The Films of Pixar: “Toy Story 2” (1999)

"When She Loved Me" was robbed of an Oscar.Toy Story created history by becoming the first film completely done with computer generated images and featured a cheerful, heartwarming story with terrific lines. While Toy Story 2 is an improvement after A Bug’s Life, this sequel fails to match its predecessor due to an overcrowding of antagonists and rehashed plot ideas while still having an incredibly moving scene. Even with the what works in Toy Story 2, I can only be left to say that Toy Story 2 was okay.

The film starts off with a scene that shows Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) flying through space before landing on a planet he believes to hold the stronghold of his archenemy, Emperor Zurg (Andrew Stanton). This sequence ends and it’s revealed that Rex (Wallace Shawn) was playing a Buzz Lightyear video game, but this sets up a subplot involving Buzz and a Zurg action figure that happens in the film. Meanwhile, Woody (Tom Hanks) is being played with by his owner, Andy (John Morris), when a seam rips. Woody is placed on a shelf with other forgotten toys, including Wheezy the Penguin (Joe Ranft). One day, Andy’s mom (Laurie Metcalf) collects toys for a yard sale and takes Wheezy, prompting Woody to go after the penguin toy and land himself in the yard sale. There, Al (Wayne Knight) spots Woody and steals him after being told Woody is not for sale. Buzz decides to save his friend and is joined by Rex, Hamm (John Ratzenberger), Slinky (Jim Varney) and Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles). Woody arrives at Al’s condo and meets three other western-themed toys: Jessie the Cowgirl (Joan Cusack), Stinky Pete (Kelsey Grammer) and Bullseye. From these toys, Woody finds out that he was the star of a show called “Woody’s Roundup,” something more than just Andy’s toy. Meanwhile Buzz runs into another Buzz at Al’s Toy Barn while the toys try to rescue their friend.

To some extent, this film has a strong plot, or at least a very promising plot. What causes Toy Story 2 to be okay is that the plot is overstuffed with antagonists, resulting in Too Many Antagonists Syndrome. In the main plot, there are two villains—Al and Stinky Pete—while the subplot also involves Zurg, who seems as though he was possibly thrown in to help introduce viewers to him before Disney aired their traditionally animated Buzz Lightyear of Star Command television series. Unfortunately, the plot of this seems to primarily serve as a method to include obligatory space references such as the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey or the “I am your father” line. Does it give the characters any emotional depth? No. If anything, it holds up the plot and is the one thing that would make the film so much better if it was eliminated. It’s completely unnecessary, especially since Zurg is never mentioned again in the films. The other problem with the film would be the lack of real danger for the toys. Yes, Woody might be sent off to Japan and never see Andy again, but that’s not as bad as being strapped to a rocket by a psychopathic child or what the toys face in the climactic scene of Toy Story 3. The only time any of the toys seem to be in danger is when Buzz, Hamm, Rex, Mr. Potato Head and Slinky are crossing a busy street to get to Al’s Toy Barn. None of the antagonists are particularly terrifying either. In Toy Story, A Bug’s Life and Ratatouille all of the antagonists are terrifying in various ways, be it their appearance, their actions or how they seem as though they would stop at nothing to bring down the protagonist. Although Toy Story 2 has three antagonists, none of them are particularly terrifying and they don’t seem bent on insuring that the toys, or other toys, fail.

Thankfully there is a plot in the film that gives the characters some depth and that is the main plot. The main plot even started what would eventually become a signature of Pixar films: scenes that cause adults—myself included—to cry. This occurs during a scene where Jessie informs Woody of her owner, Emily who abandoned her. The moments shared between Jessie and Emily are shown in a flashback while a song entitled “When She Loved Me” is sung, showing how the girl grew up, replaced her favorite cowgirl with nailpolish and make-up before finding the toy under her bed one day and taking Jessie to a donation box. In some ways, the toys in the Toy Story films feel more like people than the humans do because of their emotions. While watching a toy be forgotten, only to be discovered again, feel as though she’s finally close to her owner again only to be dumped in a box you can’t help but feel sorry for Jessie. In one scene, her anger towards Woody as he goes on about Andy and how wonderful things will be once he’s reunited is completely explained. That one scene is what redeems Toy Story 2 because while one plot does nothing to add depth to the characters one scene makes Jessie a more likable and believable character as well as change Woody’s outlook on things, causing him to realize that he won’t always be Andy’s toy.

With Toy Story 2, the animation starts to show some improvement in detail. While the humans still look very cartoonish and not as detailed as they would eventually become, we begin to see larger scenes such as the luggage belts of an international airport and details on even the fake hair of characters, such as Jessie’s red yarn-like hair. What is truly impressive about this is how the animation seems to jump between A Bug’s Life and this film, but that might be related to the different locations the toys have to move to throughout the film.

No, Toy Story 2 was not better than its predecessor. It even could have learned some things from the first Toy Story film, such as simplicity of plot and the value of having a good antagonist. But thanks to emotion being found in a sometimes unfocused film, it still is worth a watch every now and then.

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