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In this episode: Toy Story 2

I really don't know what to say. I loved it. I am so very happy that Pixar had the talent and brains to create a sequel worthy—and in some ways more than worthy—of its original.

Toy Story was an excellent creation. It will forever be a classic, not because it was the first full-length computer animated feature film, but because it took a simple but clever idea and ran all the way with it. The story, characters, humor, style, and creativity of Toy Story make it something people will forever enjoy. So how do you equal that?

Toy Story 2 does. It's amazing. A lot of people already like it better than the original. I don't know if I can say that exactly because what the first movie has more in its favor is a sense of discovery. Toy Story was so novel and different and so good that it was something of a wonder to watch. That same wonder can't be had for Toy Story 2 because, hey, we know that it's toys running around talking and stuff. Instead, TS2 has its own wonder. You feel it when you realize TS1 was only scratching the surface. TS2 explores a larger world and gives the characters more to do. It was truly as if their story was continuing, instead of being rehashed to make a quick sequel buck.

Toy Story 2 has what a sequel should. There's a similar plot element, where one toy is taken away and must be saved, but it's only that thin skeleton that is the same, while the muscle around it is completely new and original. The stakes are higher but are not so ludicrous as to be laughable (Die Hard 3, anyone?). The characters do not become caricatures of themselves, they simply are who they are and we get to watch their lives continue. New characters are not thrown in just to add some different flavor, but are fully developed and integral to the story. Some unexpected surprises pop up, too.

Oh, blah. This is technical and boring. Toy Story 2 is hilarious. Besides the surface humor that the kids (and adults) love, there are also tons of clever in-jokes, most of which poke fun at the filmmakers themselves, including Disney. Some of these in-jokes are pulled out of thin air, which is perfect because you don't see them coming. But when you look back, you see that they all fit in. They aren't in-jokes whose sole purpose is to be in-jokes; they are woven into the story and action.

Speaking of action, there's more of it in this movie. Lots of harrowing undertakings and risky gambits. They are often funny, and always move the story along without becoming too much.

The animation is much improved from the original, but it does not abandon the original's style, so that the two movies can be watched together and look like a matching set. As in the first, the subtle movements of the characters are awesome to watch. The animators have nailed facial expression, body motion, and gestures. It makes the Toy Story gang seem real. The "real world" characters—humans and a dog—are especially improved while not losing their abstraction. The people are less plasticy, especially Al, Woody's overweight, unkempt, unscrupulous kidnapper.

The story is deeper than in the first movie; it has a more specific message than just "friends help each other." John Lasseter and the Pixar gang have something to say, which is another reason this is not your usual story-starved sequel. But though it's deep and creates some sad moments, TS2 never bogs down, thanks to the humor and the overall chaotic, joyous tone. The balance is just right.

I saw Toy Story 2 at the El Capitan, which is showing it in DLP, the same digital projection system I saw Star Wars I in. While the system needs some improvement before showing live-action at its best, it projects a CG movie like Toy Story 2 almost perfectly. There are some jaggies (pixelation) if you look carefully, but the image was sharp, crisp, bright, vibrant, stable, clean, and just plain beautiful. If you can see the movie with digital projection, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do. It is the way to see it.

That's all I need to say. If you liked Toy Story, you have to see this. If you didn't see Toy Story, you should rent it, then go see this. (Toy Story 2 can be watched on its own and still be fun.) This Toy Story world is quite a creation to behold. But more importantly, it's a creation to laugh at, marvel over, enjoy, and relish.

 

—Steve

11/19/99

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©1999 Steven Lekowicz except
Toy Story 2 logo © Disney/Pixar