Benjamin’s Stash

Who knew toy stores were a toy’s worst nightmare? Academy Award winner Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Kelsey Grammer and Academy Award nominee Joan Cusack lend their voices to Pixar’s first sequel Toy Story 2.

Toy Story 2Cast of Characters:
Woody – voiced by Tom Hanks
Buzz Lightyear – voiced by Tim Allen
Jessie – voiced by Joan Cusack
Prospector Stinky Pete – voiced by Kelsey Grammer
Mr. Potato Head – voiced by Don Rickles
Slinky Dog – voiced by Jim Varney
Rex – voiced by Wallace Shawn
Hamm – voiced by John Ratzenberger
Bo Peppe – voiced by Annie Potts
Al McWhiggin – voiced by Wayne Knight
Andy – voiced by John Morris
Andy’s Mom – voiced by Laurie Metcalf

Director – John Lasseter, Ash Brannon & Lee Unkrich
Screenplay – Andrew Stanton, Rita Hsiao, Doug Chamberlain & Chris Webb
Producer – Helene Plotkin & Karen Robert Jackson
Rated G for general audiences

On the day Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) is to go to Cowboy Camp with Andy (voiced by John Morris), a torn arm accident causes him to be left behind at home and placed on the infamous shelf where all broken down toys such as Wheezy (voiced by Joe Ranft), the old squeaking penguin toy, go to waste away. When Wheezy gets tossed in a yard sale bin, Woody plans a rescue mission to get him, and is successful in retrieving him; however, he’s left behind and picked up by Al McWhiggin (voiced by Wayne Knight), a greedy toy collector and owner of Al’s Toy Barn. Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen), remembering that Woody saved him from Sid, sets out with Hamm (voiced by John Ratzenberger), Mr. Potato Head (voiced by Don Rickles), Slinky Dog (voiced by Jim Varney) and Rex (voiced by Wallace Shawn) to rescue their friend.

Meanwhile, at Al’s apartment, Woody is introduced to cowgirl Jessie (voiced by Joan Cusack) and Prospector Stinky Pete (voiced by Kelsey Grammer) who inform him that he is a valuable collectible based on a 1950’s TV show called Woody’s Roundup, and is set to be sold with them to a toy museum in Tokyo. That’s when Woody must make a choice: Should he go back to his old life where Andy will one day grow up and forget about him, or be revered as a star forever?

Knowing the juggernaut that Pixar is today, it seems crazy that Disney initially intended Toy Story 2, the followup to Pixar’s groundbreaking debut, to be a straight-to-video sequel as was customary for all of their sequels. It’s an understandable policy when you consider that most of the sequels they’ve done for their animated films are low-grade crap (the two Aladdin sequels are okay exceptions), but Pixar is anything but low-grade. Toy Story proved that, and the criminally underrated A Bug’s Life, proved its predecessor was no one-hit fluke. Eventually, after seeing the potential in the story, Disney upgraded the film to a theatrical release.

Some feel Toy Story 2 exceeds its 1995 predecessor. While I would disagree, I also wouldn’t argue with that opinion any more than I would with someone who feels The Godfather Part II is better than The Godfather. Both are excellent films, and while Toy Story 2 may not exceed Toy Story, and not that it’s a damning mark on the film to not do so, it still manages to do a pretty good job at matching what the first film brought.

What Toy Story 2 does improve over its predecessor is in the animation detail, but that’s expected. By 1999, Pixar already had cut its teeth on two high-quality films and was no longer the rookie animation studio setting out to prove itself to the world. Great leaps in animation technology were already made in Pixar’s previous film, the ultra-textured A Bug’s Life. The returning characters still look the same as they did before, but the noticeable difference here is in the world that exists beyond the characters. Unlike the first film where for the most part it was either Andy’s room or Sid’s backyard, Toy Story 2 takes the toys out of the comfy confines of their owner’s bedroom and into the big city. The detail provided to from the crowded city streets to settings such as a toy store, airport, various skyscrapers and an elevator shaft is striking.

Even the human characters, which have been the bane of Disney’s existence ever since Walt’s animators had fits over drawing the Prince in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, have been given an improved touch, particularly in the features and expressions of the highly animated toy store owner Al.

Along with the exquisite animation, Pixar also continues their trademark excellence in storytelling that combines heartfelt themes and witty jokes (Star Wars and Jurassic Park are among the films parodied here). While the first film was essentially a buddy adventure film, it also fit in a poignant subplot of Buzz Lightyear coming to the realization that he isn’t the space hero he thought he was, but just a toy, though what mattered most was that in Andy’s mind, he is that space hero. Toy Story 2 delivers a story thread that will hit home a little harder with older audiences – eventually, as we get older, we outgrow our favorite toys. Up until this film, Woody was oblivious to the fact that someday Andy will move on from him, so the crossroad for him is whether he stays and enjoys what time he’s got left with Andy, or leaves it all behind in place of being recognized in a toy museum for years to come. It’s not an easy answer. Of course, it’d be hard to leave Andy behind, but Jessie’s been through the pain of being outgrown, and to think of what she’d give to be remembered just once more.

“You never forget kids like Emily, or Andy… but they forget you.”, she remorsefully says of her former owner.

All the principal voice actors from the first film return, with Tom Hanks and Tim Allen once again turning in strong voice-work of the characters Woody and Buzz that they’ve come to own over the course of three stellar films. John Ratzenberger, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn and Jim Varney’s characters are given more prominent roles this time around with Woody’s rescue. As for the newcomers, Joan Cusack provides Jessie with a hearty dose of pep and heart; Kelsey Grammer brings great authority and wisdom to Prospector Stinky Pete; Seinfeld’s Wayne Knight is perfectly cast as the scheming toy collector, and in a nice nod to Disney’s past classics, Ariel herself Jodi Benson voices the bubbly Tour Guide Barbie.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that Toy Story 2 had quite a tough act to follow, but thanks to John Lasseter, his brilliant team of animators and a wonderful voice cast, this second-act of the acclaimed trilogy succeeds beautifully by bringing back the same charm, heart and endearing characters of its predecessor without having to settle as a cash-grab rehash. It’s more than just a good sequel; you could say it’s the Godfather Part II of animated sequels, and a sequel that good has to leave you wondering why Disney would ever consider reducing it down to straight-to-video.

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