One would think that this should have been a very easy review to write. After all, Toy Story 2 is a fantastic film; it is a triumph in every way, a sequel that is, arguably, better than the original. And yet, for some reason, this was not an easy review.
One could quite easily begin this way: once upon a time, in the faraway land of filmmaking, there was an animation studio that put out a full-length CGI feature, Toy Story, and it was good. Four years and one other feature length project later, Pixar released Toy Story 2, and it was great. As with the first film, Toy Story 2 follows the adventures of Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen) as they negotiate the dangerous and often unseen (by humans) world of being a toy. The film is not just a triumph of technical wizardry – although it is that – it is a triumph of the art of storytelling and makes something wondrous and magical for adults and children.
While all of the above is true, somehow it fails to capture why the film is as great as it is. Directed by John Lasseter and co-directed by Ash Brannon and Lee Unkrich, Toy Story 2 finds Woody stolen from his home due to his being the last member of a collection of toys from a classic television puppet show, Woody's Roundup. It falls to Buzz and a team of toys from Andy's room to rescue their friend from the evil Al of Al's Toy Barn before he can be shipped off to Japan.
The film, as with the original, depicts a camaraderie among Andy's toys. Despite being "just toys" they are loving, caring, thinking creatures who want to do nothing more than have fun and be played with, and when something obstructs their goal they will do anything to get back on course. In the case of the story here, what starts out as a small problem – Andy mistakenly ending up in a pile of toys to be sold at a garage sale – ends up escalating to the point where the toys (voiced by an all-star cast) have to head to the airport and brave not just the baggage system but the runway as well in order to keep their family intact. Logically, it is utterly ludicrous from start to finish, but it is a joy to watch.
Really, the overall premise is a simple one, and with a running time of just over 90 minutes the story is quickly told. However, within those 90-plus minutes, the film manages to capture the imagination of young and old. It reminds the adults in the audience of the wondrousness of the toys of their youth (several classic toys do make an appearance), it shows kids how much fun they can have with the odd assortment of toys they may have lying about their room, and it does it all with a great sense of humor. Many of the toys depicted in the film – Barbie and Mr. Potato Head to name just two – find themselves the butt of several jokes revolving around their very essence, and yet the jokes, while directed at the toys are told with love. Barbie may be a ditz in Toy Story 2, but she is a classic ditz, a ditz whom everyone loves and no one would ever want to see differently.
Toy Story 2 worked incredibly well on the big screen and now, with its Blu-ray release, it works incredibly well in people's living room as well. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is completely immersive, making the small sounds in Andy's room come alive and still growing as the film progresses to its airport climax, where the sounds are, quite naturally, bigger. The bass sounds are impressive, and the surrounds really help locate noises. It is a big audio track, and yet somehow it is not big enough to frighten away the younger set. Despite the film having initially been in released more than 10 years ago, and Pixar's technology having come a long way since then, one doesn't get the sense watching the film that they are seeing anything less than the latest and greatest CGI technology. The diverse locations are all beautifully realized with rich colors and excellent levels of detail right down to the belt on the new Buzz dolls… excuse me, action figures.
This new release also helpfully divides the new Blu-ray bonus features from the previously released DVD ones. In addition to what has appeared before, the Blu-ray 2-disc combo pack contains an audio commentary track with the director, co-directors, and co-writer Andrew Stanton; a "Buzz Lightyear Mission Log" which features Buzz telling people how NASA astronauts function in space; three short animated "studio stories" which discuss humorous (and scary) moments from the making of the film; a piece on Pixar studios creating a Zoetrope; various Pixar artists talking about how they got started; a tribute to Joe Ranft (animator and filmmaker), and a sneak peak at the character in the upcoming Toy Story 3. As for those previously released DVD bonus features, they include the usual making-of and behind the scenes moments as well as deleted scenes.
And yet, that entire description of the Blu-ray release fails to do the film justice, it fails to capture how adults watching the film will become kids and how kids will have their eyes opened to a whole new world. Toy Story 2 may not be the most well-regarded film to have come out of Pixar, it may not have made the most money nor won the most awards, but it is filmmaking and animation at its best, it tells a story that everyone can relate to and will love and does so in a way that will not only leave a smile on your face, but, as it did with me, may just leave you at a loss for words.