If given the choice, Chief Justice Michael Stailey prefers death by monkeys.
The Toys are Back in Town!
For a production that endured the Michael Eisner regime, a stray unix command that erased the entire film, a myriad of staff nervous breakdowns, and a change in both format and command; Toy Story 2 somehow rose like a phoenix from the ashes to meet and exceed the original in story, performance, and presentation.
Facts of the Case
Andy's room is abuzz about Woody's (Tom Hanks, Charlie Wilson's War) annual trip to Cowboy Camp, but a popped shoulder seam banishes him to the top shelf where books and toys are often forgotten. However, there's little time for self-pity, as the toys realize Andy's mom is hosting a yard sale, and their old friend Wheezy (Joe Ranft, A Bug's Life) has been tossed into the 25-cent bin. Now it's up to an injured Woody and Andy's dog, Buster, to execute a dangerous rescue mission, one that lands the sheriff in the hands of a greedy toy collector. When Buzz (Tim Allen, Galaxy Quest) fails to stop the toy-knapping, he assembles a crack strike team to identify the culprit, infiltrate the stronghold, and free their friend. But what Woody discovers may change his mind about ever wanting to be saved.
At the time of Toy Story 2's conception, Disney was all about bleeding dry their existing properties as low budget, direct-to-DVD sequels. So as Pixar's A-Team was off developing Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo, the B-Team was working on a 60-min follow-up to the company's crown jewel. Little did they realize they were about to be victims of their own success. When early footage screenings for Disney execs revealed a project worthy of the big screen, the project was turned on its head and retooled as holiday release. Pressure to meet production deadlines meant staff working 24-36 hour shifts, the stress took its toll, and John Lasseter stepped in as director to make sure the picture was delivered on time and met the company's already high standards.
Boy did it ever.
Toy Story 2 is one of those rare franchise pictures that somehow surpasses the original, which is nearly impossible to do when the original is damn near flawless to begin with. Movie lovers, critics, and fan boys can point to obvious flaws in story logic and production value on films like Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, but Toy Story is hard to find fault with. So how did they do it? It's a case of necessity being the mother of invention. The company only had a limited production deal with Disney, A Bug's Life failed to generate the love of its predecessor, and there was no way they were going to disappoint yet again. So they pulled out all the stops.
The result is a film so rich in emotional depth, complex character motivation, and sheer cinematic grandeur even the most cynical, animation-averse moviegoer can't help but be moved by it. Instead of rehashing the same story, as most sequels are want to do; the Pixar brain trust played angles, mirroring events from their previous adventure in entirely new context, enabling these characters to learn and grow in ways we'd never expect. Here Woody is thrust into an entirely foreign environment, initially resisting any attempts to accept his present circumstances, but ultimately allowing himself to embrace the promising life that lay before him. Likewise, Buzz is thrust into a leadership role; marshaling his troops, mounting a rescue campaign far from known environs, and forced to convince a resistant friend that his true place is with his family. Along the way we're joined by new friends—Jessie (Joan Cusack, In and Out), Bullseye, Prospector (Kelsey Grammer Frasier), Mrs. Potato Head (Estelle Harris, Seinfeld), and Barbie (Jodi Benson, The Little Mermaid); confronted by multiple villains—Big Al (Wayne Knight, Jurassic Park), Emperor Zurg (Andrew Stanton, WALL-E), and a newly minted Buzz; and buckled in for more action-adventure set pieces than anyone could imagine for a film of this nature, opening the door for Pixar to explore brave new worlds with future films.
Underscored by the great Randy Newman and given life by award-worthy performances from Tom Hanks, Joan Cusack, Kelsey Grammar, Wallace Shawn, and Wayne Knight; Toy Story 2 was a turning point for Pixar. From here on out, nothing would ever be impossible. If not for the brilliant musical sequence "When She Loved Me," we might not ever have gotten the Carl and Ellie relationship montage from Up. If not for the baggage claim battle royale, we might never have seen the race for Boo's door in Monsters, Inc. If not for the Big Al's Woody's Roundup collection, we may never have bore witness to WALL-E's magnificent human artifact collection. And if not for the logic-defying kinescope of Woody's Roundup television episodes, we may have missed out on those mind-boggling NASCAR races in Cars. I don't think most people truly appreciate what achievements these films are.
In four short years, Pixar went from rudimentary malformed humans to ones so life-like you could count their nose hairs. When you compare the two Toy Story films on DVD, the advances are impressive. When you see them in 1080p high definition Blu-ray, they're staggering. In this world, every blade of grass, every tree leaf, and every particle of dust has a life all its own; pets have realistic fur; surfaces have texture so real you can almost touch them; lighting effects so perfect it makes live-action production designers weep. And we're still seven years away from the mind-blowing sets of Cars. Gary Rydstrom's sound design is yet another marvel. Weaving Randy's musical cues with actual street recorded effects, the gang's trek across the road to Al's Toy Barn is reference quality Blu-ray audio. And I'll let you discover the sheer magnificence of the film's opening title sequence. Tune up that home theatre system, because it doesn't get much more immersive than this DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track.
Like the Toy Story Blu-ray, the only fault I can find with this release is in its bonus materials. Perhaps I'm too much of a Pixar completist, but the repurposing, massaging, and exclusion of features from previous DVD releases left me disappointed. Then again, the average movie lover doesn't have the same demands and will likely love what's here…
New! Bonus Features in HD
• Celebrating Our Friend Joe Ranft (13 min)—Honoring the all too short life of the Pixar story team's heart and soul. Joe passed away in a tragic car accident in 2005.
