Sequential Cinema – ‘Toy Story 2’ (1999)

Pixar’s world is their oyster in 1999. With only two films under their belt, they were riding quite well and the partnership with Disney was working out smoothly. Disney had a light in their eye for a return to Toy Story albeit for the direct-to-video market.

Disney was making bank on these productions by Disney MovieToons Studios (now Disneytoon). 1994’s The Return of Jafar made record numbers upon release breaking VHS sales records. Their big theatrical film A Goofy Movie flopped which is the reason why it is a cult classic. Yet, direct-to-video was their bread-and-butter producing a bevy of them in the ‘90s. Disney wanted to see if that success would transfer with a smaller team at Pixar.

Pre-production art from the original direct-to-DVD production of Toy Story 2. Some concepts would be included in the final theatrical version. Source: This Day In Pixar

They, alongside Steve Jobs, assembled a team to make a direct-to-video sequel in 1997. The team was the old video game division assembled for developing games based upon Toy Story. Everything was going smooth until that damn /bin/rm -r -f * command came in. In 1998, Technical Directors Oren Jacobs and Larry Cutler were looking up files of Woody in the production directory. They noticed files were disappearing and fast. The command above helps to delete unwanted files when cleaning a system. Yet, an unnamed employee unleashed that command to the root file containing all the work thus far. 

Panicking, the two set out to try and recover the files. Supervising Technical Director Galyn Susman informed them she had the files on a computer at home. Only 10% of the film remained with 90% gone. Susman drove in her Volvo to get the computer across the San Francisco Bay to retrieve thus saving the work. The Next Web’s Matthew Panzarino has a great interview with Jacob on the subject. After some dailies and reels, they decided to expand it to become a theatrical film. Director John Lasseter oversaw the production. Animator Lee Unkrich to ensure the film would meet the demands for theatrical.

Lasseter and crew were not happy with the results of the sequel so far and decided to abandon it altogether. They deleted some of the work thus far and restarted from the ground up retaining some models and assets. With a hard deadline in place for November 1999, Pixar had only nine months to work on the production. This leads to long hours, overtime, and carpal tunnel syndrome among animators. It was a Herculean effort to develop the finished film.

Toy Story 2 follows Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz (Tim Allen) once again now at the new house with Andy. Andy is preparing to go to cowboy camp taking Woody with him. But, Woody’s arm rips and he’s regulated to the shelf alongside Wheezy (Joe Ranft), a squeaky toy. Andy’s mom (Laurie Metcalf) is having a yard sale and clearing out the old toys taking Wheezy with her. Woody rides Buster the new dog to save him, only to be in the path of Al (Wayne Knight) who steals him away. 

Al has a collection of toys and merch from Woody’s Roundup, a show from the ‘50s all about Woody and his gang of friends. This includes Jesse (Joan Cusack), a horse named Bullseye, and an old prospector named Stinky Pete (Kelsey Grammer). The reason is to travel with this large collection to sell to a toy museum in Tokyo. Buzz sets out with the gang comprised of Rex, Hamm, Mr. Potato Head, and Slinky to rescue him. Yet, looming in the shadows lurks the evil Emperor Zurg. He is ready to stop Andy’s toy gang while confronting a second Buzz (Now with a utility belt!) on the way to save Woody. Woody must realize if it’s best for one child to love him or get love from millions of children behind the museum glass?

Jesse (Joan Cusack), Woody (Tom Hanks), and Bullseye marvel at the screen as the trio watches Woody’s Roundup. Source: Disney-Pixar

Toy Story 2 isn’t cut-and-paste; it’s a marvel of a sequel. It is an excellent extension of the previous character’s story while also working well on its own. It’s funny as all get out with jokes left and right. It also endearing with how much heart it has involved within.

Woody’s own dilemma of seeking love and adoration is quite human. He yearns to return to the familiar adoration but is so happy with the new. Woody matures here in this film going from being an affable dick in the first film to someone that understands the others around him. He isn’t the main character (I mean, he is), but he isn’t the most important person in the story. That’s left to the others.

