Toy Story 2
Parents should caution: After "Toy Story 2," homes will likely be sprinkled with dust from attic boxes, as favorite playthings of yesteryear are brought out for a joyous reunion.
The children will think you're crazy, but there's nothing wrong with rescuing your GI Joe, Betsy Wetsy, Raggedy Ann or that Optimus Prime Transformer while they look at discarded Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the Furbys they wanted so badly last Christmas.
Such is the feeling evoked by the "Toy Story" sequel, which takes the best parts of the 1995 original and infuses them with new ideas, making for a deeper, more poignant but equally entertaining piece.
The sequel picks up where the first one ended, with cowboy doll Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) and action doll Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen) coexisting peacefully in Andy's bedroom. Traditionally, Woody accompanies Andy to cowboy camp every summer, but an injury leaves the doll behind. Woody then falls into the clutches of a toy collector named Al McWhiggin (voiced by Wayne Knight of Seinfeld) and finds himself across town on a shelf behind glass.
What Woody discovers is that he's actually a collector's item from a 1950's TV show called "Woody's Roundup," which was a hit series until Sputnik turned audiences to astronauts instead of cowboys. ("I know how that feels," Woody says wryly.) Al has been collecting "Woody's Roundup" memorabilia, intending to sell them for top dollar to a museum in Japan. Woody completes a collection of dolls, including cowgirl Jessie (voiced by Joan Cusack), Stinky Pete the Prospector (Kelsey Grammer) and a horse named Bullseye.
As Buzz and the gang venture into the city to find their friend (ingenious touches include Etch-a-Sketching the culprit as a police drawing and crossing a busy intersection under cones), Woody begins to rethink his worth. If he stays, he lives forever behind glass, admired by many but loved by no one. If he leaves, the collection is incomplete; the other figures return to storage. And, as the Prospector points out, it's only a matter of time before Woody is outgrown and discarded. "Do you really think Andy will take you to college -- or his honeymoon?" he asks.
The biggest feat of "Toy Story 2" is that it takes the idea of toys with feelings and presents it in a way both kids and adults will appreciate, never venturing into sugary dregs of sap. A somber flashback, when Jessie recalls the relationship she had with her owner before she was outgrown, is set against Randy Newman's simple "When She Loved Me" and sung with aching wistfulness by Sarah McLachlan.
But the mood manages to stay light, courtesy of the original's raggle-taggle bunch: Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), Rex the dinosaur (Wallace Shawn), Slinky Dog (Jim Varney), and appearances by the little green army men and the three-eyed aliens. John Ratzenberger ("Cheers") is hysterically wry in Cliff Clavin mode voicing Hamm the piggy bank, and even Buzz Lightyear's arrogance and vanity are reprised when another Buzz action figure comes alive and, like the first film, doesn't realize he's a toy.
Of the new additions, the strongest performances come from Estelle Harris ("Seinfeld") as Mrs. Potato Head and Jodi Benson as a tour guide Barbie. The cowboy bunch doesn't register as strongly; though Joan Cusack injects rootin'-tootin' energy as Jessie, one wishes the actress' voice talents were better used.
The directing team of John Lasseter, Lee Unkrich and Ash Brannon take the creative palette of "Toy Story" and extend it into new scenarios of hilarity (toys obsess over beating a Buzz Lightyear Nintendo game) and suspense (a defunct toy must be rescued from a yard sale). It also inserts a few surprises: Look carefully and you'll also see that the toy cleaner bears remarkable likeness to the main character in "Geri's Game," Pixar's Oscar-winning animated short that was shown before "A Bug's Life" last year. There's also homage to a certain sci-fi blockbuster.
But all the gimmicks never get in the way of the theme of "Toy Story 2": the importance of being loved and the bond between friends -- plastic or flesh. It's a remarkably mature children's film, but without the violence or darkness of current kiddie faves. For adults, it harkens not only to memories of Care Bears and Mork dolls, but also the significance of stuffed friends who waited patiently until we came home.
*MPAA rating: G, all ages admitted.
'Toy Story 2'
Tom Hanks: Woody
Tim Allen: Buzz Lightyear
Joan Cusack: Jessie
Kelsey Grammer: Prospector
Don Rickles: Mr. Potato Head
Jim Varney: Slinky Dog
Wallace Shawn: Rex
John Ratzenberger: Hamm
A Disney/Pixar presentation. Director John Lasseter. Screenplay Andrew Stanton, Rita Hsiao, Doug Chamberlin and Chris Webb. Original Story John Lasseter, Pete Docter, Ash Brannon and Andrew Stanton. Producers Helene Plotkin and Karen Robert Jackson. Director of Photography Sharon Calahan. Film Editors Edie Bleiman, David Ian Salter and Lee Unkrich. Production Designer William Cone and Jim Pearson. Music Randy Newman. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.