Toy Story 2
While acknowledging the technical achievement of the first "Toy Story," I wasn't a fan, for a couple of reasons: One was that in spite of the title's promise, there wasn't much of a story. Just a few chases strung together, only one of which -- the rocket -- was witty enough to hold our interest. And then, technically the film's color palette was limited. Colors were thin, and the range from true black to white was more like the narrow scale of early color television.
But now, three years farther on, John Lasseter and his group at Pixar have done everything right. First, the story is richer, deeper, both wittier and sadder than the original, because this is now a story of growth into understanding that life is not forever; that if we (in this case the toys) do not seize life and accept ultimate death (in this case being discarded as their child-owners grow up) they will never live at all. Second, there are more jokes, both physical and verbal, than before, including two brilliantly realized moments -- one at the opening, a takeoff on "Star Wars," with Buzz Lightyear trying to defeat Emperor Zurg (who becomes a running gag of sorts, with a great "Star Wars" payoff at the end), and the second a delicious sendup of every Barbie you've ever known, including a great dance number by Randy Newman -- that alone are worth the price of admission.
And it's all made better because technically this film puts the first one to shame. The color palette is broader, the colors themselves are much more deeply saturated, and the action is astoundingly perfect. Each toy is beautifully defined, both visually and by script and voice. Their movements, and the very inventive chases and physical actions, from tumbling over each other in fights and games, to crossing avenues under orange traffic cones, to registering a great range of emotions through facial expressions and body language, are extraordinary. Oddly, the humans -- Andy and his family, and the near-villain Al McWhiggin of Al's Toy Barn -- are still not quite there as people. They still waddle mechanically, Pinocchio-like jointed wood models, rather than walking, moving, or running more naturally.
The story, though hardly original, is well laid out. Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) is mistakenly left out at a yard sale and stolen by Al, a crooked toy-shop owner who has collected Woody memorabilia ever since the height of Woody's fame back in the 1950s, when he had his own (black and white) television show called 'Woody's Roundup.' The other toys, led by Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) set out in pursuit, to bring Woody back. But while Woody is at Al's place, he sees and is flattered by all the goodies of his early life, and learns that Al has sold the whole group of show people and toys (including Jessie the cowgirl (Joan Cusack) and Pete the Prospector (Kelsey Grammer) to a Japanese toy museum.
And now the existential question comes: Woody can live forever, behind glass, at the museum -- or he can be rescued by the gang and live only a while with Andy. Newman has contributed a beautiful song here for Jessie, where she longs for the life she had with her little-girl owner, before she was collected by Al. It deepens the film and by contrast makes the comedy even sharper. The writers have added some unexpected but logical complications, so that there's even a bit of a catharsis by the end. And when was the last time you saw that in a computer-generated film?