Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi The Toys Are Back in Town

By Devin D. O'Leary

DECEMBER 7, 1999:  What are the holidays without a bunch of toys? Would Christmas ever really count as Christmas if somebody didn't get loaded down with toys from Santa? What better gift for the holidays, then, to receive a sequel to the smash animated hit Toy Story?

Mouse mogul Disney has re-teamed with computer animation innovator Pixar to deliver Toy Story 2, a rousing, riotously funny follow-up to their 1995 effort. Whereas the original dazzled with its fantastic, fluid computer-generated animation, Toy Story 2 stands firmly on its action-packed storyline, its clever array of joke material and its top-flight, star-studded voice cast. Make no mistake -- the original was a fine piece of filmmaking as well, but there was still a strong eye-candy factor to the groundbreaking graphics. It wasn't until several hours after seeing Toy Story 2 that I even remembered, "Oh yeah, that was done on a computer." For the most part, viewers will be hard pressed to even notice they're watching a cartoon, so engrossing and thoroughly enjoyable is the world presented in Toy Story 2.

All the original toy box favorites are back this time (with the addition of a few new friends). High-tech space toy Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen, doing his best work) and low-tech pullstring cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks at his "Aw, shucks" finest) now co-exist happily in the bedroom of their benevolent young owner Andy. Mr. Potato Head, Slinky Dog, Rex and Hamm are all here as well, happily enjoying their playtime lives. Unfortunately, old Woody is starting to show his age. A near-fatal shoulder rip relegates Woody to the Broken Toy Shelf for the remainder of the summer and prevents him from attending Cowboy Camp with his beloved owner. A dreaded garage sale rouses Woody from his depressed stupor, though, and he is soon called upon to mount a daring rescue operation to save other broken toys from the ignominy of the 25-cent box.

Unfortunately, in the midst of his front-yard derring-do, Woody is snatched up by greedy toy collector Al McWhiggen (voxed by "3rd Rock From The Sun"/"Seinfeld" alum Wayne Knight) who recognizes the aging plaything as a valuable antique. Now it's up to Buzz Lightyear and the rest of Andy's toys to rescue Woody before he's sold off to a toy museum in Japan.

While Buzz and his plastic posse navigate the treacherous streets of downtown, Woody discovers his roots after being reunited with the other toy spin-offs from his 1950s kiddy show "Woody's Roundup." (The Howdy-Doody-like inserts of Woody's old marionette show are some of the brightest highlights in Toy Story 2.) We get to meet Woody's female equivalent, Jessie (voiced in high style by Joan Cusack), a horse called Bullseye and a crusty old prospector named Stinky Pete (Kelsey Grammer). Seems these classic toys have been in the cold, dark world of storage for a very long time and have just been awaiting the arrival of a Woody doll so the collection can be complete. Woody, of course, wants nothing to do with this and tries desperately to escape the clutches of evil Al so he can return to Andy's house.

Toy Story 2's rescue plot affords plenty of opportunities for breathless action, and the kids in the audience won't be left bored for even a second. The script (by original Oscar-nominated Toy Story scribbler Andrew Stanton and a slew of other contributors) crafts even better jokes than those in the original. Like the best Disney flicks, there are two levels to the humor -- slapsick gags for the kiddies and winking pop cultural references for the adults. Both are hilarious.

Dramatically, Toy Story 2 touches on some surprisingly weighty toy-based issues. The whole concept of toys getting old, breaking down and falling apart is heavily stressed. Any adult who can maintain a set of dry eyes while singer Sarah McLachlan performs her weepy tribute to long-lost toys tossed aside at the close of puberty is a flintheart indeed. The idea that toys exist to be loved and to be played with -- not to be collected, hoarded and hidden away unopened -- is a lesson that can't be stressed enough for today's Beanie Baby-crazed, money-hungry audiences, young or old.

Toy Story 2 is one of those rare sequels that successfully surpasses what was a great original to begin with. Go see it now with your favorite kid -- or, better yet, your favorite old toy!

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