The first Toy Story film introduced us to a new perception of a world that we already saw as familiar, but with that ground having been gotten out of the way a return to the same characters four years later in Toy Story 2 introduces yet another philosophy to come forward in regards to what one’s purpose truly is to make others feel happy. But even as the animation itself has improved thanks to years of practice clearly having given the film a more refined look, Toy Story 2 also shows itself to be a sequel with more ambition to explore the meaning of what hanging onto the memories of defining the best moments of one’s childhood can also feel like. And so when talking about the scope of the ambition present in Toy Story 2, there comes a greater emphasis on what soon becomes one of Pixar’s best qualities – for a far more emotionally challenging journey comes around, but still retaining everything that made its predecessor every bit as wonderful. With Pixar’s continued string of success in mind, not only does Toy Story 2 still find itself easily ranking as one of their best films but perhaps one of the greatest animated sequels of all time, let alone one of the best sequels in general ever made.
The toys have now settled into their new home, and after a day of playtime, Andy shelves Woody after a tear on his arm before he heads out to cowboy camp. But after trying to save a fellow shelved toy from being sold off at a yard sale, Woody is later stolen by the toy collector Al, who plans to sell him off to a Japanese toy museum together with the rest of a group of toys also based on a television show in which Woody was the main star. This soon leaves Woody to contemplate what more is he really meant for, when he can be beloved by many and remain a permanent part of the world’s memory or if he is happy enough still satisfying Andy as is – while his friends are all staging their own rescue. With more characters being added to the game, Toy Story 2 isn’t only building up its imaginative concept all the more but a new look at the philosophy set up for the world set forward in its predecessor comes into light. Nevertheless, it also perfectly sets up one of Pixar’s best qualities in their future films – that being their ability to craft emotionally rewarding journeys that still resonate in our memories, but as the years passed, Toy Story 2 also takes on an approach that matures the arcs of those who’ve already stuck with us as their world continues expanding.
While still retaining every bit of the cleverness from its predecessor’s own sense of humour, Toy Story 2 shows a more contemplative take on what it’s like to see everything from the toys’ eyes. In their mind, you already know that what they desire most is to be played with and loved by children, but as Woody meets the Roundup Gang for the first time in Al’s apartment, we also hear different experiences of what it had felt like to be a toy coming into light, bringing yet another viewpoint into light. Jessie shares a story of how she had another child whom she could always make happy, but there came a point in which her owner had to grow up, and eventually abandoned her. In this moment, accompanied by “When She Loved Me” by Sarah MacLachlan (probably the best song that Randy Newman has ever written for the Toy Story films too), you can already feel something sorrowful arising – thinking back about a happy moment in your past, coming back to remind you about how sad it is to have moved on from that phase of your life too. It’s a moment that comes by like a memory of a friend you knew long ago, passing by so quickly no matter how long you want to stick to it. The nostalgia that Pixar brings you back to in a moment like this reminds us how important these experiences are to our worldview, for they’re also how we form greater connections with everyone else we meet along the way.
Although Jessie’s own story, as heartbreaking as it is, can steal the spotlight in that sense, it’s important to consider the Prospector’s point of view as well – he once was a toy who sought nothing more than to be played with by a child because he never had one of his own either. He watched every other toy on the shelf get sold, but he was left reclusive and dealing with rejection, all he seeks is for a means of being beloved. But as much of an impact as he manages to leave behind in his villainous role in the film, there’s nevertheless a whole lot to admire about the ways in which Pixar have created their villains by nature here onward. The Prospector has been dealing with rejection for all his life, after having been the butt of the joke for so long through his life especially on the show, with this having played a crucial part in his own philosophy on what being a toy means. But there’s also Al’s possessive nature of toys that would have meant a lot to someone so long ago, because he’s only interested in their monetary value. He runs his own business from parting with these materials only for the purpose of making money off of them, rather than wanting to preserve them for their own sentimental value. In a sense it’s eerily mirrored what many people who have grown up on the films would turn out – everyone ultimately feeding into a capitalistic world, trying to find a spot in the system, but what’s in it for a toy who just wants to help children form the defining memories of their youth?
It all comes clear in where the new adventure for Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and all the other members of the gang bring themselves on board for. And while the first Toy Story stayed so small in scale, seeing the toys interact with a much bigger world in more ways than ever, whether it be from tasks that would be as simple as crossing the road (for humans at least) or even heading into an airport, you’re also seeing far more attachment to these characters than ever. But even then, the way small details add up to greater portions that make up the whole journey, whether it be running gags like Rex’s desire to defeat Zurg after the incredible opening sequence, or even Buzz Lightyear’s self-awareness following his accustoming into his new life as a toy rather than an actual space ranger, it’s nice to see that Pixar placed great care into making each member of this gang play into something significant because of how the story was only set to grow over time, just like your own nostalgia for these toys. It’s something that’ll forever be rooted in your mind, but as time passes by for each of us we must let them grow and we’ll be even more attached than ever, because we want to grasp onto what we have left of our youth before it completely eludes us.
There’s no denying how important a part in one’s life the Toy Story films would play if they grew up on them, and Toy Story 2 does the most it can to grasp onto the scope of that too. If anything, what’s most admirable about Toy Story 2 is the way in which the franchise has been allowed to grow in the years that have passed since, first with the improved technology giving more attention to detail than ever but also in how its own message can be taken by viewers who have already formed an attachment thanks to the first Toy Story, or even newcomers to the series too. And although I will say that my personal favourite of the series still happens to be the first, given what it manages to accomplish for its simplicity and small scope, Toy Story 2 isn’t only a perfect showcase of what Pixar is like at their best but it’s also reaffirmation for the importance that these movies have upon the world as we continue growing up. We’ll only ponder to ourselves about what our memories mean to us as we grow older, but sometimes we’ve underestimated the meaning too in a world that’s too big for all of us to handle. As far as animated sequels go, Toy Story 2 is perfect in all the right ways, just like its predecessor.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
Directed by John Lasseter
Screenplay by Andrew Stanton, Rita Hsiao, Doug Chamberlin, Chris Webb
Produced by Helene Plotkin, Karen Robert Jackson
Starring Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Kelsey Grammer, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts, Wayne Knight, Estelle Harris, John Morris, Laurie Metcalf, R. Lee Ermey, Jodi Benson
Release Date: November 24, 1999
Running Time: 92 minutes