The following is our original review published upon the theatrical release of this film back in 1999.
In the world of movies, sequels and their progressively increasing numeric siblings are more often than not the equivalent of the ugly stepsister. Usually created in an attempt to make some money off audiences' memories of the original film without regard to artistic merit, such films usually only recycle material from their predecessor.
Thus, there's usually little thought of creating an imaginative or entertaining picture or any concern of tainting the original. Of course, there are exceptions to that rule and films such as "The Godfather: Part II" and "The Empire Strikes Back" prove that some sequels can be as good or even better than the films that spawned them.
Now you can add "Toy Story 2" to that small, but illustrious grouping. Based on the groundbreaking 1995 about toys actually being sentient characters that lead their own lives in their own universe whenever their owners or other adults aren't around, this sequel is about as entertaining and enjoyable as one could imagine any film -- sequel or not -- being.
While the original "Toy Story" was notable for being the first entirely computer-generated, full length feature (not to mention the third highest grossing animated film of all time behind "The Lion King" and "Aladdin"), that bit of trivia was superseded by and in favor of a tremendously compelling and entertaining yarn with truly delineated characters the audience loved and thus rooted for.
Director John Lasseter (along with co-directors Lee Unkrich and Ash Brannon) and the rest of the folks at Pixar Animation Studios have long known that's the secret of making a good movie. Whereas live action filmmakers have real performers with built-in emotions and expressions -- except for some of the more wooden ones who we won't publicly humiliate -- the technology happy personnel at Pixar cut their teeth on animating inanimate objects and giving them tons of personality.
One only has to look at one of their earlier (and Oscar nominated) animated shorts, "Luxo, Jr." to see evidence of that. A two minute or so short featuring an "adult" desk lamp watching a "juvenile" one playing with a ball demonstrated a surprising amount of character depth -- especially considering that both lamps were realistic in that they had no facial features whatsoever -- as well as personality that doesn't normally radiate from such objects.
That, of course, paved the way for a succession of increasingly impressive computer generated shorts, as well as the original "Toy Story," 1998's "A Bug's Life" and now the wonderful shenanigans and utter fun found in this film.
Unlike many plot-deficient films that rely on a high-concept story idea, marquee names or special effects to carry them, this one puts the most emphasis -- despite the many astounding visual effects -- on telling a decent story with interesting and likeable characters. The result is easily one of the best films of the year and one that will surely delight audiences of all ages.
While the first film had the chore of introducing the basic premise and characters and then telling its story, the second easily could have been like most sequels and simply retreaded what occurred in the original. Fortunately, Oscar-nominated screenwriter Andrew Stanton (who collaborated in penning the first film), along with fellow scribes Rita Hsiao ("Mulan") and Doug Chamberlin & Chris Webb ("Casper II," "Small Soldiers II") have fashioned what could be called "The New Adventures of Woody & Buzz."
While there's nothing too complex about their story, it zips along at a fast and audience pleasing fashion (clocking in at less than 90 minutes), has plenty of funny and some actual touching moments, and enough rousing adventure for several films.
It also contains some great inside film jokes/references. From Rex the nervous tyrannosaur in an inspired "Jurassic Park" moment to a cameo by the title character from Pixar's Oscar-winning short, "Geri's Game" and a great "Star Wars" bit that will surely bring down the house every time it plays, the film is filled with many delightful treasures.
Along with the impressive computer animation that turned well-known and some new toys into real, but still toy-like characters, the voices inside them were what made "Toy Story" so much fun. Fortunately for this film and audiences worldwide, the star performers who lent their vocal talents to the characters in the original have returned to insure our continued enjoyment of the film, and are just as good the second time around.
From Tom Hanks ("Saving Private Ryan," "Forrest Gump") to Tim Allen ("The Santa Clause," TV's "Home Improvement") and the new vocal work by Joan Cusack ("In & Out," "Working Girl") and Kelsey Grammar (TV's "Frasier" and "Cheers"), the characters benefit greatly from the performers voicing them.
Joining them are returning voices from Don Rickles, Jim Varney, John Ratzenberger and my favorite, Wallace Shawn as Rex, among many others. Meanwhile, Wayne Knight ("Jurassic Park," TV's "Seinfeld") perfectly embodies a character appropriately fashioned after the various characters he's played in his career.
Performer/composer Randy Newman (who received two Oscar nominations for the first film) also returns and delivers a new version of the favorite "You've Got a Friend in Me" (performed by Robert Goulet) as well as a truly touching song, "When She Loved Me," performed by Sarah McLachlan, about Jessie the cowgirl's memories of better times with her former owner before she grew up and forgot her toys.
As in Pixar's other cinematic offerings, the computer-generated visuals are quite impressive. While the toys have been purposefully left to look like toys that have come to life, the background work as well as some of the human characters are continually getting far more realistic looking. Just as we've noted in our reviews for each subsequent computer-animated film, the effects progressively get better and it's only a matter of time (perhaps a decade or so and maybe less) before realistic, computer-spawned human characters start replacing the flesh and blood variety.
Until then, tremendous films like this one will have to suffice, but that's clearly not meant as a lowly compromise or critique. As highly entertaining, imaginative and enjoyable as you could wish for any film to be, whether as an original, a sequel, a computer-generated one or a live-action version, this is a rare case of a sequel being equally as good and possibly even better than its predecessor.