TOY STORY 2 - DVD review of the few sequels in the history of cinema that is an unqualified improvement over its predecessor in every way.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

First, you'll remember that "Toy Story," released by Disney in 1995, was the first full-length animated feature to be made entirely on computers in digital graphics. Produced by the Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, California, it created quite a sensation at the time, not only because it offered amazing visuals, but because it told a sweet fable, too. "Toy Story 2" followed in 1999 and proved a splendid sequel that improved on its predecessor's story line. After several previous DVD editions of the two movies separately and together, the Disney folks have again given us separate editions, with a raft of extra features. It's true, though, that a lot of the extras are repeats of earlier material, making the idea of a double dip a little dodgy.

Before anything else, let's go back to the beginning and look at "Toy Story." The premise was simple: When kids aren't around, their toys come alive and enjoy an existence of their own. More than that, the "Toy Story" movies are tales of friendship and the importance of love in everyone's life. The toys are important to Andy, the young boy who owns them, because they're his pals. Andy is important to the toys because he gives them a feeling of being needed. And the toys are important to each another because without interpersonal relationships, life is pretty much meaningless, even to plastic playthings. In the story Woody, an old cowboy doll, is Andy's favorite toy.

I must admit I was only mildly amused by the first "Toy Story," but "Toy Story 2" knocked me out. It is one of the few sequels in the history of cinema that is an unqualified improvement over its predecessor in every way. I laughed, I cried, I was totally entertained. The story involves an unscrupulous toy store owner who discovers that Woody, who has been in Andy's family for years, is a valuable collector's item, so he steals him to sell to a Japanese toy museum. Naturally, Woody's friends, led by Buzz Lightyear, go to the rescue.

This time there is a serious threat involved, and serious thrills, in an adventure yarn that will charm almost any adult as well as any child. More important, the story reflects real life as it involves some genuine decision making. Once Woody is kidnapped, he meets a new set of friends, buddies he didn't even remember from his long-ago past--Jessie, his cowgirl friend (Joan Cusack); Bullseye, his horse; and Stinky Pete the prospector. When his old friends come to save him, Woody has to decide which gang to go with. In the film's most touching scene, Jessie tells him that no owner ever keeps a toy forever, that every child grows up and discards his playthings, so why go back to Andy when they can all be together forever in the museum. Then she sings a song, "When She Loved Me," about her own previous owner, a little girl who finally gave her away, and I confess at that point I shed a tear.

I was also captivated by a wonderful street-crossing sequence with the toys hiding under road pylons as they walk through onrushing traffic, as well as by a clever opening parody of "Star Wars." Randy Newman again provides the music, with "You've Got a Friend in Me" reprised by Robert Goulet and a new song, "Woody's Roundup," done by the cowboy group, Riders in the Sky.

When Disney/Pixar transferred their 10th Anniversary Edition of "Toy Story" to disc, they claimed they did so at the highest possible bit rate. The result was a picture with deeper, richer colors than their previous DVD. I had assumed the studio would do the same thing with "Toy Story 2," but that does not appear to be the case. I could see very little difference, if any, between the older, "Ultimate Toy Box" transfer and this newer one, either from the screen colors or from my DVD player's bit counter. Perhaps the studio felt that the previous transfer was done at a high enough bit rate that an all-new remastering would yield no significant differences. I dunno.

In any case, the video is still plenty good. In a previous review I called the image quality "fantastic, incredible, marvelous, phenomenal, fabulous, stupendous, astonishing," and "wondrous." Well, those words still apply, the picture having fine definition, clarity, and color depth, with almost no shimmering lines. Again presented in a 16x9 ratio, anamorphic widescreen, the video in "Toy Story 2" remains excellent, maybe not quite up to the standard of the newest "Toy Story" transfer, which I gave a 10+, but still good enough to warrant the "10" I rated "Toy Story 2" earlier.

The new edition of "Toy Story 2" has English soundtracks in Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, DTS 5.1, and Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo (with French and Spanish in 2.0). In DD 5.1 EX the audio remains every bit as spectacular as the video. Both the picture and the sound are THX certified, and the results are as impressive as ever. The sonics continue to be as full, wide, dynamic, and deep as ever, with objects flying overhead and around through all five channels. But one can appreciate the little things, too, like voices that move across the sound stage as needed, rather than remaining stationary in the center speaker. Let it suffice to say that the picture and the sound are state-of-the-art.

Disc one contains the feature film presentation in English, French, and Spanish, with French subtitles and English captions for the hearing impaired. It is accompanied by the same audio commentary as on the prior edition, with director John Lasseter and his creative team, including Lee Unkrich, Ash Brannon and Andrew Stanton. In addition, there are Sneak Peeks at seven other releases, the highlight being Pixar's animated feature "Cars"; a brief introduction to "Toy Story 2" by director John Lasseter; an index of contents for both discs; thirty-five scene selections; and a THX Optimizer set of audiovisual calibration tests.

Disc two, of course, is where you'll find the bulk of the extras, arranged in a series of categories. But I'm not sure I wouldn't rather have had one long documentary than 800 separate buttons to push. The first section is the "Toy Box," which contains five minutes of cute outtakes; a "Who's the Coolest Toy?" discussion among the actors and filmmakers, lasting three minutes; a "Which Toy Are You?" game, a quiz you work with the remote; a "Ponkickies" game with Woody, Buzz and Jessie, based on a popular Japanese TV show; a "Riders in the Sky Music Medley," three minutes; a picture gallery; a short documentary, "Making Toy Story 2"; and about four minutes of deleted scenes. After that is a "Behind-the-Scenes" section with a "John Lasseter Profile"; "Toy Story 2's Cast of Characters," a design gallery slide show containing looks at characters, sets, and colors; and segments on early storyboard versions of "Woody's Nightmare" and "Jessie's Song," the latter with a multi-angle feature.

The "Production" category includes "Designing Woody's Past," about three minutes; "Making Woody's Roundup," two minutes; a production tour, two minutes; a production progression bit, three minutes; some early animation tests totalling another three minutes; some special effects at about a minute and a half; and an international scene, about two minutes. Lastly, there is the "Music and Sound" section, with "Making the Songs," "Woody's Round Music Video," "Jessie's Song," and "Designing the Sound"; plus the "Publicity" section, containing, movie trailers, TV spots, posters, and clever character interviews.

Disc two contains subtitles in English, French, and Spanish; and both discs come housed in a slim-line keep case, further enclosed in an attractively embossed, metallic-faced, cardboard slipcover.

Parting Thoughts:
Disney's "Toy Story 2" is a must-buy for anyone with a family of little ones or for anyone who is even remotely interested in the art of modern computer-generated moviemaking. If you think the price of the two new editions of the "Toy Story" movies seems a little steep, I strongly urge you to consider "Toy Story 2" alone. It's a great animated feature and deserves to stand proudly beside the great Disney classics of the past, like "Snow White," "Pinocchio," and "Fantasia." It's that good.


Film Value