**1: Toy Story 2 (1999)**
Toy Story is a perfect film, yet Toy Story 2 is somehow even better. Toy Story 2 perfected perfection.
Toy Story 2 was Pixar’s third film, but their first sequel (Toy Story 3 will be the second, Cars 2 the third, and Monsters, Inc. 2 the fourth). It was originally planned as a straight to video sequel by demands from Disney. But once Disney executives had had a sneak peek at some of the footage of the film, they new it was too good for the straight-to-video treatment, so they immediately green-lit Pixar to release Toy Story 2 theatrically.
In my personal opinion, Toy Story 2 is not only Pixar’s best film to date, it is also the best sequel of all time. More so even than the likes of Aliens, The Dark Knight and The Empire Strikes Back, Toy Story 2 takes a perfect predecessor, and betters it. The lovable cast, memorable music, wonderful animation and fantastic storytelling are all back in full force.
Woody, Buzz and the rest of the Andy’s room gang return, and they are joined by new characters like Jessie the cowgirl (Joan Cusack), Stinky Pete the prospector (Kelsey Grammer), who is still mint in his original box, Bullseye, Woody’s trusted stead and Mrs. Potato Head. Other characters include Al Whiggin, the spokesman for Al’s Toy Barn (the toy store mentioned in the first movie) who also happens to be a greedy toy collector, and Buzz Lightyear’s arch-nemesis, the evil emperor Zerg (voiced by Finding Nemo/Wall-E director Andrew Stanton). The beloved Green Aliens from Toy Story also return, and even Barbie makes an appearance.
One of the things that really captured me the first time I saw Toy Story 2 almost eleven years ago is the continuity was kept so tightly with the first film. I was still a kid at the time, but even then I never liked how so many sequels seemed to abandon so many aspects that were established by the end of the first film. Prime examples would be Mrs. Potato Head and Buster, Andy’s dog. Both characters were brought up at the end of the first film as Christmas gifts for Andy and Molly (Andy’s younger sister). Even back then, I figured they wouldn’t be remembered for the sequel, but to my most pleasant surprise, they were right there in the opening scene! And the whole way through, it stays true to the original.
The story begins when Woody, ready to head to cowboy camp with Andy, is regrettably left behind when he gets a tear in his arm. Left at home “shelved” Woody meets an old toy of Andy’s, Weezy the squeaky penguin toy (who has long since lost his squeak). On this shelf Woody begins contemplating how much longer his time with Andy will last. He wonders if it is only a matter of time before Andy shelves him forever, or abandons him entirely.
After Weezy ends up being boxed for a yard sale, Woody decides to rescue the little penguin. Woody succeeds in rescuing Weezy, but ends up being stolen by the greedy Al “Big Al” Whiggin, who needs Woody to complete the Woody’s Round-up gang so he can trade them to the Konishi Toy Museum in Japan (and make lots of money).
It is then that Woody meets the rest of the “Round-up gang” in Jessie, Bullseye and Stinky Pete. At first Woody is determined to get back to Andy, but the round-up gang brings up his dark fears of abandonment. Stinky Pete tells Woody “Do you honestly think Andy is going to take you to college? Or on his honeymoon? Andy’s growing up, and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s your choice Woody, you can go back, or you can stay with us and last forever. You’ll be adored by children for generations.”
It’s a concept that is maybe even more deep and poetic than Pixar originally planned. Woody is essentially given the choice between immortality or love. To be awed by crowds or loved by an individual child.
The person who knows this first hand is Jessie, who’s owner, a girl named Emily, grew up and outgrew her. Jessie’s story is explained through a musical sequence accompanied by the song When She Loved Me. To this day, this segment gets me teary eyed.
The hardships of growing up have seldom been seen as poetically as they are in Toy Story 2.
On the other side of things, Buzz Lightyear captains a team that also consists of Rex, Hamm, Slinky and Mr. Potato Head to rescue Woody from the clutches of Big Al.
Another amazing aspect of Toy Story 2 is how it not only introduces new characters, but promotes the secondary main characters from the first film to more prominent roles. Mr. Potato Head, Slinky, Hamm and Rex take on bigger parts this time around, and the new characters become just as prominent. And yet, with all of these characters, the film manages to spread out its time just as it should, with the sidekicks getting plenty of time to shine, but never taking time away from Buzz or Woody.
The animation was bumped up a few notches from the first film, with the humans (which also includes Geri, the old man from the Pixar short who plays Chess against himself) look more believable, and the toys look sleeker than ever. And the environments range from a much bigger scope this time around. Besides Andy’s (new) house, we now see Al’s apartment, Al’s Toy Barn, busy streets, an elevator shaft, an exaggeratedly complex airport and even a fictional sci-fi video game setting. The movie has so many different set pieces, with each one a well designed and thought out piece of animation.
The music is also improved from the first film. The movie still has the upbeat and cheery tones of the first Toy Story, but they are joined by various different serious and somber numbers as well, including the aforementioned When She Loved Me (which was robbed of an Oscar for Best Original Song). The music is a triumph in Randy Newman’s resume.
Toy Story 2 takes everything that made the first Toy Story so perfect, improves on them and adds even more emotion and depth. Toy Story 3 certainly has a lot to live up to, but if anyone can top Buzz and Woody, it’s Buzz and Woody.
Toy Story 2 is not only the best sequel of all time, it is the best of Pixar’s films to date.