Toy Story 2 surpasses the original movie with improved animation

Sequels usually are not better than the original films. It seems to be a fundamental rule of Hollywood.

Every now and then, a sequel will equal the quality of its predecessor. Toy Story 2 (Disney) does more than attain the same level of creativity and quality of the original – it surpasses it.

The animation of the film, which is integral to the success of any Disney product, is close to the best that has ever been done in American cinema. Pixar, the subdivision of Disney responsible for its computer animation, has come a long way during the four years since Toy Story and has even improved since last year’s A Bug’s Life. The company always does a fantastic job in animating non-humans, but real people conspicuously were missing from the original Toy Story. With his black eyes and lack of body hair, Sid, the human that received the most screen time in the first movie, was not detailed.

But in Toy Story 2, Sid is not a factor. The toys have moved away, and the new villain in this film is Al, (Wayne Knight, Seinfeld) a toy collector who steals Woody (Tom Hanks, Saving Private Ryan) in order to sell him for a profit. From his perpetual five o’clock shadow to the sweat that forms on his brow when he’s nervous, Al is a monument to perfection and reality in animation. His character seems as if it was modeled after Knight, and the role is similar to the actor’s part in Jurassic Park.

There are improvements in the animation since the first film. Buster, the dog Andy received at the end of the original, is much better done than Rex was in the original. Andy’s mom (Laurie Metcalf, Norm) now gets a full-body treatment after a legs only cameo in the previous film. Bigger isn’t necessarily always better, but in this film it definitely is. There are more characters, namely Stinky Pete the Prospector (Kelsey Grammer, Frasier) and Jessie (Joan Cusack, Runaway Bride).

Stinky Pete and Jessie, along with an adorable horse named Bullseye, are the members of Woody’s roundup gang. The gang is based on a fictitious 1950s television show. Al steals Woody to complete the set, hoping to sell it to a Japanese museum. Supporting Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen, Home Improvement) in his quest to rescue Woody from Al’s clutches are the supporting characters from the first film, including Rex (Wallace Shawn, Clueless), Ham (John Ratzenberger, Cheers), Slinky Dog (Jim Varney, Ernest Goes to Jail), and Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles, Casino). Buzz Lightyear’s archenemy, Emperor Zurg, also makes an appearance in a subplot that involves a hilarious spoof of Star Wars.

The film contains more chase scenes than Toy Story, including the opening scene that should catch every kid’s eye in a few seconds. The entire film is like an 85-minute amusement park ride. It engages, excites and stirs the viewer almost continuously. John Lasseter, the director of both Toy Story films and A Bug’s Life, takes gutsy risks in order to make a number of inside jokes that will entertain the adults as well as kids. When Buzz Lightyear’s wings pop up after his first encounter with Jessie, it is an obvious allusion to more adult behavior. The elderly chess player from the short film before A Bug’s Life makes an appearance as a toy fixer, and that proves to be a masterful move.

The piece de resistance comes about two-thirds of the way through the film. Jessie, in a desperate attempt to keep Woody with his roundup gang instead of going back to Andy, narrates her experience when her owner got older. Through a montage of clips and fadeouts, combined with music from Randy Newman (the singer/piano player from the original film), the audience finds out firsthand the flip side of what it means when children get older, when their playthings are supposed to be alive. Without a single word of dialogue, this children’s film draws more emotion in a three-minute sequence than Music of the Heart does in its entire two hours. After this scene, you will never look at children’s toys the same way again.

Toy Story 2 is a phenomenal movie-going experience. If this kind of quality could be extended to another movie, most viewers will probably want the series to become a trilogy.

Toy Story 2 is playing in theaters.

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