For over a decade Pixar has done no wrong. To my mind one of their greatest achievements was proving that you can make a sequel to an animated film without creating low budget, direct-to-video drivel. Toy Story 2 was originally conceived as a home video only release, something of a knee-jerk reflex for the Eisner-era Disney animation studios. Thank goodness John Lasseter and his gang at Pixar had a knack for thinking outside the DVD box and were able to convince the Disney brass that they were up to the task of making a sequel worthy of the big screen.
Toys have a pretty rough life. They get broken, stolen and, worst of all, out-grown. The life they lead when the human world isn’t looking is a pretty exciting one and the adventures started in Toy Story begin anew with Buzz Lightyear and Woody in the lead. When Woody is stolen from his owner by a creepy, fat, toy store owner, Woody discovers that he’s actually a very rare and valuable toy, a relic from an iconic 1950’s children show. Buzz and the gang from Andy’s room set out to rescue their friend but it’s up to Woody to decide whether he wants to return. Should he go back to the boy he loves knowing one day he’ll be outgrown and cast aside, or is it better to go on to a museum where he will be adored from behind glass for generations to come.
Pixar has revived the concept of animation art and taken it further than anyone else has in recent years. Not only do they have a passion for telling fantastic stories that appeal to all ages, they do it with a visual style that goes beyond just making the characters walk around and follow the dialogue. In a Pixar project, movement, facial expressions, and character interactions are moment-to-moment miniature masterpieces. There are so many little details and clever references that you can watch the movie ten times and still discover something new and amusing each time.
Even though the show is more fun than a barrel of monkeys, it exceeds the bounds of being entertaining. Broader than just a movie about a bunch of toys, it touches on the kinds of things we all experience: friendship, fear of change and worrying about being forgotten or left behind. Without plumbing the depths of human emotion like, say, Steel Magnolias, the story still has a lot of heart and the characters are as multi-dimensional as the animation.
A major part of the movie’s success is owed to the fact that so many of the people involved with the first film returned to work on the sequel. Director John Lasseter served as director once more and every single talent from Tom Hanks and Tim Allen right down to Laurie Metcalf (Andy’s Mom) came back to lend their voices . Randy Newman, the man behind the music of Toy Story created yet another brilliant score and a couple of wonderful new songs. So many talented people returning is a testament to the dedication they had to the story and characters and the love shows in the quality of the final product.
Toy Story 2 is a wild ride for anyone of any age. The only requirement is an ability to set aside the part of you that may be stuck in grown-up mode and let yourself revel in a little imagination. A third installation is due out in the near future and without Pixar being involved it’s hard to know if we can expect the same movie magic that came with the first two films. In the meantime, this is an animated treasure to be enjoyed to infinity and beyond.
Disney has always been pretty good at putting together special edition packages and this release is no exception. While it apparently isn’t worthy of being a Platinum, Gold or some other high-label release, this two disc set has been dubbed a “Special Woody’s Round Up Edition” and it’s definitely geared for admiring collectors. Suffice to say, this is a definitive disc release with the latest in sound and video upgrades. Like the movie, it’s great for kids but completely aimed at the grown up crowd as well.
Bonus materials cover just about everything you could hope for: deleted scenes, outtakes, production featurettes, behind the scenes, director and actor interviews, promotional materials…you name it, it’s there. There’s far too much content for me to mention everything (literally hours and hours of extras) so I’ll just hit some of the highlights.
As a total computer animation geek, one of my favorite sections is all about the designs behind the production. Hand-drawn conecpt images and sculptures are paraded across the screen set to the movie’s lively soundtrack. Some of the early design concepts for the charcters are so bizarre that I couldn’t help but wonder what on the earth the artists were thinking. As the designs evolve you slowly see the Woody, Buzz and other characters we’ve come to know and love appear. As a final touch there are 3D rotations of all the final designs for each major character. The greatness doesn’t stop there. Design galleries and 3D tours of the sets, props and color designs are included as well, over half an hour of pure conceptual and final design to revel in.
Director John Lasseter and a small group from his lead creative team offer their insights into the film in a commentary that has a little bit of everything you would expect. They glow about the movie and the voice actors, pat each other on the back, talk about the production process, toss out trivia tidbits and point out nuances and details you might otherwise miss. They’ve got a great sense of humor as well, making for a pleasant, but occasionally trite, commentary experience.
Almost all of the featurettes are broken down short segments which can be viewed individually but thankfully the disc also includes a Play All function for most of the sections. It’s a thoughtful inclusion: DVD button clicking gets old really fast. The menus are a special treat as well. Gone are the over-stimulating menus usually included in Disney packages. These are aimed at a more patient, mature crowd. The menus are simple and easy to navigate and rather boring to begin with. That’s just to keep from getting in your way as your going through everything the first time. Let them sit for a minute and the funnier stuff starts to happen
It may seem like a rather random time for Disney to release this package but no doubt they’re simply priming the pump for Toy Story 3 and their next Pixar partnership film, Cars (this package features the latest, as yet unreleased trailer for the latter film). You won’t hear me complaining though. As shameless promotions go, this is a worthwhile package for animation fans of all ages.