Skip to main content

I despise that chicken.

Toy Story 2
(1999)

(SPOILERS) Acclaimed as the Pixar high-water mark by many (a high accolade indeed) and one of the best sequels ever made, I’m afraid my response is more along the lines of “Well, yes, it is good, but…” Rotten Tomatoes can’t be wrong, though, with 100% fresh and an average rating of 8.67 out of 10. There’s not much nuance to a straight positive, however, and Toy Story 2, while raved over for its thematic depth and nuance, is basically more of the same, just more polished.

Of course, more of the same is nothing to be sneezed at. In the sequel world, it’s practically de rigueur, with just enough that’s fresh to content audiences seeking the recognisable and familiar. And Toy Story 2 is arguably – since we’re talking toys, commercially available items eliciting child covetousness and selfishness – a superior product to the first one, both technically and in terms of storytelling (if a little less sleek in the latter respect; this is the point where even animations begin getting longer and longer).

Perhaps part of the reason I’m resistant to these movies to a degree is the character of Woody, an essentially sentimental, nostalgic creation, and an unlikely one at that; the idea that a kid should be attached to a crappy old toy from the ‘50s/60s is very much an adult one, making that adult a formerly rare child, possibly the kind who grows up to become an animator and is shamed for acting creepily towards his female co-workers. Even the pictures’ recognition of the need to face up to passing time and built-in-obsolescence is basically mawkish (yet, antithetically, eventually everything turns out fine for Woody, when he’d obviously have been thrown out or abandoned long ago for a much cooler toy).

This was, famously, originally going to be direct-to-video affair (Disney exerting a sequel right they had in the original deal) and one not involving Pixar’s main team, who were busy with A Bug’s Life; Lasseter wasn’t happy with the results and committed to a retooled movie, embarking on an accelerated production schedule to meet the release date (Disney had already decided on a theatrical run by that point).

Which may explain – although perhaps not, since Toy Story 3 does almost the same thing – why the plot is pretty much the first one reduxed, but instead of Buzz ending up in the clutches of an evil child, Woody is purloined by Wayne Knight’s Al McWhiggin, of Al’s Toy Barn, intent on adding him to his valuable Woody’s Roundup Collection and shipping him off to Japan to be put in a toy museum. Cue much, slightly rancid, discussion of a toy’s ideal lot (to be played with, rather than left on the shelf, possibly a metaphor for leading an ephemerally productive, purposeful life as a good hardworking citizen who knows their place; notably, Stinky Pete’s vision of decadently living for ever – the toy equivalent of the elite? – is to be ultimately spurned).

Certainly, this plotline is both the emotional core of Toy Story 2 and very slightly a chore. Cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack) is introduced – at the behest of Mrs Lasseter, telling John he needed a strong female character – and is unfortunately on the annoying side (which might be the first time I’ve found Cusack annoying in anything), and the picture stops dead in its tracks for the latest Randy Newman composition (poor Jessie was given away by her former owner).

On the other hand, almost everything involving Buzz and the gang tracking down Woody is gleefully inventive, inspiring an avalanche of gags, from Buzz encountering his oblivious-to-his-artifice double (with added utility belt) to his (their) pursuit by Emperor Zurg. Hamm (“Boy, I seriously doubt he’s getting this kind of mileage” he comments of an appropriated automobile) and Rex are the highlight supporting toys again, while Estelle Harris (like Knight, then appearing in Seinfeld) is a welcome and distinctive vocal presence as Mrs Potato Head.

And the grand climax is undeniably superb, Buzz and co first attempting to locate Woody’s suitcase in a maze of airport conveyor belts and followed by the freed Woody executing a daring rescue of Jessie on a plane barrelling towards take-off. Toy Story 2 is superior to Toy Story, then, but it’s also very much a variation on the same. Indeed, I know I’m not their principle audience, but the trilogy rather blended into one before this revisit, which is surely a sign that they’re doing something not quite right somewhere.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989)
(SPOILERS) There’s Jaws, there’s Star Wars, and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy, to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “mainly boring”.

Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the system when Burton did it (even…

I'm reliable, I'm a very good listener, and I'm extremely funny.

