Home > Entertainment > Film
  print button email button

Friday, March 17, 2000

'TOY STORY 2'

To infinity -- and a sequel!


Modern society doesn't offer many rituals or signposts to mark the passage of childhood, but surely one of the defining moments is the day one realizes that G-rated movies are no longer "cool." When the Teletubbies change from iconic to ironic, you've grown up, more or less.

Sure, the people at Disney and other hype machines love to promise "fun for children of all ages," but as everyone over the age of 10 knows, that's about as accurate as Bill Clinton's definitions of sexual intercourse. The issues and tastes of childhood are pretty age-specific, and a kiddie-flick by any other name tastes as super-saccharine sweet.

Since I've babbled to one and all in recent weeks about how "Toy Story 2" is the most irresistible movie they'll see all spring, many of my friends have been wondering if I was suffering from a concussion. They cock an eyebrow and echo my enthusiasm in ironic deadpan. "Toy Story 2"? But I know what's clicking inside their heads: that long-lost voice of an older sibling, sneering, "That's for little kids."

To be honest, when the original "Toy Story" opened in 1994, memories of the similar-sounding Robin Williams' flick "Toys" left me about as eager to view it as a lab rat is to be injected with carcinogenic cosmetics. Finally I saw the film, just to see how far they were pushing the envelope of computer-generated animation. And then, oh my brothers, how I saw the folly of my ways.

For anyone who has yet to see "Toy Story," rent the video, now; it has twice the charm, wit and intelligence of most Hollywood product these days, as well as some wonderfully imaginative gags. The good news is that "Toy Story 2," mirabile dictu, is one of those rare, glorious sequels that not only equals the original, but surpasses it.

Director/writer John Lasseter, and his close collaborator/writer Andrew Stanton, did such a good job at creating strong characters in the first film -- sensitive cowboy-doll Woody (voice by Tom Hanks), jealously attached to Andy, the little boy who owns him and brash spaceman Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), who had a bit of an existential problem with realizing that he was just a toy -- that this time around, they could play off that base, and head straight into the mayhem.

The plot twist of "TS2" is a howler: Woody ends up in a yard sale by mistake, and is stolen by an obnoxious, obese toy collector, who plans on selling Woody to a toy museum in Japan. Buzz springs into action, and forms a toy posse -- comprised of Mr. Potato Head, Slinky Dog, Hamm and Rex the dinosaur -- whose mission is to find Woody and rescue him. To do so they have to surpass many obstacles: a highway, a vast mini-mall of a toy store (where Buzz encounters row upon row of himself) and the escalator shafts of a towering apartment complex, where Buzz's nemesis Evil Zurg makes a Darth Vader-like appearance.

But the question becomes: Does Woody wish to be rescued? In the collector's home, Woody meets his long-lost toy partners, spunky cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack), ornery old prospector Stinky Pete (Kelsey Grammer) and his trusty steed Bullseye. Here Jessie starts to convince him that maybe life in a museum is preferable to being discarded by a child as he gets older. (It's almost embarrassing to note that the handling of such themes as aging, relationships and the meaning of life, aimed at the under-10 set, bears a pathos absent from most Hollywood products targeting the adult market.)

"TS2" does include that old bugbear of children's animated movies, the syrupy ballad (sung here by Sarah McLachlan), but it's not too maudlin, and it's over fast. Those of us too old to find ourselves weeping for unloved toys will still be fully engrossed by the film's comic action sequences, which are equal parts Bugs Bunny and Jackie Chan, a neat blend that hews close to realism before exploding into the plastic possibilities of animation.

Some of these sequences are brilliant, and far more inspired than the repetitive set pieces that lard films like "The Phantom Menace." When Buzz's toy posse attempts to traverse the highway, their various ploys will have you laughing long and hard, but you'll also be wincing as RV tires threaten to pulp Mr. Potato Head: It's visceral beyond belief. Also spare a moment to note the amazing technique on display here: the highway full of speeding vehicles, the detailed city backgrounds and even the grain of the asphalt.

If there's one complaint with "TS2" -- and you knew I'd find one, right? -- it's that the film groans under the weight of the accompanying orgy of merchandizing. Like most films and animation aimed at kids since the 1980s (the post-Smurf era, as it were), "TS2" can seem like a 90-minute commercial for the many dolls and product tie-ins associated with it.

"Toy Story 2" cements Pixar's rep, and puts them at the forefront of animation today, both technically and creatively. But it's unfair to think of this as simply an animated film or a kids' film; this is the best comedy to grace the screens in a long time, period. The only other people even coming close to this standard of excellence are Nick Park and Aardman Animation in the U.K., makers of "Wallace and Gromit." (Look for their first feature-length, "Chicken Run," to debut this summer.) While both Pixar and Aardman are affiliated with bigger studios -- Disney and Dreamworks, respectively -- they both make a point of maintaining their autonomy, an approach which obviously serves them well.

In addition to a standard version playing at theaters nationwide, a digital version of "Toy Story 2" is showing at Yurakucho's Nichigeki Plaza.


Back to Top

About us |  Work for us |  Contact us |  Privacy policy |  Link policy |  Registration FAQ
Advertise in japantimes.co.jp.
This site has been optimized for modern browsers. Please make sure that Javascript is enabled in your browser's preferences.
The Japan Times Ltd. All rights reserved.