When I first heard that Pixar was going to be making a sequel to Toy Story, I was pissed. Even at the tender young age of eleven, I knew that sequels were almost always terrible and after holding Toy Story in such high esteem, I couldn't bear the thought of some new movie coming along and ruining it.
Luckily, I'm happy to report that younger me was a cynical dumb dumb whose fears were unfounded. Because while Toy Story 2 isn't perfect, it's a pretty solid film and more than deserves to share a name with its illustrious predecessor.
The film opens with Rex playing a pretty awesome Buzz Lightyear video game, complete with the evil emperor Zurg. There's a lot of Zurg in this movie, by the way, so hopefully you're a fan.
Woody is getting ready to go to cowboy camp with Andy (Is that a thing that boys did in the 90s? I didn't have brothers so I don't know these things), but on the eve of his departure, he gets a tear in his arm stitching and is relegated to the top shelf with all the boring books and dumb board games.
"I'm sorry, honey, but you know toys don't last forever," Andy's mom says. And thus Woody becomes suddenly and painfully aware of his own mortality. So what was the over/under on the horribly depressing, super kid-friendly themes? Ten minutes?
And that's what the whole movie is about, really. Toys don't last forever, and neither do relationships or anything, when you think about it. But does the fact that things end make them not worth experiencing at all?
Woody faces a major crossroads in this film. He can go back to Andy's house with the other toys and enjoy the few fleeting years of Andy's childhood, not knowing when Andy will grow out of playing with cowboy dolls or what will happen to him when he does. Or he can go to Japan with Jessie and the rest of the Round Up gang, spending eternity in a toy museum, where he will be admired by thousands of children but played with by none. One offers love with an almost certain expiration date, while the other protects his heart but forces him to abandon his owner. Which will he choose?
Well, obviously he chooses Andy, otherwise this would be a pretty demoralizing children's movie. But it isn't an easy decision for him, and that's in large part due to the epic sob story that Jessie lays on him. Because I'm a terrible person, I'm just going to go ahead and leave this here.
This sequence with Jessie and her former child Emily is right up there with Up in terms of how much it punches you in the heart. I tried to get through it, stony-faced. After all, I'm an adult. I eat salads and have legitimate conversations about the value of HSAs, I don't cry at cartoons. Apparently what I do is curl up into a ball and SOB at them. Right from the part where she falls off the bed, I'm just done for. Who let this scene happen? Why is Sarah McLaughlin constantly trying to emotionally manipulate me?
There are a lot of things that Toy Story 2 does right. Joan Cusack is just heartbreaking as Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl -- her abandonment issues and terror at the idea of being put back in storage give the film a lot of depth, and really show audiences their first glimpse at the darker side of a toy's life.
It's a tremendous amount of fun to see our main cast of toys leave Andy's room and interact with the rest of the world, especially once they get to the toy store. I love that they included a second Buzz Lightyear toy, just to show us how much Buzz has changed since he was first given to Andy. And of course, Wayne Knight plays a perfectly disgusting human being. That's not the first time I've said that, and I doubt it will be the last.
Toy Story 2 isn't perfect. If I had the choice I probably would have thrown out the Zurg storyline -- it feels like a plot device to get rid of the second Buzz once they didn't need him anymore, and it wasn't necessary. If I'm remembering correctly, this movie also ushered in the trend of ending a non-musical film with a cheesy musical number, an innovation for which I would like to punch it in its stupid face. But despite all of this, Toy Story 2 is what few people at the time thought was possible: a worthy sequel to the groundbreaking original Toy Story.