Cusack as Jesse is perfect casting being a happy-go-lucky but broken aplenty after the rejection of her owner Emily. The song used to reflect her pain is an absolute tear-jerker in the form of “When She Loved Me” sung by Sarah McLachlan. This segment of the film shows how her disillusionment about being loved once more. This carries into Cusack’s performance as she is anxious about the next steps and jealous of Woody. She does grow to become part of the gang and receive love from Andy.

As I mentioned in the last review, Buzz and the gang are downright hilarious. They all get equal time to shine. Mr. Potato Head is now a married spud with Mrs. Potato Head having his back voiced hilariously by Estelle Harris of Seinfeld fame. Hamm and Slinky have a great exchange about Woody being worth more than 25 cents. Rex is a gamer obsessed with beating Zurg while battling his own anxious state of mind on the journey. They each get a bit of an expansion and shine brighter having to deal with the delusional Utility Belt Buzz. 

Utility Belt Buzz (Tim Allen) smacks the main Buzz (Allen) into a display at Al’s Toy Barn. Source: Disney-Pixar

Allen as the two Buzzes shows how much life Allen gives. Seeing Buzz duke it out against the other Buzz is fantastic. Allen gets to further dive into how odd Buzz is straight from the package. The funniest moment between the toy is when both Buzzes appear in front of the group. They can’t figure out who is who until Buzz does what Woody did to him in the first film. He opens Utility Belt Buzz’s helmet causing him to “choke” on the “martian air.”

Grammer gets a mention for being the first twist villains Disney-Pixar would produce. This is a trope that they ran into the ground throughout the 2010s. What makes him work is how the pieces fit the bill for him to be the baddie. He has a hatred of space ranger and is stuck in his box, but is able to move about it. It also helps that he has the villain down-pat for being the Pixar equal of his Sideshow Bob role from The Simpsons. Unfortunately, he does not sing the entire score of H.M.S. Pinafore before trying to stop Buzz from saving Woody and his new pals.

The animation itself is a small noticeable upgrade from the first film. Andy is no longer the Goblin King with the human characters having more to them. It helps that their previous short Geri’s Game focused on a human character to finally get to work on that. Geri also shows up in the film to save money on creating another character. This is likely due to Al being the main villain thus needing more screentime and not looking like a total ghoul. 

A lot of the assets from A Bug’s Life get reused and repurposed such as plants, trees, and even whole scenery.  The planet Buzz lands on is originally the Ant Hill from A Bug’s Life. Characters from the said film even appear in the end credits in the only detriment to this film: the “bloopers.”

These bloopers were tacked on later to get audiences back into the theater. They are not the best because they didn’t animate actual audio outtakes, but rather created their own from scratch. They aren’t really funny, save for Jesse laughing violently, but that’s it. Also, there is a joke that is harshed in hindsight involving the Prospector hitting on Barbie. Given Lasseter’s real-life harassment allegations, it is harder to watch these days. Disney knew this and all future versions remove that joke outright.

[Sidenote: 1994’s The Lion King bloopers are amazing as they are actual audio outtakes from the recording sessions (save for one) now fully animated. They are worth a watch.]

Toy Story 2 is a fantastic follow-up that helps elevate the franchise and beat the odds. It was saved from the direct-to-video heap to become a sequel that is on par with the original. It is solid on its own, yet builds upon what came before it. It introduces new characters while allowing others to grow and mature. Toy Story 2 deserves its place among the best sequels made.

Final Verdict: 4.5 out of 5
Toy Story Series 2/4 Complete

Next time, we travel 11 years into the future to catch up with the toys. As Andy leaves for college, what shall become of the toys we’ve fallen in love with? Can they thrive in a preschool environment? What the hell took so long to make a sequel. It’s time to cry with Toy Story 3. Till the next sequence.

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