TOY STORY 2
There is no finer comic filmmaker working today than John Lasseter.
No one better understands how to choreograph an elaborate sight gag; no
one better nails the timing of comic dialogue. He mixes the wild visual
sensibility of the Coen brothers, the anarchic pack-the-margins madness of
the Zucker brothers, and the sly wit/broad buffoonery tag team of the Marx
Brothers. Combine these elements with a genuine warmth and love of
character, and you have one of the closest things we have to a pop culture
genius in American cinema circa 1999.
Incidentally, John Lasseter directs computer-generated films. If you
think that qualification renders such praise moot, shame on you for your
short-sightedness. Movies just don't get much more blissfully,
intelligently entertaining than Toy Story and A Bug's Life,
and I didn't
think it would be possible for a sequel to approach Toy Story's
savvy family filmmaking. Once again, Lasseter has broadened my thinking.
His plaything creations soar again in a story that finds Woody (voice of
Tom Hanks) kidnapped from a yard sale by unscrupulous toy store owner and
collector Al McWhiggin (Wayne Knight). It turns out Woody is a toy
connected to a popular 1950s kiddie television series, and the last item
Big Al needs to complete a set including Woody's gal pal Jessie (Joan
Cusack) and Prospector Stinky Pete (Kelsey Grammer). A future behind glass
in a Tokyo museum awaits Woody unless Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and
company can rescue him.
When you're dealing with a film like Toy Story 2, it's easy to
far too much time talking about the technology and the referrential gags.
Yes, the technology has improved by orders of magnitude even over the
original Toy Story, making human characters like Al an even more
part of the film, and making possible some dizzying, dazzling action
sequences. And yes, you could spend multiple viewings of Toy Story
looking for the inside jokes: Tour Guide Barbie (Jodi Benson) admonishing
passengers bilingually a la Disneyland to "remain seated please" in a toy
car; high-speed channel surfing including Pixar shorts like Tin
Toy and Luxo Jr.; a toy repair expert (Jonathan Harris) whose
the star of the Oscar-winning short Geri's Game; genial pokes at
Tron, Jurassic Park and The Empire Strikes Back. It's
a film that easily could have cruised on its cutting edge, its hipness and the good will of
Lasseter and his writers, fortunately, appear incapable of cruising.
Toy Story soared not because it was revolutionary, but because it
marvelously told film story -- a more human story than 90% of all films
actually involving humans. That human touch continues here, from the
splendid continuing voice characterizations of Woody and Buzz by Tom Hanks
and Tim Allen, to Jessie's mournful recollection of how long it has been
since a child played with her and loved her. The kidnap/rescue structure
of Toy Story 2 may seem familiar, but this film may actually be a
resonant than the original. Leave it to Lasseter to turn a family film
into a meditation on love: Behind the pure entertainment, there's a story
about broken hearts and the risks of potentially transient relationships.
And in front of those themes, there's pure entertainment. The
snippets from old episodes of "Woody's Roundup" are a hiliarious homage to
Howdy Doody; the toys' adventure crossing an intersection while hiding
beneath orange traffic cones approaches Buster Keaton brilliance. It's
true that Toy Story 2 is somewhat busier than the original, with a
many characters to keep up with. Some of the additional story elements
-- like Buzz encountering a na├»ive, fresh-out-of-the-box version of
in the toy store -- are fun but occasionally distracting. This may not be
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