Thursday, December 29, 2016

Toy Story 2 1999

1999 and Pixar's 3rd feature film release brought us the expected sequel to the already much loved Toy Story. All the characters that audiences fell in love with in the first film returned and there were 3 additions to the gang in the form of Mrs. Potato Head (she was a Christmas present for Andy at the end of the first film), Andy's dachshund dog; Buster (also a Christmas present introduced at the end of the previous film and Wheezy, a small penguin toy with a broken squeaker. 4 other new characters are introduced later in the film.

I noticed in this one that the toys seem to live in a perpetual state of fear. In the first film they were terrified of losing their place to a shinier, newer toy, somehow being separated from Andy and their toy friends or winding up in the clutches of Sid. This time it's being 'shelved', forgotten or becoming part of the regular yard sales that Andy's mother holds.

The opening was interesting. In the first film it was a Wild West scenario that Andy was enacting out with the help of his toys. The second time around it was a very sophisticated space setting, featuring Buzz and his nemesis Zurg (a sort of space emperor, more of a Darth Vader rip off than anything else). It turns out to be a video game that Buzz and Rex play, Rex is particularly obsessed with it, and claims that his inability to do well at it stems from how small his fore limbs are.

While Andy is away at camp, unable to take Woody because one of his arm seams ripped accidentally, his mother attempts to sell Wheezy. Woody, being the leader that he is, rescues the penguin with the help of Buster, who is kind of a default toy (I wonder if it was a coincidence that Buster is a dachshund, just like Slinky is?), however Woody falls off Buster and finds himself as part of the yard sale. A shady looking character; Al, the owner Al's Toy Barn toy stores, tries to buy Woody and when Andy's mother refuses to sell him, actually steals Woody and takes off with him while she's distracted.

Fortunately the other toys see this and mount a rescue attempt. The rescue gang is comprised of Buzz (naturally), Hamm, Mr. Potato Head, Slinky and Rex. I debate the wisdom of including Rex, but there's no one else with a profile or the mobility required. The problem is that they're going to the Toy Barn to find Woody and Al has him stashed in his apartment across the road.

Woody encounters 3 other western themed dolls at Al's apartment: Jessie; a red headed yodelling cow girl, Bullseye; an enthusiastic and loyal horse and Stinky Pete; a crusty old eccentric prospector. He finds out that he was once the star of the toy world, with his own animated TV show and a whole line of merchandise. He was once the equivalent of Buzz. I have to confess that I never took to Jessie, she was just too over the top for me, plus she yodelled and I have never liked yodelling. I know she was quite popular and my niece absolutely adored her. Her mother had to do a hunt online to find a Jessie dolls for her to play with.

After some fairly predictable chaos the rescuers manage to get to the toy store. The scenes with them in the toy store are quite funny. Buzz encounters a new Buzz Lightyear and finds out how annoying he must have been when Woody and Co first met him. The Barbie scenes and the addition of Barbie to the gang is also good.

Woody realises how lucky he's been, Jessie and presumably Bullseye, were abandoned by their owners and Stinky Pete never made it out of the box. He does consider staying with them when his friends do find him, but reconsiders and when he wants to take Jessie and Bullseye with him, Stinky Pete shows his true colours and reveals himself as the villain of the piece.

There's a final adventure sequence with the gang rescuing Jessie in particular from the airport before she can be shipped off to a toy museum in Japan. Stinky Pete also gets his comeuppance.

This had some moments, but I don't rate it as highly as the first. It lacked that originality and I felt at times it tried too hard, plus it occasionally pushed credibility way beyond breaking point (there is no way even a magically animated toy horse can keep pace with a taxiing aeroplane). The regular references to other pop culture icons (Indiana Jones, the original Star Wars films, especially The Empire Strikes Back) were also a lot of fun.  This is the first time I can remember Pixar doing it to that extent. I also appreciated the return of the three eyed aliens from the pizza place. Mrs. Potato Head was pretty good, too, although her best work was in the 'out takes' that ran during the credits.

I'm sure after the cautionary tale of Jessie, people took better care of their toys, or liberated much loved, but forgotten ones from wherever they were.

The original voice actors: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, Annie Potts and of course John Ratzenberger all returned to reprise their roles.

Estelle Harris, best known as George Costanza's mother on Seinfeld, was Mrs Potato Head and another example of Pixar's unerring brilliance when casting their films.

Another Seinfeld alumni; Wayne Knight, was the bad guy Al McWhirter. At times I almost felt like calling him Newman, because once again his animated persona matched the one he was known for on the TV show that made his name.

Joan Cusack, who had a profile at the time played Jessie. I've never been a great fan of her performances and this may have been another factor that coloured my dislike of the character.

Kelsey Grammar as Stinky Pete, though, he was absolutely spot on. Then again Kelsey Grammar usually is. Great voice.

Jonathan Harris also had a cameo as Al's doll cleaner, but this time he used a different voice and I wasn't reminded of Dr. Smith.

It was only a cameo, but Jodi Benson voiced Barbie. Again I do wonder if this was a way of needling Disney, as Jodi Benson is best known for providing the speaking and singing voice for Ariel in The Little Mermaid.

It was a stroke of genius to use Robert Goulet as Wheezy's singing voice at the end, too.

Next we'll venture into uncharted territory.

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