other books (ages 4-8):
World and Characters of Toy Story
Remember that box of old comic books and baseball cards and Star Wars action figures you had stashed up in your parents’ attic? You know, that useless crap your mother threw out the first week you were away at college – the useless crap you could trade for a house in the Hamptons if you still had it today? Well, the gang at Pixar Animation remembers, and in their new sequel to the 1995 smash Toy Story, they’re out to avenge all those forgotten pop culture artifacts of yesteryear.
Toy Story 2 opens with a dizzying jolt as intergalactic hero Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen) dodges all manner of peril en route to a face-off with his arch-enemy, Emperor Zurg. This sequence is like a 13-part Republic serial jammed into 90 seconds or less – or, more accurately, like a Playstation videogame, which is what it turns out to be. The "real" Buzz Lightyear is but an action figure, of course, and most of his adventures are confined to the child’s bedroom he shares with Woody the Cowboy (Tom Hanks), Slinky Dog (Jim Varney), and Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles, once again in the role he was born to play).
That all changes when tragedy strikes in the form of a yard sale. Woody, in an attempt to retrieve a discarded penguin named Wheezy, is abducted by a ruthless toy dealer (Wayne Knight, essentially reprising his Newman role from Seinfeld). It seems that Woody is actually a rare collector’s item, the one piece necessary to complete the valuable "Woody’s Roundup" set. Woody is astonished to learn that he was the star of a 50’s puppet show by that name, which featured a full line of retro merchandise, including a soap bubble maker, record player, yo-yo, and Woody’s trusty companions: Jessie the Cowgirl (Joan Cusack), Bullseye the Horse, and Stinky Pete the Prospector (Kelsey Grammer). Stinky Pete has never been removed from his original packaging, and he and the other sidekicks are anxious to be sold to a museum in Japan. They need Woody, however, or the deal is off.
While Buzz and the rest off the toys set off on a rescue mission, Woody is torn between his duty to the rest of the Roundup gang and his desire to return home. Jessie and Stinky Pete warn him that childhood is not forever, and if he returns to his owner Andy’s clutches, he will eventually be forgotten – packed away in the attic with the rest of the junk, or worse.
Weighty, existential questions of Toyhood aside, Toy Story 2 is a zippy, clever romp that suffers only from the fact that it has essentially already been made. This won’t bother the majority of its vast potential audience, the kiddies who have already worn out their VHS copies of the original Toy Story. Parents and other older viewers, however, may find themselves glancing at watches during the last half-hour or so. The freshness date has passed on many of the gags, and the Pixar wizards are reduced to such gambits as introducing a second Buzz Lightyear figure in order to recapture the naive bravado the character possessed in the first installment.
Still, the digital animation is more fluid and complex than ever before (right down to the toys’ reflections in the polished hardwood floors). Human characters play a larger role this time out, which proves a mixed blessing. There’s something vaguely creepy about them, particularly the toy magnate Al – an unsettling mix of photorealism and cartoon exaggeration. This may be an area worthy of further exploration – in the unlikely event that Pixar and Disney are ready to leave the toys behind.