom Hanks: Woody
Tim Allen: Buzz Lightyear
Joan Cusack: Jessie
Kelsey Grammar: Stinky Pete the Prospector
Don Rickles: Mr. Potato Head
Jim Varney: Slinky Dog
Wallace Shawn: Rex
John Ratzenberger: Hamm

Produced by Karen Robert Jackson, Sarah McArthur and Helene Plotkin; Directed by Ash Brannon; John Lasseter and Lee Unkrich; Screenwritten by John Lasseter, Peter Docter, Ash Brannon, Andrew Stanton, Rita Hsiao, Doug Chamberlain and Chris Webb

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Written by DAVID KEYES

Disney's P.I.X.A.R. animation studio got its big break in 1996 with the Thanksgiving release of "Toy Story." Now comes the official sequel "Toy Story 2," which, like its predecessor, pushes the envelope of computer animation, and imagines that child toys can walk, talk and think when they are all alone. To be expected from a sequel, it continues on the story of everyone's favorite talking, living toys--Woody, a cowboy with a pull-string on his back; Buzz Lightyear, a space marine designed to fight bad guys with laser and wing equipment; Slinky Dog, a dog with a metal slinky attaching his upper and lower body; Mr. Potato Head, a temperamental plastic toy that can switch his eyes, nose, and mouth to best fit his mood; and Rex, a plastic Tyrannosaurus who is not nearly as viscous as he looks.

Children who have seen the first film will relish in these expansive characterizations; the toys that they have become all too familiar with are taken beyond our expectations here, and are given tasks that both magnify their personalities and allow them to experience some of life's real lessons. There are even new players that jump aboard, including a cowgirl named Jessie, who has the distinction that having an owner is a potential ticket to oblivion. And indeed, she has the right to think so: without children who care about them, toys grow old and useless.

The plot returns to the house of Andy, a boy whose collection of toys we've come to recognize. In the opening scene, Woody (Tom Hanks) is preparing to go to camp with his owner, but is missing his hat. After it is found, and Andy returns to his room, there is a brief period of play time, in which, despite some careful handling, the cowboy doll's arm is torn. Fearing that he might get more seriously injured at camp, Andy shelves Woody and leaves. But Woody doesn't know any of this, and thinks his owner is growing tired of him. Indeed, as seen by another toy on top of this bookshelf, once toys are broken, some children find them useless and sell them.

Later, Andy's mom arrives in the child's room for yard sale items. The toy that keeps Woody company, a penguin with a broken squeak, is picked up and put in the box. But the good ol' cowboy is determined to save his friend; with the help of the family dog, he makes his way downstairs and out to the yard, saving the penguin but getting left behind in the process. Woody is immediately noticed by an owner of a toy store, who insists on buying the cowboy, but it refused by Andy's mother. When she isn't looking, though, he makes away with the doll, setting the others in Andy's room up for a mission to find and save their cowboy. There are many interesting details along the way, including one that explains the reasoning behind Woody's kidnapping. The toy store owner apparently recognizes Woody as part of a set of old toys who did a famous puppet show on television years ago. He has the other parts of the set; Woody completes the collection, which the owner offers to sell to a toy museum in Japan. Buzz Lightyear, who was more of a nuisance in the first movie, is given the task of leading the toy's to Woody's rescue here. There is one scene of his that I found especially admirable, which takes place in a toy store isle covered in Buzz Lightyear dolls.

The movie is surprisingly effective--well-written, funny, charming, colorful, and entertaining, among other things. Not that I expected any of this from a sequel to "Toy Story"--aside from technical brilliance, I am not an admirer of the previous film. This is because, like Dreamworks' first CGI animated film "Antz," great visuals cannot always make up for a dismal story. Both are simply colorless in their narrative style; in other words, what's the point of devouring a lollipop if there is no flavor?

Last year's P.I.X.A.R. effort, "A Bug's Life," succeeded because it drew strength from both its visuals and story. "Toy Story 2" has some of the same success, but is more than just a strong plot attached to eye candy. The film is a celebration of life, love, fun, adventure and luck, made all the more brilliant by a steady theme underneath the surface. Children will undoubtedly adore it, but adults will find much to like as well.

1999, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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