**½/**** Image A- Sound A+ Extras A
screenplay by Joss Whedon, Andrew Stanton, Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow
directed by John Lasseter
TOY STORY 2
****/**** Image A Sound A+ Extras A-
screenplay by Andrew Stanton, Rita Hsiao, Doug Chamberlin & Chris Webb
directed by John Lasseter
by Walter Chaw What time and memory seem to obscure about Pixar's Toy Story is that it is, for the most part, shrill and unpleasant, though it's easier to identify now that Pixar's technical facility is familiar. The picture's thick with bad behaviour, with everybody's favourite vintage cowboy doll Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) acting the spoiled, wounded, ultimately dangerous brat, jilted by his owner for a newer model, Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), and determined to murder his rival until some moral compass asserts itself and Woody, grudgingly, comes to Jesus with his inevitable obsolescence. Toy Story plays a weird game with the idea of mortality in that its heroes are toys and, as such, doomed to a kind of infernal immortal half-life during which they can be tortured any number of ways--de-limbed, decapitated and reconstituted, melted, waterboarded we presume--in the name of a child's development. A memorable moment places our frenemies in a "bad" kid's bedroom where all the toys have been mutilated (our tiny Dr. Frankenstein provides the tension of the film's third act)--the message of the encounter retreating into that old kid's-flick saw that you can't judge a book by its cover.
The lingering message, though, is a little trickier, in that the film plays on the idea that anyone who's ever owned a toy has an ethical responsibility to it, leading to the discomfort, were one to think about it for a second, that the way one treats one's possessions offers insight into one's wiring. And, here's the crux of it: it suggests that people nurse a compulsion to project proximate humanity upon inanimate objects and that if one doesn't--if one sensibly treats objects like objects--then there's something sadly missing from said individual's moral and emotional makeup. It's the grist that also fuels stuff like Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell, The Brave Little Toaster, and, most recently, Moon. How it plays out in Toy Story, however, is that when Woody tries to kill Buzz and, later, when Woody's friends turn their back on Woody, leaving him to be tortured and "killed" by the neighbourhood Dahmer, it has this unpleasant cast of eternity to it that won't be properly addressed until Toy Story 2. The problem of Toy Story is an interesting one in that what's really wrong with it is that it raises genuinely fascinating questions it never adequately addresses. Lest one wonder if there's room for such rumination in a children's film, Pixar, as it evolves over the next fifteen years, will tackle them each in turn and in depth: the proximate humanity of a cleaning robot, for instance (and its pet cockroach); the desire for eternity in Ratatouille (which history may eventually locate as the studio's crowning jewel); and the cost of mortality as it impacts the group in both The Incredibles and Finding Nemo.
The brilliance of Toy Story is not necessarily its premise, which is decidedly less fresh than touted (toys have been coming to life since The Indian in the Cupboard, L. Frank Baum, and before), but that the particular toys coming to life have a very specific thirty-something draw. Naturally, it's a product of exceptional voice acting and clever execution, too, but the key to the picture's longevity has more to do with the visceral nostalgic reaction of people of my age who used to own an Etch A Sketch or a Slinky Dog--and with the fact that Toy Story has the fortune of having a remarkable, loaded sequel--than with a clear memory of how whiny Woody is throughout and how sociopathic are his attempts to cling to his status as king of his master's affections. It's actually sort of a frightening mid-life mortality exercise--a Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? about an object of desire well past its prime, squirreled away into an exclusive corner and deadly to any interloper who threatens to introduce modernity into its insular enclave.
There's irony there in that Toy Story, the first completely computer-animated feature film, is telling the story of the absolute terror of the old guard in relinquishing its audience's affections to the new. Perhaps the film is meant as a pre-emptive sop to any resistance to a new medium--one bolstered by its use of vintage toys that come to accept the state-of-the-art as harmless colleague. (Neutered in drag and plopped into a girl's pretend tea party, Buzz is integrated into collectives with nary a ripple in the status quo.) Pixar gets more daring, of course, positing the end of the world, the death of barren old ladies, and the importance of critics, but it doesn't get too terribly daring--even with a quick hit at organized religion in those iconic three-eyed alien fundamentalists--its first time out. Third time, though, with Toy Story 2, Pixar gets plenty daring, plenty fast.
