Toy Story was a revelation. Despite being the first fully computer animated feature film, the movie refused to get bogged down in the technical innovations, preferring instead to create an amazing world with a fantastic story, memorable characters and challenging themes, especially for a children's film. So it's pretty easy to say that Toy Story 2 had quite something to live up to.
Due to a mix-up/abduction at a yard sale, Woody is on his way to being sold to a museum in Japan with the rest of the Woody's Roundup gang. Buzz and the toys decide to get Woody back to Andy's room where he belongs but it's not going to be that easy.
It takes all of a few seconds to realise that the idea of this sequel flailing in its predecessor's shadow is patently ridiculous. The first scene alone has dozens of geeky in-joke references ranging from Star Wars to 2001 A Space Odyssey, brilliant animation and action sequences which rival anything that the first film had to offer. However, it was never a competition between the two, as they both work together perfectly, the second being a natural progression of the first as the toys come to terms with the fact that they are transitory; that one day, they will break. This grim reality doesn't so much dampen the mood of the film as much as it informs the atmosphere to a large extent and because of this undeniably darker focus, the film is able to connect emotionally even more than the first was able to do in some cases.
Don't think that this tone robs the film of its joy, however. In fact, Toy Story 2 has all the self-referential, geeky asides that the first had and then some. Evil Emperor Zurg telling Buzz that he is his father? Check. Woody interpreting a ridiculously long and complicated message from the few squeaks of a woodland animal? Check and check. In fact, the jokes come thicker and faster than ever before, a lot of them whizzing by without pomp or circumstance, only really registering on the second or third viewing. Jokes like this are normally reserved for adult comedy movies, and even then they aren't usually as fast and furious as they are here, more proof that anyone saying that animation is for kids is a fool.
The character development on display here is simply fantastic. Where the first dealt with Woody's inability to be anything less than the most popular toy in the room, this film deals with his realisation of his own mortality; not dying specifically, more being used up or forgotten by his owner once Andy outgrows his sheriff. To showcase this point, Jessie the yodelling cowgirl is introduced as one of the members of the Roundup Gang. There is an inherit risk in introducing new characters who aren't villains, the problem being that they may not be as endearing as the creators hope they are or connect with the audience in a real way. Jessie begins as the tough-as-any-guy, outspoken one and at first there's the real risk that she won't progress any further than that. But there's a moment in the film which has a real case for being the most emotional of the entire series, the third instalment included, where Jessie tells Woody her life story. Cue the sprinklers. It's touching, tragic, but most upsetting of all, recognisable. The connection here isn't just Jessie's abandonment but the feeling that you may have been responsible for this as a kid. It's a heartrending moment and establishes Jessie's place in the audience's hearts forever. This boldness exhibited by the writers who clearly believe that children can handle the tough stuff is a belief which has become something of a trademark for the Pixar brand, tackling complex issues, themes and relationships in all of their movies with the simplicity and sincerity which is exemplified here.
It's this ability to both connect and communicate which sets the Toy Story series apart in the animation world. As well as having the claim of being the first CG animation ever, the Toy Story series has managed to consecutively outdistance its competitors with heart and emotion combined with a rapier wit. This is, of course, disregarding the astounding innovations in the technical side of the film which, despite being potentially mindblowing, are merely a medium for the story. What could have been an excuse to indulge a novelty has become an integral part of countless childhoods and a landmark in animation.
It has to be Jessie's lament. Instructed by our brilliant narrator Randy Newman with the dulcet tones of Sarah McLachlan, the piece is as bold and earnest as any live-action movie has a right to be.
I say we stack ourselves up, push the intercom and pretend we're delivering a pizza.
How about a ham sandwich? With fries and a hotdog?
What about me?
Ah, you can be the toy that comes with the meal.
Uh, ma - ma'am? I, uh, um, well, I just wanted to say you're a bright young woman with a beautiful yarn full of hair. A hair full of yarn. It's ah... um... I must go.
Has your mind been melted? You could have killed me, Space Ranger. Or should I say "traitor."
I don't have time for this.
How do you spell FBI?
To Al's Toy Barn... and beyond.
All right, nobody look till I get my cork back in.
Turn into the spin, Barbie!
I did it! I finally defeated Zurg!
It's all right, Space Ranger. It's a code 546.
You mean it's a...?
And he's a...?
Guys, we can't park here. It's a white zone.
Here's your list of things to do while I'm gone: batteries need to be changed. Toys at the bottom of the chest need to be rotated. Oh, and make sure everyone attends Mr. Spell's seminar on what to do if you or part of you is swallowed.
Your'e right, Prospector. I can't stop Andy from growing up... but I wouldn't miss it for the world.