Welcome to the Pixar Rewind! Over the next couple of weeks, we at Rotoscopers will be analyzing every Pixar film ever, and what makes each one so great. At the end of the series, and after the release of ‘Inside Out’ we will have a fan vote to determine which film is the best of them all!
The sequel is never as good as the original, much less better than it.
While we all know this to be sometimes false, back in 1999, it certainly seemed to be the across-the-board verdict, at least where Disney films were concerned. As time ticked closer to a new millennium, the public was doused with a slew of sequels from Disneytoon Studios (then under the broader banner of Walt Disney Television Animation), which produced direct-to-video follow-ups to Disney Feature Animation’s theatrical events. These sequels were made cheap and often criticized as poor in quality, though their impressive sales certainly spoke louder and prompted more. Toy Story was one such entity Disney wanted more of, and thus Toy Story 2 was born.
However, rather than be developed by Disney, Toy Story 2 would be created by Pixar. At first the film was targeted for a direct-to-video release, as was the standard for any animated sequel. However, director John Lasseter and his team realized that the mold of a typical video sequel meant they were lowering themselves to a lesser expectation of their talents, their characters, and their story. They could do better, and they wanted to do better, and if they were to do that, this film deserved a theatrical release. However, to make that happen, things needed to kick into overdrive. In an astounding feat that is mindboggling even today, the bulk of Toy Story 2 was developed within eight months. The completed project is a shining testament to the work ethic of Lasseter’s team and the culture of Pixar itself.
In order for a sequel to be effective and worthwhile, it must have one thing: depth. It cannot continue telling or repeatin the same story as its predecessor. It must be meaty enough to invariably stand on its own. If you were to strip away any association with a bigger franchise, would the core story of the sequel still qualify as a tale worth sharing? If so, then you’ve got yourself a solid film, as was the case for Toy Story 2. Yes, this is another 90 minutes with Andy’s toys, but, at the end of the day, we still have a complete, self-contained arc for our protagonist, Woody. Toy Story‘s conflict was Woody being unsettled about Buzz’s arrival because of his relationship with Andy, and the resolution was becoming friends with Buzz and allowing that friendship to flourish the connection with Andy even more. Toy Story 2 smartly does not return to that same narrative. It resists the urge to infuse the conventions so common of sequels. This isn’t about Sid’s return for revenge. It’s not about another new toy replacing both Woody and Buzz as Andy’s favorite. Those arcs made Toy Story special, and they are left in that first film to remain special. Toy Story 2, then, is about Woody being fearful not of being replaced, but of being extinct, of Andy growing up.
This core theme plays out with colorful new characters, exciting new settings, and a surprising level of artistry that today is a hallmark of Pixar cinema but in 1999, was completely new. The idea of an animated film being emotionally resonate was not a concept Pixar invented; audiences were captivated by Snow White’s kiss revival in 1937, shaken by the loss of Bambi’s mother in 1942, and touched by the love between Belle and the Beast in 1991. The list could go on. Animation has pulled on heartstrings before. But this was the first time to see Pixar’s flavor of doing things.
We get this through Woody’s fear of losing Andy, prompting Jessie to share her story of losing Emily, her previous owner. The beautiful ballad “When She Loved Me” follows, written by Randy Newman and performed by Sarah McLachlan. This is what sets the stage for every Pixar moment that has ever made you cry. No Jessie, no Sulley saying goodbye to Boo. No Jessie, no barracuda. No Jessie, no Eve awakening Wall-E. No Jessie, no Ellie. And of course, no Jessie, no Andy going to college. In what seems like an intricately-designed master plan, the key themes of Toy Story 2 segue seamlessly into the heart of Toy Story 3, which would not be put into production until 2006. The flow is perfect. After conceptualizing about Andy growing up, Toy Story 3 not only shows us that reality, but gives us the real-time gap it takes from Andy to grow from age 7 to age 17. If you didn’t know any better, Toy Story 2 would have you think Pixar already had the script for Toy Story 3 finalized when Toy Story 2 released. It’s a brilliant example of Pixar storytelling.
But that’s another (toy) story for another day, and one we’ll delve into even deeper later in the Pixar Rewind. No, Toy Story 2 isn’t afraid to go beyond the surface level we expect it to stay emotionally, but that doesn’t mean it’s a sad film. When it envelops the audience in its intricacies, it does so in a way that always ends with a positive reflection of how we can better our own selves (perhaps by appreciating the time that is in front of us rather than worrying about uncontrollable events in the future) rather than just making us cry for no reason. Additionally, Toy Story 2 follows what I like to frame as the three stages of a great trilogy. First, the introduction that sets the rules of this new world. Second, the return that builds upon that familiar world by showing us things we never discovered before. In this second act, we have wiggle room to have fun. We may know that the end is approaching, but for now we’re just glad to be back. However, we don’t get lazy. We still grow. There is still purpose. Finally, the third act, the conclusion, wraps everything up in a way that still continues to layer depth but also makes us grateful to have spent time in this story’s flourishing environment. These guidelines aren’t an expert’s perspective or golden rules; they’re just observations I feel make a trilogy special, and the Toy Story trilogy adheres to them finitely.
Specifically with Toy Story 2, we have depth, but it’s laced with fun. This is the time to really just soak in spending time with this cast. The final 20 minutes of the movie are Pixar genius. If I need a laugh, this is my go-to pick-me-up. The Zurg battle in the elevator, the cameo from the aliens, the chase through the city inside the Pizza Planet truck, and finally the journey backstage at the airport make for an exciting and hilarious climax. Every character is in his or her element, thriving wonderfully and scripted to perfection. This sequence would not be as effective as it is if the series up until this point did not work carefully to form a personal investment between the audience and the characters.
Toy Story 2 hits all the right notes, and then some. I distinctly remember popping in the new DVD release of the film in 2005. As Wheezy belted out the closing refrain of “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” in the finale as Woody and Buzz looked on, after just discussing Andy’s imminent growing up, I remember feeling quite sentimental. At that point, there was going to be no Toy Story 3, and I was sad that I’d never have the chance to return to this world that meant so much to me and many others who, like Andy, would grow up, and I’d never get to see that happen. We all know what happened next, and I’m glad it did.
Check this out: Animation Addicts Episode 34: Toy Story 2—British Invasion
Previous Pixar Rewinds:
Is ‘Toy Story 2’ your favorite Pixar film? How does it stack up compared to its ‘Toy Story’ siblings?
Edited by: Kelly Conley