Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Film Review | Toy Story 2 (1999)

After the overwhelming success with both critics and audiences of Toy Story, it's no surprise that Pixar chose to create a sequel to capitalize on its success only four years later. No other franchise from the studio would receive a sequel until Cars 2's release in 2011. It could be that Pixar didn't want to emulate the dead-horse-flogging antics of rival studio Dreamworks, churning out one sequel after another no matter how low the quality sank. Or maybe the masters of computer animation were anxious that any future sequels made by them matched up to the incredibly high bar set in Toy Story 2.

A great deal of Toy Story 2's success comes from returning director John Lasseter's decision to carry over many positive elements from the original film. Hanks and Allen again deliver first class vocal turns as Woody and Buzz, as do the rest of the returning cast. New additions to the acting roster are just as excellent: Joan Cusack as cowgirl doll Jessie fits the character to a tee with a larger-than-life performance; Kelsey Grammer as Stinky Pete draws on his thespian roots, as well as his well-known television role as the pretentious Dr. Frasier Crane, to create a classic cinematic villain; and Wayne Knight is a perfect fit for ruthless toy collector Al McWhiggin.

Lasseter's direction here is in many ways even more impressive than in Toy Story. The advances in Pixar's animation in the four years since the first film are regularly obvious, but always used with subtlety and panache by the director. Toy Story's opening was intentionally low key and all the more powerful for it; the start of its sequel sits at the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of flamboyance, delivering a breathtaking action sequence that takes in a great many cinematic nods and references along the way, but at the same time Lasseter once again crafts a compelling and entertaining sequence. Elsewhere we see refined examples of something Pixar are now seasoned experts of ingeniously crafting from computer code: pathos. I defy anyone to watch Jessie's flashback sequence without experiencing a pang of genuine emotion within themselves.

Arguably, Toy Story 2 doesn't avoid every pitfall many sequels often fall into. The story here revisits some of the key beats of that seen in Toy Story with a rescue mission at the core of both films, only with Woody and Buzz's roles reversed from the first film to the second. But this never takes anything away from Toy Story 2, and the richness of the craft and depth of the ideas on display here mean that any repetition can be wholly forgiven. Toy Story 2 is every bit as accomplished, imaginative and entertaining as its predecessor, deserving recognition as one of the best animated films ever made.


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