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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Movie Reviews > Toy Story and Toy Story 2

MOVIE REVIEWS

TOY STORY (1995)

Featuring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Jim Varney, Annie Potts, John Morris, Erik von Detten, Laurie Metcalf and R. Lee Ermey.

Screenplay by Joss Whedon, Andrew Stanton, Joel Cohen, and Alec Sokolow.

Directed by John Lasseter.

Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.  81 minutes.  Rated G.

TOY STORY 2 (1999)

Featuring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen,  Joan Cusack, Kelsey Grammer, Wayne Knight, Don Rickles, Estelle Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Jim Varney, Annie Potts, Jodi Benson, John Morris, Erik von Detten, Laurie Metcalf and R. Lee Ermey.

Screenplay by Andrew Stanton, Rita Hsao, Doug Chamberlin and Chris Webb.

Directed by John Lasseter, Lee Unkrich and Ash Brannon.

Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.  92 minutes.  Rated G.

Everyday Beautiful

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Toy Story  and Toy Story 2

It is rare for something so revolutionary to be so unassuming.  The modest, low-key nostalgic charms of Toy Story make it all too easy to forget that this film completely changed all of the rules of motion picture animation. 

With the third Toy Story installment due in theaters later this year, Disney has re-released the first two on video, giving us a chance to revisit and reevaluate the first two chapters of the saga.  (In fact, Toy Story is significant as the only Pixar computer animated film to have a sequel, much less two.) 

In revisiting Toy Story – and watching Toy Story 2 for the first time all these years later – I have to make a confession.  While I enjoyed the first story, I was never passionate about it, like so many others seem to be.  It is a nice little story which probably would not have made much of a splash if it were not the first film which was completely animated by computer. 

That said, it is mostly a very clever film, with a snappy screenplay (who knew that future Buffy the Dragon Slayer creator Joss Whedon was one of the co-writers?) and vivid, colorful visuals. 

The story – on the outside chance that anyone doesn’t know it already – is about toys coming alive when they are away from people.  Woody, an old-fashioned cowboy doll (voiced by then reigning Best Actor Tom Hanks) who finds that his leadership in the room of a young boy named Andy is being threatened by the arrival of a shinier, more gimmicky new toy, a space ranger named Buzz Lightyear (who was played by Tim Allen, then the star of the #1 show on television, Home Improvement.

Woody and Buzz are surrounded by a motley crew of favorite toys, including a Mr. Potato Head, a Slinky dog, a T-Rex, a piggy bank, a remote control car, a Little Bo Peep figurine and others.  Then, through a misunderstanding, Woody and Buzz are separated from the family as they move and they have to escape the evil neighbor kid who tortures toys. 

The idea is charmingly whimsical and the writing is very sharp.  Of course, Toy Story suffers from some of the most basic problems with computer animation – and is a little worse than many because of age.  The first and most problematic of these problems is very simple: CGI animators are completely unable to make realistic human beings – making the main love object (in a toy-sort-of-way, of course) Andy and the sadistic neighbor kid, Sid, the central villain of the piece, look utterly fake and hard to build up much emotion for.  (Surprisingly, upon rewatching, you notice the Pixar guys also had real problems with dogs – a failing that they have mostly overcome now.) 

Looking back, I have to say that Toy Story has grown on me over the years, but while I definitely like it, still don’t love it. 

Toy Story 2 takes the simple story and tries to complicate it a bit.  Honestly, the added narrative weight doesn’t always help things along, but the movie often does capture the flight-of-fancy likability of it predecessor.  Still, all the stunts and sidetrips have a bit of a tendency to overwhelm this subtly nostalgic franchise, like they are trying to take the charms of the original and put them on hyper-drive.  Some of it works, but other parts (a chase through an elevator shaft comes immediately to mind) seem to be there just to keep the story popping. 

Toy Story 2 is essentially a more whiz-bang extension of the first film.  Strangely, though years have apparently passed between the action in these two films and the upcoming Toy Story 3, little or no time seems to have passed in the world of these toys over the four years between original and sequel. 

Again it is about Woody thinking he has lost his friend.  When his arm is ripped, Andy leaves him at home instead of taking him to cowboy camp.  When Woody is mistakenly out for a yard sale, he is stolen by a vintage toy collector who wants to sell Woody to a Japanese toy museum.  It turns out that Woody was a big Howdy-Doody-ish TV star in the 50s and is nearly impossible to find now, so the collector repairs him and plans to ship him off with the rest of his set – a cowgirl, a prospector and his horse. 

They are all excited to get out of storage, but Woody wants to get back home to Andy.  Much of this section is rather bittersweet, especially the loneliness of cowgirl Jessie.  Even as an adult, you’d have to be pretty damned cold-hearted not to get a little choked up by the musical montage of Sarah McLachlan singing “When She Loved Me” over scenes from a doll’s life with her owner – from first blush of love through years of play to the girl’s growth and to the doll’s eventual Goodwill donation. 

While Woody is trying to decide if he should go back home or help his newfound friends find freedom in Japan, Buzz and the other toys go on a mission to get Woody back.  It goes from intriguing to just a bit too much – after the fourth or fifth action sequence, you sort of long for the movie to get back to its heartfelt sincerity.  Still, as sequels go, Toy Story 2 comes close to keeping up with its original. 

Technically, even just the four years between the two were a giant leap forward.  Toy Story 2 looks fantastic, even better than the original.  They still can’t do humans, but the villain Al is more lifelike (in a cartoonish way) than most CGI people.

I still do not buy all the hype when it comes to these two films, but I will give them their props.  They are truly bits of film history which do not feel like museum pieces.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 26, 2010.

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Copyright ©2010  PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 26, 2010.