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
(SPOILERS) When I wrote my 23 to see in 2019, I speculated that James Cameron might be purposefully giving his hand-me-downs to lesser talents because he hubristically didn’t want anyone making a movie that was within a spit of the proficiency we’ve come to expect from him. Certainly, Robert Rodriguez and Tim Miller are leagues beneath Kathryn Bigelow, Jimbo’s former spouse and director of his Strange Days screenplay. Miller’s no slouch when it comes to action – which is what these movies are all about, let’s face it – but neither is he a craftsman, so all those reviews attesting that Terminator: Dark Fate is the best in the franchise since Terminator 2: Judgment Day may be right, but there’s a considerable gulf between the first sequel (which I’m not that big a fan of) and this retcon sequel to that sequel.

So you want me to be half-monk, half-hitman.

Casino Royale (2006)
(SPOILERS) Despite the doubts and trepidation from devotees (too blonde, uncouth etc.) that greeted Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond, and the highly cynical and low-inspiration route taken by Eon in looking to Jason Bourne's example to reboot a series that had reached a nadir with Die Another Day, Casino Royale ends up getting an enormous amount right. If anything, its failure is that it doesn’t push far enough, so successful is it in disarming itself of the overblown set pieces and perfunctory plotting that characterise the series (even at its best), elements that would resurge with unabated gusto in subsequent Craig excursions.

For the majority of its first two hours, Casino Royale is top-flight entertainment, with returning director Martin Campbell managing to exceed his excellent work reformatting Bond for the ‘90s. That the weakest sequence (still good, mind) prior to the finale is a traditional “big” (but not too big) action set piece involving an attempt to…

You guys sure like watermelon.

The Irishman aka I Heard You Paint Houses (2019)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps, if Martin Scorsese hadn’t been so opposed to the idea of Marvel movies constituting cinema, The Irishman would have been a better film. It’s a decent film, assuredly. A respectable film, definitely. But it’s very far from being classic. And a significant part of that is down to the usually assured director fumbling the execution. Or rather, the realisation. I don’t know what kind of crazy pills the ranks of revered critics have been taking so as to recite as one the mantra that you quickly get used to the de-aging effects so intrinsic to its telling – as Empire magazine put it, “you soon… fuggadaboutit” – but you don’t. There was no point during The Irishman that I was other than entirely, regrettably conscious that a 75-year-old man was playing the title character. Except when he was playing a 75-year-old man.

The more you drive, the less intelligent you are.

Repo Man (1984)
In fairness, I should probably check out more Alex Cox’s later works. Before I consign him to the status of one who never made good on the potential of his early success. But the bits and pieces I’ve seen don’t hold much sway. I pretty much gave up on him after Walker. It seemed as if the accessibility of Repo Man was a happy accident, and he was subsequently content to drift further and further down his own post-modern punk rabbit hole, as if affronted by the “THE MOST ASTONISHING FEATURE FILM DEBUT SINCE STEVEN SPIELBERG’S DUEL” accolade splashed over the movie’s posters (I know, I have a copy; see below).

This popularity of yours. Is there a trick to it?

The Two Popes (2019)
(SPOILERS) Ricky Gervais’ Golden Globes joke, in which he dropped The Two Popes onto a list of the year’s films about paedophiles, rather preceded the picture’s Oscar prospects (three nominations), but also rather encapsulated the conversation currently synonymous with the forever tainted Roman Catholic church; it’s the first thing anyone thinks of. And let’s face it, Jonathan Pryce’s unamused response to the gag could have been similarly reserved for the fate of his respected but neglected film. More people will have heard Ricky’s joke than will surely ever see the movie. Which, aside from a couple of solid lead performances, probably isn’t such an omission.

Look, the last time I was told the Germans had gone, it didn't end well.

1917 (2019)
(SPOILERS) When I first heard the premise of Sam Mendes’ Oscar-bait World War I movie – co-produced by Amblin Partners, as Spielberg just loves his sentimental war carnage – my first response was that it sounded highly contrived, and that I’d like to know how, precisely, the story Mendes’ granddad told him would bear any relation to the events he’d be depicting. And just why he felt it would be appropriate to honour his relative’s memory via a one-shot gimmick. None of that has gone away on seeing the film. It’s a technical marvel, and Roger Deakins’ cinematography is, as you’d expect, superlative, but that mastery rather underlines that 1917 is all technique, that when it’s over and you get a chance to draw your breath, the experience feels a little hollow, a little cynical and highly calculated, and leaves you wondering what, if anything, Mendes was really trying to achieve, beyond an edge-of-the-seat (near enough) first-person actioner.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.