Compared most often and with the greatest currency to John Ford's The Searchers, Toy Story 2 is, I'd go so far as to say, better than The Searchers in that it doesn't suffer from the same dated affectations ("Har Har Haaaarr") while holding fast to its startling ambiguity. Woody begins as a hero in this one, and so it's a bit of a shocker when he's kidnapped by an evil toy collector (Wayne Knight) and spirited away to a Plexiglas cube on a display stand. Woody, apparently, has a great deal of value on the secondary market and is destined to become part of an anonymous Japanese collector's mantle alongside the others in his "set": female counterpart Jessie (Joan Cusack), horse Bullseye, and cantankerous prospector Stinky Pete (Kelsey Grammer). His friends, meanwhile, led by a Buzz freshly stripped of his belief that his cartoon and videogame tie-in realities are the "truth," endeavour to rescue Woody, only to find that Woody's discovery of his true self might have "turned" him. It's the first of the film's myriad ironies and complexities, testament to a "kid's" entertainment's ability to mine the richness of childhood's vein for an extraordinary amount of beautiful dark. Yet all that introspection--all that self-discovery as Buzz encounters an aisle filled with Buzz Lightyears who haven't yet been disabused of their notions of reality, all that excavation of the yearning for connection and belonging in a temporary world--is leavened by a light touch and a deepening of the character flourishes that would make fulsome punchlines of a yeti trying to serve yellow snowcones in Monsters, Inc. and a silent-film masterpiece of the first reel or so of Up.
The triumph of Toy Story 2 is its willingness to engage the difficulty of its topics with maturity, nuance, and no small amount of humour. A musical montage--set to a Sarah McLachlan song, no less--works wondrously in addressing the horror of being outgrown, making Woody's opportunity to lead an existence spent separated from that pain seductive. It's hard for exactly the kind of adult seduced by an animated Mr. Potato Head not to sympathize with someone who wants to preserve and make priceless a memento of their halcyon youth, isn't it? The choice arrived at after all's said and done is to experience the ineffable pleasure of feeling wanted, even if the reward will inevitably be the end of those affections. It suggests that life is a series of horrible abandonments through circumstance or plain biology and that the brief periods of bliss between moments of shattering grief and disillusionment are the only measure we're due...and enough.
The film that Toy Story is often credited with being (and unless you've seen them recently, it's only too easy to assign scenes and characters from the second film to the first), Toy Story 2 is philosophically, existentially fraught. It has a real warmth, a real concern for its characters, and a real care and genre intelligence given over to its well-choreographed action sequences. (The baggage claim sequence reminds of Chaplin's Modern Times.) It's aware of itself as a post-modern animal, but, most miraculously, it avoids becoming a ponderous, pretentious thing, laden as it is with father issues and an obsession with the primacy of love, however brief. Toy Story 2 is the first mature Pixar film, one of the great pictures in one of the great years for cinema (1999), and a high watermark that, if Pixar's surpassed it in the last fifteen years, at least it hasn't often.
THE BLU-RAY DISCS
by Bill Chambers Disney/Pixar have finally brought Toy Story and Toy Story 2 into the high-definition realm on heavily-supplemented Blu-rays that can safely replace your old DVDs, especially since DVD copies are enclosed, too, buried beneath some junk mail in the keepcase. The films look astonishingly vivid and tactile in HD, proving how much their crudity has been exaggerated in recent years (thanks in no small part to people only having inferior SD versions to refer to)--though if you ask me, these two 1.78:1, 1080p transfers aren't created equal: Just as the animation subtly improves in the sequel, so, too, does that tiny bit of edge-enhancement to which the original is pointlessly subjected vanish from the image. (That said, as is often the case with these Pixar BDs, the whitest whites run a little hot for my tastes across the two films.) Toy Story 2's sound design is likewise more sophisticated than that of its predecessor, but I'm going to go ahead and call the 5.1 DTS-HD MA tracks on each disc unimpeachable and recommend them as demo material. These are vintage Gary Rydstrom mixes, thankfully less cacophonous than his work on A Bug's Life whilst still boasting aggressive bass and playful directionality. For what it's worth, in the scene from Toy Story where Buzz is knocked out Andy's bedroom window by an unhinged globe, Rydstrom used actual sound effects--the rolling ball, the thwacking arrows--from the opening sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and they sound so great in lossless audio that it's a bit of a cocktease, what with only the fourth Indiana Jones flick currently available on the Blu-ray format.
