I don't think it's going too far to call the original "Toy Story" an instant classic - the picture was wildly successful both critically and commercially, and the characters quickly became household names (as did production company Pixar.) So, after a worldwide smash hit that was beloved by fans, creating a second film would seem like a bit of a tall order.
Pixar not only managed to craft a surprisingly solid sequel, they - in many ways - offered a film that many (myself included) thought surpassed the impressive original. This time around, the picture starts with a wonderfully clever opening that has Buzz (voiced by Tim Allen) trying to attempt to defeat his enemy, the emperor Zurg (I won't give away the details.)
Additionally, not only has one of the toys been injured, today's the dreaded day of the yard sale. When Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) attempts a rescue of a toy that's being put up for sale, he finds himself toynapped by a collector (voiced by Wayne Knight) who believes that he's a valuable toy that he'll sell to a museum.
What follows is an epic journey, starting with an adventure that leads Buzz and the gang across town to the collector's store. Director John Lasseter and the film's screenwriters have crafted a delightful mix of adventure (including one scene crossing the street that reminded me of a moment in Stallone's "Daylight"), laughs and emotional moments. The second film also has a zippier pace and a stronger visual style, as well as some classic minor gags and little details.
Once again, Pixar has also brought out the best of the voice cast - while Allen and Hanks are terrific, Joan Cusack is at her best as Jesse The Cowgirl, another doll who Woody is introduced to by the Prospector (Kelsey Grammer), who informs Woody of his past. Cusack's key scene is "Jesse's Song", which still stands as one of the most moving moments of the "Story" films.
Again, sequels have rarely surpassed the original and more often fall short. However, "Toy Story 2" more than delivers, boasting a delightful story, further development of the characters and an adventure that's charming, moving and wildly entertaining.
VIDEO: "Toy Story 2" is presented in 1.78:1 (1080p/AVC) by Disney and the results are astonishing. This direct-from-digital transfer - as one might expect - is an absolute reference quality effort from the studio. Clarity and detail are dazzling, as every detail of the CG animation sparkled on this transfer. The picture also showed marvelous depth to the image, as well.
Not surprisingly, the direct-from-digital source material is pristine. Additionally, no edge enhancement, pixelation or noise is seen during the running time. Colors appear richer and deeper than any previous home video edition of the film, looking wonderfully bold and well-saturated. Black level remained strong throughout, as well. Overall, while the prior DVD edition of the film looked quite nice, this is a significant improvement.
SOUND: The film is presented in DTS-HD 5.1. Sound designer Gary Rydstrom and his team do a fantastic job at creating a universe of sounds for these characters to live in, giving additional depth and space to the events and environments in the picture. Surrounds are used consistently throughout the movie and do a very effective job at enveloping the viewer. This is especially evident in scenes like the one where Andy drops the broken Woody, letting him fall into a realm of lost toys, as well as the scene on the elevator with Buzz fighting Zurg. Audio quality was terrific, with punchy, dynamic effects, a rich-sounding score and crystal clear dialogue.
EXTRAS: Commentary: Again, we meet with the Usual Pixar Suspects: director John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich, Ash Brannon are here, and they have a lot of fun again discussing the ways that they went about animating the second feature, and the advancements that were made between the two, such as the introduction of the character of the dog, Buster and the detail that went into animating him. They also chat again here with plenty of amusing details about how they worked together to plan out some of the details of the plot, as well as their inspirations for some of the bits throughout the movie. As with the first commentary, the 4 point out work that other members of the Pixar crew did for a certain scene as well as what it was like to work with the actors who provides the vocals for the characters.
The commentary is both informative and entertaining, with almost no pauses throughout the track. There's even some other fun little bits as the group points out little jokes that the viewer may not have seen on their first time through the picture. A commentary track that's definitely worth a listen, although unfortunately it's not a new track (it's the same commentary as was on the "Ultimate Toy Box" DVD edition.)
Outtakes: A number of extremely funny "outtakes" from the movie that are hilarious, including a "Bug's Life" bit and a letterbox joke from the little aliens, as one of which asks the other if he can be seen in the first movie.
"Making Of" is a fairly short (around 9 minutes) featurette that goes into story details and discusses some of the jumps in technology that were put into play to make the second feature. "Behind the Scenes" is a series of sections that includes "Design" (character galleries and 3D turnarounds, as well as set and color , "Story" (2 storyboard sequences), "Production" ("Designing Woody's Past", "Making Woody's Roundup", "Production Tour", "Production Progression", "Early Animation Tests", "Special Effects" and "International Scene"), "Music and Sound" ("Making the Songs", "Jessie's Song" demo, "Woody's Roundup", "Designing Sound" featurette and "Mixing Demo") and "Publicity" (trailers, TV spots, posters and character interviews.) We also get a "John Lasseter Profile" and "Cast of Characters" featurette.
"The Toy Box" offers the previously mentioned outtakes, "Who's The Coolest Toy?" featurette, "Riders in the Sky" music medley, "Autographed Pictures" and "Ponkickies" (Woody and Buzz's brief clips on a Japanese TV show playing "Rock, Paper, Scissors".) Finally, we get three deleted scenes. Most of this material was found on the "Ultimate Toy Box" edition.
New to this edition of the film are a few additional extra features, starting with a moving dedication to the late Joe Ranft, who was a Pixar animator and voice artist. "Path to Pixar" offers interviews with a group of artists at the studio, who discuss what attracted them to their career. "Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: International Space Station" is a short piece that has the characters discussing the work that astronauts do on the International Space Station.
"Studio Stories" are short animated pieces that show an event during the difficult and intense production of "Toy Story 2". The pieces are: “Toy Story 2 Sleep Deprivation Lab”, “Pinocchio”, and “The Movie Vanishes”. "The Movie Vanishes" is absolutely, utterly horrifying. "Pixar's Zoetrope" is a look at a machine developed by Pixar to demonstrate animation. The featurette also shows off a similar machine developed by Studio Ghibli.
Finally, we get a sneak peak at "Toy Story 3" (as well as a ticket for the upcoming film) and sneak peaks of other titles from the studio.
Final Thoughts: Again, sequels have rarely surpassed the original and more often fall short. However, "Toy Story 2" more than delivers, boasting a delightful story, further development of the characters and an adventure that's charming, moving and wildly entertaining. The Blu-Ray edition offers a few new extra features, along with superior video quality and somewhat improved audio quality. Recommended.
The Film A