When it comes to sequels, the 'House of the Mouse' tends to play it safe and release follow-up material direct-to-video, which tends to be a cheaper method of distribution, and allows the animators to get away with lower quality animation, which is masked on the small screen. In the past few years, the sequels to "Aladdin", "Beauty and the Beast", "Honey I Shrunk the Kids" and "The Lion King" have all wound up on video store shelves without the benefit of a theatrical release. The follow-up to "Toy Story", the groundbreaking computer-animated feature from 1995, was also supposed to follow the same release pattern. Fortunately, Disney wisely reconsidered that decision, allowing the sumptuous visuals of "Toy Story 2" to be seen where they belong, on the big screen. Not only is "Toy Story 2" a sure bet for the entire family, but it is one of those rare sequels that are actually as good as the original.
The action picks up in Andy's room, where a number of familiar faces go about their business when no one's watching. First there's cowboy Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), who is Andy's favorite toy, and space cadet Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen), who have become good friends as a result of the events from the previous pic. Also part of the group are Hamm (John Ratzenberger), the piggy bank who keeps on dropping loose change; Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles) who always has something to say about everything; Rex (Wallace Shawn), the timid dinosaur; Slinky Dog (Jim Varney), whose always losing his behind; and Bo Peep, the shepherd who likes Woody.
It is the middle of summer, and Andy is off to summer camp. Unfortunately, Woody isn't accompanying his owner on the trip due to a torn arm, a fate that leaves him heartbroken, being relegated to the status of a 'broken toy'. Unfortunately, this situation is further complicated when overzealous toy collector Big Al (Wayne Knight) steals Woody from under the nose of Andy's mom during a yard sale.
When Woody arrives at the home of Big Al, he learns that he is a rare and valuable toy based on a media icon of the Fifties, a cowboy puppet show called "Woody's Roundup". He is also reunited with the Roundup Gang, a collection of toys that includes his trusty steed Bullseye, cowgirl Jesse (Joan Cusack), and prospector Stinky Pete (Kelsey Grammer). With the collection complete, Big Al plans to sell his entire Woody's Roundup collection to a museum in Japan for mucho dinero, with Woody as the crowning centerpiece. At first, Woody wants nothing to do but to return home, but he soon comes to realize that like all boys, Andy will eventually grow up and end up discarding his toys, and at least in a museum, he will be adored by children for years to come.
Meanwhile, as Woody ponders on the fleetingness of life, the rest of the toys, led by Buzz, spring into action. Leaving the safe confines of Andy's room, Woody's friends set off on a perilous rescue mission, which includes a dangerous trek through city streets and a hilarious visit to a 'category killer' toy store. Unfortunately, the gang greatly underestimates the difficulty of the task before them, which they quickly discover.
If you loved the first "Toy Story" (and who didn't?), you'll have an equal amount of affection for "Toy Story 2". Pixar Animation (who also did "A Bug's Life" last year) continues to refine their mastery of three-dimensional animation in this latest offering. The computer-generated scenes are breath-taking at times and shows some minor improvements from the last outing-- for example, the human beings in the picture look slightly more 'real', while the level of detail (right down to single blades of grass) has also been improved.
However, a pretty picture would be nothing without the accompanying thousand words, and in this respect, some of the honor would have to go to the team of writers that worked on the script: Andrew Stanton, Rita Hsiao, Doug Chamberlin, and Chris Webb. With a script that places Woody in a thorny moral dilemma, touches on issues of existentialism and mortality, and captures the magic of the emotional bond between a child and his favoriate toy, "Toy Story 2" expands and improves on the premise established in the first film, instead of taking the easy route of re-treading what has already been done (which is what "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" did). The multi-level humor of the first film is also in abundance here, from the simple physical humor that will make the kiddies squeal in delight, to the riffs on popular culture that only adults can fully appreciate. Some of the film's more memorable sequences include a black-and-white mockup of the old "Woody's Roundup" television show, a hair-raising sequence of Buzz and the gang trying to cross a road, a meeting between Buzz and his nemesis Zurg, and a stop at a toy store that includes a visit to the Barbie aisle.
You can't go wrong with "Toy Story 2". Even though it runs at a scant eighty-five minutes, it packs enough visual delights, laughs, and pure fun to make it seem more like two hours. Being bigger, better, bolder, and much clever than ever, this is one animated delight that is sure to entertain everyone, from two to ninety-two.