Toy Story 2 is a rare sequel that either matches or outdoes an already perfect movie. Maintaining the highest 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes for a really long time. During production of A Bug’s Life, director John Lasseter knew children needed more Toy Story. So the third Pixar film also became the very first computer animated sequel. As flawless as Toy Story 2 turned out, the production might be the worst for any Pixar movie. Disney foolishly wanted it to be like their other cheap direct-to-video films. Something they’d still exploit with a Buzz Lightyear spin-off. Luckily they realized the potential of Toy Story 2 and made it clear that anything from Pixar deserved a theatrical release.
Toy Story 2 asks questions about toys that give more depth to their world. Like what does it mean for a toy to be abandoned, collected, or even outgrown? Despite coming 4 years after the first movie, Pixar only had 9 months to finish Toy Story 2. The story had to be changed midway through, the 1999 release couldn’t be changed, and all the footage was nearly lost when someone accidentally deleted the file. It’s a miracle Toy Story 2 came out at all. At 4 years old, the sequel became an instant favorite of mine. My mom took my brother and I to see it and we were apparently 5 feet from the screen. Yet I somehow don’t remember the experience. I only knew that Toy Story 2 set the standard for Pixar movies to come…
Toy Story 2 was accompanied by the early Pixar short Luxo Jr. Which centers on the lamp mascot and features the famous luxo ball. Toy Story 2 is a perfect sequel because it builds on what came before. Deepening the emotion, expanding on characters, and increasing the scope of the toy’s story. While still maintaining the computer animation style that came before. Some humans look better, but Andy, his mom, and Molly are about the same. Really it’s the impressive environments, lighting, and varied locations that Pixar continued to excel at. Along with the returning respectable cast joined by more respectable stars. Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, Jim Varney, and John Ratzenberger are all given a chance to shine the second time around.
Toy Story 2 begins in space with an awesome extended sequence of Buzz Lightyear on a mission. Fighting robots and entering the lair of his archenemy Evil Emperor Zurg. Who was mentioned by Buzz in the first movie. Turns out he’s like a purple Darth Vader with a large booster gun. It also turns out the entire mission was a video game played by Rex. Rex is actually given a whole subplot where he wants to learn to defeat Zurg. Woody frantically searches for his hat in preparation for Andy’s trip to cowboy camp. Buzz is now like a co-leader who’s grown from his past experiences and takes action every chance he gets. Hamm is his same old hammy self and Slinky is just as loyal as ever. The only difference for Mr. Potato Head is the wife he got at the end of the first movie. Estelle Harris was also born to play the sassy Mrs. Potato Head. Annie Potts’ Bo Peep performance is brief, but the love she has for Woody is clear.
Another change is the family dog Buster. Who’s a far more lovable and better rendered dog compared to Scud. Andy has another toy playing session with Woody & Buzz fighting Hamm as Evil Doctor Porkchop. Resulting in Woody’s arm being torn. Which opens up the possibility of Woody being forgotten. Leading to a particularly disturbing nightmare that causes him to discover Wheezy. An existential penguin toy with a broken squeaker forgotten on a shelf. Another toy problem is a yard sale. Something Woody rescues Wheezy from before being discovered by Al. From a toy’s point of view, a toy collector would be a villain. Wayne Knight is a great sleazy businessman who steals Woody and turns out to be the same Al from Al’s Toy Barn. The toy store mentioned in the Buzz commercial from the first movie.
It turns out Woody is a rare collectable with a line of vintage merchandise, cheesy 50’s marionette TV show, and a whole posse he never knew about. Jessie the yodeling cowgirl, Bullseye he’s Woody’s horse, and Stinky Pete the Prospector. Joan Cusack can’t yodel, but she is the best new addition to the cast as the excitable cowgirl. Fun fact, when I dressed up as Woody for Halloween, my classmate (also named Jessie) dressed up as Jessie. Although she seems like just a female version of Woody on the surface, Jessie is far more complex on the inside. She’s a toy who was sadly abandoned by her owner Emily and has a fear of being packed away forever.
Randy Newman still writes the songs, but Riders in the Sky sing the folksy “Woody’s Roundup” theme, Robert Goulet sings a swingin’ version of “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” and Sarah McLachlan sings the Oscar nominated “When She Loved Me.” The whole sequence of Jessie slowly being outgrown by her kid is the first genuinely tear worthy Pixar moment. Bullseye doesn’t speak, but he is loyal to Woody. Kelsey Grammer turns out to be a twist toy villain. As Stinky Pete has grown resentful after spending his whole life in a box. After Al has Geri from Geri’s Game fix up Woody in a very satisfying sequence, Woody is swayed into believing his place is as a collectible with his new friends.
Meanwhile, Buzz leads a team of Mr. Potato Head, Hamm, Rex, and Slinky to rescue Woody. Their banter is hilarious and the increasingly over-the-top nature of their mission is genius. First by causing traffic damage after crossing the street under cones. Then by wrecking the toy store. Which is where Buzz comically switches places with a delusional Buzz in a utility belt. Since the material from space ranger Buzz is too good not to do again. The toys also run into Tour Guide Barbie. After Mattel realized their mistake in not including her in the first movie. I’ve always loved Barbie’s bubbly innocence and Jodi Benson is the best voice for her. The toys make it to the apartment after more humorous misunderstandings from imposter Buzz. The real Buzz catches up and even though Hanks & Allen have less time together, they still give Woody & Buzz more heartfelt chemistry.
Woody snaps out of it when he realizes he’d rather be outgrown then miss out on Andy’s childhood. Unfortunately, Pete blocks the way out and Al rushes the collection to Japan. The toys give chase on the elevator, but not before facing off with a delusional Zurg toy that followed Buzz there. The face off is among the best affectionate Star Wars parodies. Since the other Buzz actually embraces his father Zurg. The toys continue to cause chaos when they hijack a Pizza Planet truck containing three little green men. Who become part of the group after Mr. Potato Head saves their lives and they are eternally grateful. The airport climax is massive compared to the moving truck from the first movie. Same with the enormous baggage handling room. Buzz finds Woody’s case and Pete is defeated when he’s placed in a little girl’s Barbie backpack. The action really picks up when Jessie is trapped and Woody & Buzz take Bullseye to save her. They’re trapped on the plane, but Woody uses his pull-string to swing to safety.
Ending with Jessie and Bullseye being accepted into Andy’s toy collection. Buzz also develops feelings for Jessie, Woody’s arm is repaired again, and Wheezy gets a new squeaker. The following mock blooper reel features a nod to Toy Story 3, a running gag from Mrs. Potato Head, funny pranks on Buzz, and even a cameo by Flick & Heimlich from A Bug’s Life. Toy Story 2 is an adventure filled follow up that improves on Toy Story in every way. The original still holds a special place in my heart, but there’s no denying this is what sequels should be. Sadly, no Academy Awards were won. Instead Toy Story 2 became the last animated winner of Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes. As the years go by, Toy Story 2 will never lose what makes it special.