Both Toy Story and Toy Story 2 include feature-length commentaries, the former a patchwork with director John Lasseter, co-writer Andrew Stanton, supervising animator Pete Docter, art director Ralph Eggleston, supervising technical director Bill Reeves, and producers Ralph Guggenheim and Bonnie Arnold, the latter a straightforward reunion of Lasseter, co-directors Lee Unkrich and Ash Brannon, and co-writer Stanton. The one for Toy Story is extremely thorough, going over everything from casting motivations to legal wranglings with toy manufacturers. (They couldn't get G.I. Joe because the film depicted one getting blown up.) Discussed at length are original and abandoned concepts--such as Barbie springing Woody from Sid's deathtrap, prompting a suddenly-aroused Woody to crack, "I wish I was anatomically correct"--and all the trial-and-error that implies. A tangent about deciding to colour Buzz's suit white instead of red made me wonder whether Buzz obliquely influenced the contemporary Mac aesthetic. (Mac founder Steve Jobs started Pixar.) It's so comprehensive, in fact, that many of the subsequent extras feel redundant. Alas, that's less the case with Toy Story 2's yakker. While this movie has an origin story at least as dramatic as Toy Story's, the subject of its genesis is barely broached except in terms of who did what and which plot points came from brainstorming sessions on the previous film. Credit where credit is due, however, that they never resort to narrating the proceedings; I was amused to learn, among other things, that the floating rocks on Zurg's planet in the prologue were a happy accident of resizing the backdrop from A Bug's Life but forgetting to dot an "i" or cross a "t" somewhere.
Supplements for these platters are divided into two categories: "Bonus Features," which are new and also appear on the current DVD, and "Classic DVD Bonus Features," which is stuff that in some cases dates all the way back to the Deluxe Edition LaserDisc of Toy Story but has become, in these latest reissues, exclusive-to-Blu-ray. Let's sift through this material film by film, shall we?
"Toy Story 3 Sneak Peek" (2 mins., HD)
Now occupying the director's seat, Unkrich hosts a distillation of the trailer for the upcoming second sequel. Since that's on board as well, skip this.
"Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: Blast Off" (3 mins., HD)
Tim Allen-as-Buzz narrates this mini-primer on the space station, aboard which a bona fide Buzz doll spent 450 days. A real space oddity, considering it's mostly irrelevant to the subject of Toy Story.
"Paths to Pixar: Artists" (5 mins., HD)
Pixartists such as Tia Kratter, Bill Wise, and Ralph Eggleston describe their humble, pre-Pixar beginnings against a stark white backdrop likely inspired by the makeshift Interrotron devised for interviews on the Director's Cut release of Zodiac. Too short to be substantial, sadly.
"Studio Stories: John's Car" (1 min., HD)
These "studio stories" you'll be reading about are amusing anecdotes brought to life by crude, Flash-type animation and narration from various Pixar staffers. Here, Glenn McQueen and Darla K. Anderson recall the "death box" Lasseter used to drive to work, a lemon that had unupholstered seats with T-shirts pulled over the springs!
"Studio Stories: Baby AJ" (2 mins., HD)
Pixar held a Halloween costume contest with an impressive first-place prize: a round-trip plane ticket to anywhere in the world American Airlines would fly. The guy who won, spoiler, picked fucking Vegas--a city practically walking distance from the studio. I thought having an imagination was a prerequisite for working at Pixar.
