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.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

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.

This is very cruel, Oskar. You're giving them hope. You shouldn't do that.

Schindler’s List (1993)
(SPOILERS) Such is the status of Schindler’s List, it all but defies criticism; it’s the worthiest of all the many worthy Best Picture Oscar winners, a film noble of purpose and sensitive in the treatment and depiction of the Holocaust as the backdrop to one man’s redemption. There is much to admire in Steven Spielberg’s film. But it is still a Steven Spielberg film. From a director whose driving impulse is the manufacture of popcorn entertainments, not intellectual introspection. Which means it’s a film that, for all its commendable features, is made to manipulate its audience in the manner of any of his “lesser” genre offerings. One’s mileage doubtless varies on this, but for me there are times during this, his crowning achievement, where the berg gets in the way of telling the most respectful version of this story by simple dint of being the berg. But then, to a great or lesser extent, this is true of almost all, if not all, his prestige pictures.

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

This dog is my Patty Hearst.

Seven Psychopaths (2012)
Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges is one of my favourite films of the past decade, hilarious and profound in equal measure. His follow-up may lack Bruges’ emotional through line, and thus its resonance, but in its own way Seven Psychopaths is just as perfectly formed.

We’re Americans. We read your emails.

Domino (2019)
(SPOILERS) Brian De Palma essentially appears to have disowned his unhappy latest motion picture experience (“I never experienced such a horrible movie set”). He opined that he came in on a script that wasn’t of his own devising (by Petter Skavlan of Kon-Tiki) and did his failing best to apply his unique vision to it. And you can see that vision, occasionally, but more than that you can see unaccustomed cheapness and lacklustre material that likely wouldn’t play no matter how much cash was thrown at it.

There’s nothing stock about a stock car.

Days of Thunder (1990)
(SPOILERS) The summer of 1990 was beset with box office underperformers. Sure-thing sequels – Another 48Hrs, Robocop 2, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, The Exorcist III, even Back to the Future Part III – either belly flopped or failed to hit the hoped for highs, while franchise hopefuls – Dick Tracy, Arachnophobia – most certainly did not ascend to the stratospheric levels of the previous year’s Batman. Even the big hitters, Total Recall and Die Hard 2: Die Harder, were somewhat offset by costing a fortune in the first place. Price-tag-wise, Days of Thunder, a thematic sequel to the phenomenon that was Top Gun, was in their category. Business-wise, it was definitely in the former. Tom Cruise didn’t quite suffer his first misfire since Legend – he’d made charmed choices ever since playing Maverick – but it was a close-run thing.

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013)
(SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.