“You never forget kids like Emily, or Andy, but they forget you.”
Toy Story 2 was the first Pixar movie I remember seeing as a kid. I had the video game and the toy Buzz Lightyear. It’s always been a testament to Pixar’s storytelling that they can make movies just as enjoyable for the child as for the adult, and I thought it was fun while watching this movie again to try and think about what I appreciated more as a kid in comparison to what I enjoyed now. Pixar would make a neat study in film literacy and how some movies can transcend this somewhat elitist concept by covering all bases of entertainment.
The movie is the followup to Pixar’s kickoff film, and as Pixar does, it raises production value without diminishing in story quality. While the first film explored the nature of being a toy, what it’s like to be accepted and needed, this movie takes a darker spin on the subject (a spin that only continues in the final movie). Toy Story 2 offers Woody the option of being preserved in a museum: never forgotten and placed on a pedestal of glory with the caveat that he will never be played with and will never see his owner Andy again.
I really enjoyed all the set pieces that Pixar included to flex their animation muscles. The opening battle with Emperor Zurg sets the tone of the movie well while also establishing that Pixar has gotten a lot better at scaling their designs for the big screen. The clunkiness of the original Toy Story is still present but rapidly disappearing as each scene races fluidly from one to another in a flurry of fun, colorful visuals. The toy store scene, in particular, is the money shot for the whole movie with its impressive renderings while keeping true to the conventions of a fast action-comedy.
Sequels are always tricky for a myriad of reasons, but Toy Story 2 seems to strike the right balance across the board. It brings in new characters for the Woody plotline, and they are sufficiently charming, but it also relishes in the characters of the past with their own adventure that is easily the most entertaining part of the movie. The Woody/Jess/Prospector bits are the thematic soul of the movie, while Buzz and the gang bring the zany adventure, keeping true to the promise of the original movie.
I also like how the ideas explored in the movie seem to pick up right where Toy Story ended, pushing the central question further: “What does it mean to be a play thing for a kid?” The movie sets up the third installment by foreshadowing a time when toys are broken and forgotten: left in trash bags. The trilogy’s hero, Woody, is given a pivotal choice to leave that pain behind, but he ends up the eventual pain in an act of true friendship, convincing others to choose the same. Most animation doesn’t even come close to this contemplation of ideas, let alone doing so in such a fun, digestible way.
The Toy Story trilogy is one of Pixar’s highest achievements, with the second film being a worthy addition to the lineup. It does all the things a good Pixar sequel should do: expanding on themes, upping the visual scale, and keeping true to the heart of the original. They’ve tried a number of sequels before, but I think Toy Story 2 is the only one that gets it right. Except Toy Story 3, but I’ll get to that one.
Films Left to Watch: 855