(Check out the list so far)
The Movie: Toy Story 2 (1999)
One Sentence Plot Summary: Andy is growing up, and Woody decides watching his number one boy grow up instead of being on display in a museum.
Why It’s on the List: While the first movie is interested in the simple of idea of being a toy, this movie expands the mythology in a way where you don’t have to think about pieces of plastic being sentient too hard. Woody learned the value of accepting others and not always having to be Andy’s favorite, basically to be less selfish. Buzz learned it’s okay to “just” be a toy. In Toy Story 2, the focus turns to Woody and his round-up gang as the other toys are very shifted to the sideline.
You can see some of the technical aspects improving before your eyes, especially in an opening that takes place in space and has shout-outs to numerous science fiction movies. Given this came out in the summer of 1999, this movie felt obligated like so many others to make numerous Star Wars references, including Zurgg telling a Buzz Lightyear he’s his father. It’s the one aspect that feels really clunky, even though this and Star Wars are under the same umbrella.*
I think this might be the weakest of the first three Toy Story movies. It’s not as consistently funny and lacks the snap and pacing of the first one. The good thing is the world is established and it feels like a sequel building off the first movie. This is not retelling of the same story again. This is best exemplified in Jessie, a new character voiced by Joan Cusack. She comes off as very manic, an annoying side character who is preventing Woody from being able to have his fun. Unlike Al, who is given no nuance and comes off in the modern like a walking Qanon conspiracy waiting to happen, Jessie has a tragic backstory. The montage of what happened with the help of a Sarah McLachlan song, is one of the first Pixar gut punches. This is a studio that has mastered those moments specifically designed to get audiences weeping, and this was like their pilot program. Needless to say, it still works all these years later and hits on themes that will be discussed even more in the third film.
What makes Toy Story 2 so good is the idea that Woody makes a complicated choice. Going to the museum removes the potential of heartbreak, but it also takes him away from seeing Andy grow up. Even when Andy stops playing with toys, Woody sees the value of being there for him. This is a complicated allegorical idea that only hints at the existential aspects of life, which Pete Doctor has expanded upon in the movies he’s directed.
Although I consider this the weakest of the three, Toy Story 2 has an epic gut punch and continues to the themes hinted at in the first one.
*Pixar has its origins in Lucasfilm, so this at least made some sense. However, 21 years later, knowing how Disney owns everything, this feels especially awkward.
*The scene in the Barbie aisle at the toy store has a layer of creepiness given Lasseter’s involvement.
Best Performance: Joan Cusack gets a lot of mileage as Jessie and even though the most powerful moments are the ones where she really isn’t speaking, I think she captures the manic energy of Jessie, and we also see hints of PTSD that are also addressed in other films and specials. In some ways, her energy is designed for animated movies moreso than live action. For her to be introduced and come away with this award speaks to her performance the quality of the writing to make her feel like an important character right from the start.
Best Quote: Woody, you’re not a collector’s item, you’re a child’s plaything. You – are – a *toy*! -Buzz Lightyear
Is there a sequel? Yep, see you tomorrow!