• Toy Story 3 Sneak Peek: The Characters (4 min)—Director Lee Unkrich introduces a wealth new characters joining the team for their third adventure; voiced by Ned Beatty, Whoopi Goldberg, Timothy Dalton, Jeff Garlin, Bonnie Hunt, and Michael Keaton.
• Paths to Pixar (5 min)—Staff technical artists share stories of how they made their way to the hallowed halls of Pixar.
• Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: Episode 2, The International Space Station (4 min)—Buzz continues to regale Hamm and Rex with stories of things he learned on his trip into outer space.
• Studio Stories: Pinnochio (2 min)—An animated recreation of bored animators pitching toys into the ceiling.
• Studio Stories: Sleep Deprivation Lab (2 min)—Animated retelling of the demons spawned by working 24-36 hour shifts.
• Pixar Zoetrope (2 min)—Pete Docter explains the basics of animation and a very cool three dimensional animated sculpture (based on Studio Ghibli's zoetrope) on display at Disney's California Adventure Animation Building and Hong Kong Disneyland. If you ever get a chance to see it in person, don't pass it up.
Previously Released Bonus Features in SD
• Commentary—Director John Lasseter, co-director Lee Unkrich and Ash Brannon, and co-writer Andrew Stanton. Not a compilation track like the one on Toy Story, but just as enjoyable. (2000, Ultimate Toy Box Edition)
• Outtakes (6 min)—Full frame versions of the clips used during the closing credits. The joke had kinda worn thin by this point. (2000, Ultimate Toy Box Edition)
• Deleted Scenes (4 min)—Two segments cut or altered from earlier stages of production—Godzilla Rex, Crossing the Road—with an intro by supervising animator Ash Brannon.
• Making Toy Story 2 (9 min)—John, Lee, Andrew, and the team talk about the challenges faced by taking beloved characters and crafting a story equal to or exceeding the original and worthy of their efforts. (2006, Special Edition)
• Cast of Characters (4 min)—A peek behind the curtain at the voice cast at work: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, Wayne Knight, Wallace Shawn, and more. (2006, Special Edition)
• Production (14 min)—John and Ash detail the brainstorming and ingenuity that inspired the wealth of Woody's Roundup collectibles; effects artist Leo Hourvitz explains how they created footage for Woody's 1950s television series; Lee and co-editor David Ian Salter discuss the story development process; animator Glenn McQueen shows us test footage for the new character models; technical director Oren Jacob details the effects used in the film's bigger set pieces; and, finally, Lee and John discuss changes made for international audiences.
• Art Galleries (17 min)—A comprehensive set of 10 galleries covering everything from character design to backgrounds, sets, and lighting, presented in slideshow format underscored by Randy Newman's music for the film. You'll notice quite a bit of unnecessary redundancy between this and the galleries on the Toy Story (Blu-ray) disc. Though, I do appreciate not having to scroll through them with remote.
• 3-D Visualization (11 min)—Twelve 360-degree computer models for characters and sets, displayed in slideshow format. The three set pieces include commentary by production designer Jim Pearson. Again, some amount of overlap with the Toy Story (Blu-ray) disc, but emphasizes characters and sets unique to Toy Story 2.
• Color (5 min)—Jim talks about the development and importance of color used to tell the story.
• Designing Sound (6 min)—Gary works his magic as the gang crosses the road to Al's Toy Barn.
• Making the Soungs (4 min)—Three new tunes provide the icing on the cake—"Woody's Roundup," "When She Loved Me," and Bob Goulet's Vegas twist on "You've Got a Friend in Me."
• Randy Newman Demo: "Jesse's Song" (3 min)—Randy lends his own voice to a song made all the more heart-wrenching by Sarah McLachlan.
• Music Video: "Woody's Roundup" (3 min)—Riders in the Sky provide the theme song for that classic kids show. (The boys need to work on their lip-synching.)
• Music Video: "Riders in the Sky Music Medley" (3 min)—Shot at Disneyland's Golden Horseshoe Saloon and Big Thunder Ranch. (2006, Special Edition)
• John Lasseter Profile (3 min)—The Disney and Pixar teams have nothing but love for Pixar's biggest kid at heart and the company's driving force. (2000, Ultimate Toy Box Edition)
• Jessie's Gag (1 min)—Rough animation easter egg tacked on the end of the heart wrenching song "When Somebody Loved Me." Not all that funny.(2000, Ultimate Toy Box Edition)
• Who's the Coolest Toy? (3 min)—Woody, Buzz, and the gang compete for the title, in the eyes of their fans. (2000, Ultimate Toy Box Edition)
• Autographed Pictures (1 min)—A slideshow of simulated headshots and publicity stills signed by the animated characters.
• Publicity (9 min)—Character interviews, Trailers, TV spots, Posters, and Woody throws out the first pitch.
• DVD Copy—Hey, the story works just as well in 480i standard definition.
• Digital Copy—For those portable devices crying out for content.
• BD-Live—What amounts to little more than an evergreen promotional arm for Disney's current and future projects.
So What's Missing?
• Wraparound intros specific to each of the DVD editions.
• Luxo Jr.—The Academy Award winning short film which has since been released on Pixar Short Films Collection: Volume 1.
• Featurettes—Why a Sequel? and The Continuing World of Toy Story
• Abandoned Story Reels
• Guide to Hidden Jokes
• Voice cast bios and production notes
• Various production art images and storyboard comparisons
Nitpicks aside, I cannot say enough about Pixar's high-def treatment of the Toy Story films. Both deserve a prominent place in your movie library, whether you are 2, 22, 52, or 72 years of age. Movies like this don't come into our lives very often. Just don't sell your Ultimate Toy Box DVDs. There's material on those discs Pixar enthusiasts will never get back.
Not guilty. Ride like the wind, Bullseye!
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