Toy Story 2

3 out of 5

Directed by: John Lasseter

With the characters and concept established – and the CGI technology proven – Toy Story 2 can reward us with richer and more natural dialogue, more organic hijinx – relative to walking and talking toys, of course – and afford to take some narrative leaps that step outside of the cookie-cutter plotting of the first film.

Woody is far past his jealousies from Buzz’s arrival; the toys of Toy Story have fallen into old habits and new ones, integrating the space ranger fully in to the family.  Some nice background touches show that their owner, Andy, is fully embracing his two favorite toys, and all seems well.  …Until a broken stitch on Woody puts him on the top shelf for disused toys, which puts him witness to ‘Wheezy’ – a squeaking plastic penguin with a broken squeaker – being nabbed for a quarter bin for a yard sale Andy’s mom decides to have while Andy’s away… in one of the flick’s many conveniently staged sequences in which events are rushed in order to add a ticking clock to matters.  But it works: Toy Story has a nice, jovial spirit enlivened by the need to not show off as much as the first movie, and so the rescue of Wheezy is fun instead of forced.

Mid-rescue, though, Woody is nabbed by toy collector ‘Al,’ to complete his Woody toy set (horse, cowgirl and prospector included!) in order to sell it off for a pretty penny.  Cue another, longer, more elaborate rescue sequence involving the whole gang.

However, fleshing this out is where the movie allows itself to dig a little deeper, emotionally, than before, allowing its concepts to ‘grow’ with its audience: Woody is faced with the decision of being remembered – part of this collection – versus the likely ephemeral existence of being a young boy’s cowboy doll.  The script works this well, not jumping to conclusions, and it’s cut in with Buzz’s and the gang’s exciting and silly cross-town adventure to keep things lively.

There are still several points where the movie feels like a stretch, though.  Several nods to Star Wars feel more cute and for the adults than relevant, and several points of the journey from A to B are afflicted with movie roadblock syndrome, in which problems are thrown at the characters just to give them something to surmount, as opposed to feeling relevant and natural to the scene.  There’s also, I’d say, a sort of rough transition between what toys are ‘capable’ of and, suddenly, their abilities to drive full-sized cars and whatnot; that said, once the leap is made, you get used to it, and it opens up other possibilities for the franchise.

From the voice cast, Wayne Knight, playing Al, is rather wholly, obnoxiously evil, which is acceptable enough for a kid’s flick – no need to give the bad guy too many dimensions – but he’s almost too over the top to even work as someone to root against; you’d rather he be a faceless character.  That’s not a knock on Knight’s performance, per se, moreso what Toy Story 2’s makers felt would be funniest, I suppose, and which my opinionated self apparently feels like wasn’t for the best.  Thankfully, his part is relatively small, and we have plenty of other solid performances to carry us through to the flick’s incredibly rewarding finale, which continues to up the ante and succeed in the kind of holy ground of ridiculousness and suspension of disbelief that some of the other actiony bits nip at but just miss.

A good followup that definitely improves upon the first movie significantly, although I’d still say the series has some growing up to do to feel like a true original from start to finish.