Comedian Dimitri Martin once said that graffiti is the most passionate literature there is: “It’s always like ‘Bush sucks!’ … ‘U2 Rocks!'” he stated, “I want to make indifferent graffiti. ‘Toy Story 2 was okay!'”
As well as causing an outbreak of people dutifully scribbling this on toilet walls, the reason I brought this up is because “Toy Story 2 was okay” was exactly how I felt about Pixar’s second run at their instantly iconic, seminal animation game changer, Toy Story. I didn’t believe this to be edgy, cool, anti-establishment, or even because I thought that it was a sub par film – no, it’s because the first movie was so damn good and that anything that dared follow it would be cursed to live in it’s sun blotting shadow until the colour leeches from it’s skin and became a pathetic Gollum-esque creature that lives exclusively on rain water and moss…
Over the years, however, Toy Story 2’s stock has steadily risen with movie goers realizing that the film follows a near-perfect sequel blueprint that succeeds in that near-impossible task of being the same as it’s predecessor, but different.
A few years have passed since the arrival of new toy Buzz Lightyear caused shockwaves throughout the community of Andy’s room but things have settled and a brief harmony has settled over these famously neurotic denizens. However, as Woody prepares to be taken to camp and Buzz frets over taking over as “head toy” for a weekend, disaster strikes when the floppy cowboy gets damaged during play and not only does he not get to go with Andy to camp but is placed on the dreaded shelf, prime placement for toys who are broken and useless. While Andy is away, his mother holds a yard sale, surely the worst thing that can happen to a community of playthings and while pulling off a daring rescue of an asthmatic penguin squeaky toy (not exactly a sentence I’m used to writing…) Woody inadvertently finds himself on the selling table.
It’s here where he’s found by Al, an excitable, yet morally devoid toy collector who spots Woody for the highly prized collectable he actually is (how Andy got him and has been getting away with flinging this gingham clad goldmine around for years is never addressed) and who steals him away quicker than you can say “neck bearded mouth breather”.
Upon reaching Al’s apartment, Woody is fixed up by a toy restorer to be good as new and is subsequently stunned to find out he was a merchandising icon and meets the other members of his orginal toy line; the brash, modeling Jessie, faithful felt horse Bullseye and silver tongued prospector, still mint in the box, Stinky Pete. After some convincing, Woody agrees that after years of faithful service to Andy, being put in a toy museum and being adored by children from all around the world is something worth doing but he hasn’t counted on the resourcefulness of his friends who have launched an audacious rescue attempt.
As they mistakenly work their way through the Al’s Toy Barn store across the street and meet everything from the predictably helpful Tour Guide Barbie to another Buzz Lightyear who also suffers the malady that he’s an actual Space Ranger, time starts to run out and it’s revealed that one of the “Woody’s Round Up” group may not exactly be on the up and up. Can everyone get safely home before being shipped away by plane to Japan to spend lifetimes behind glass in a museum llike some kind of existential nightmare? Sound harsh for a kids film? Well, this IS Pixar country.
Pixar’s return to the world that put them on the map is an incredibly satisfying sequel that came out in famously less that perfect circumstances (Disney original planned for it to be one of those awful direct to video sequels that crapped all over their quality control during the 90’s before Pixar dug in their heels and managed to miraculously turn it around in under a year) and way before the studio itself became a wee bit too reliant on follow ups.
Essentially an unbroken string of extraordinarily inspired sequences that effortlessly either jump starts the funny bone or mule kicks you unmercifully square in the feels Toy Story doesn’t contain a single dud scene in the entirety of it’s runtime and even pulls the neat trick of inverting the central relationship of the lead duo by having Woody now be the one of naive delusions of grandeur – (“A yo-yo Buzz! I was a yo-yo!” “WAS?”)
When it isn’t crippling you emotionally with the heartbreaking tale of Jessie’s past (in fact MOST of the new characters have eye-twitching origin stories that would send most humans to therapy at least three times a week) it’s doubling you over with muscle aching belly laughs that’ll have you honking like an erotically charged goose that all are intricately carried out with military precision.
Buzz’s rescue party, disguised as road cones, try to traverse traffic only to innocently cause untold damage while unknowingly coming mere millimeters of being twisted lumps of plastic, the imposter Buzz comes face to face with his nemesis Emperor Zurg with an Empire Strikes Back twist that takes an inpired turn (“I’ve a lot of catching up to do with my dad!”) and Woody attempts to pick his way through a minefield of cheezy-puffs only to catch a heinous belch directly in the face – the filmmakers are unrelenting in their inventiveness.
It’s innocently subversive too, nailing the kiddie shit with casual ease but peppering the script with stealth busts of humor for the adults too. Watch Mr. Potato head “crap” his parts out in shock at the sheer size of the airport baggage centre or Buzz involuntarily popping his wings upon first spotting Jessie busting out some of her swashbuckling moves – that’s right, kiddies; an erection joke in a Disney movie. Deal with it, yeah?
As near perfect as a sequel can be (suck on THAT Godfather Part II), Toy Story 2 proves that the graffiti I mentioned at the start of this review is woefully inadequate and that you’ll always have a friend in the dysfunctional gang that is Andy’s toys.