"Studio Stories: Scooter Races" (2 mins., HD)
A very funny account of how the cavernous location of Pixar's offices became host to late-night competitive scooter races as the brass burned the midnight oil. In doing the voiceover honours, Docter and Stanton affirm their status as two of the best storytellers the company has on hand.
"Buzz Takes Manhattan" (2 mins., HD)
Lasseter speaks of the recent appearance of a Buzz Lightyear balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade as the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. He even, as we see, helped lug the thing down the streets of New York--that's one humble CCO, if you ask me.
"Black Friday: The Toy Story You Never Saw" (8 mins., HD)
Disney's former President of Production/DreamWorks Animation's current CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg is basically the boogeyman as Lasseter and others recall that Katzenberg's constant pushing for "edge" (elsewhere elaborated as "more put-downs") yielded a "wildly unappealing" version of Woody and a disastrous work-in-progress screening that resulted in Katzenberg giving Lasseter a fortnight to reverse course. The small snippet we see of this alternate-universe Toy Story is indeed appalling, with a Stalin-esque Woody casually tossing Buzz out a second-storey window, calling for the banishment of his dissenters, and insultingly referring to Slinky Dog as "spring-wiener."
Classic DVD Bonus Features
"Filmmakers Reflect" (17 mins., SD)
These discs are sorely lacking in the Filmmakers' Roundtable featurettes that graced the Blu-ray editions of A Bug's Life and Monsters, Inc.. The closest we come is this reflection on the first Toy Story reuniting Lasseter, Stanton, Docter, and Joe Ranft, taped shortly before Ranft's death in 2005. A mere ten years on, they're already nostalgic for the environment that begat this pioneering achievement ("I pine for the naiveté we had," says Stanton), but not so removed from it that there's no immediacy to the conversation.
"Making Toy Story" (20 mins., SD)
A decent enough contemporary making-of in which Lasseter cites Tron as his personal game-changer and Tim Allen's jaw is seen literally dropping at the sight of finished footage from the climax. The test reel that convinced Disney to bankroll the film is excerpted in brief and it is gorgeous, having the strange quality of an oil painting brought to life.
"The Legacy of Toy Story" (12 mins., SD)
George Lucas, Peter Jackson, Chris Wedge (the John Lasseter of Blue Sky), and other CGI-dependent filmmakers genuflect (Lucas in his inimitably dispassionate way) before the altar of Toy Story like those claw-worshipping triclopses.
"Designing Toy Story" (6 mins., SD)
Illustrator Bob Pauley, animation stalwart Bud Luckey, and others offer a welcome retrospective perspective on the Wild West terrain of CGI's infancy.
"Deleted Scenes" (19 mins., SD)
Unkrich, editor of the first film, introduces the two elisions that actually qualify as deleted scenes (Sid lightly torturing Buzz and Woody the moment he brings them home; a false start to Buzz and Woody's heart to heart), as they were taken to a next-to-last stage of animation, in addition to a batch of "storyreels," scenes cobbled together from thumbnail sketches that were lifted out before they could be even rudimentarily animated. Find among the ruins the seeds of Woody's nightmare as well as the opening sequence from Toy Story 2, not to mention the obligatory Sergio Leone homage as Andy challenges Woody to a shootout.
"Design" (14 mins., SD)
Concept art for the characters gets montaged, 3-D visualizations put Woody, et al on those virtual turntables that have absolutely no practical application for non-personnel, and Eggleston introduces and provides commentary for a not-uninteresting section on simply "color" that examines/rationalizes tonal shifts in the movie's palette.
"Story" (14 mins., SD)
Stanton and Ranft introduce more storyreels, this time for set-pieces--the Green Army Men spying on the birthday party, Woody meeting Buzz, the grand finale--that did make it in. Ranft appears in a picture window for the army-men pitch, while the aforementioned chase is splitscreened with the finished product for comparison's sake.
"Production" (11 mins., SD)
After a brief overview from Lasseter, a more specific definition of "layout tricks" and a more involved breakdown of animation procedure. I cracked up at "trenching," an old technique attributed to Shane, on which they allegedly dug trenches in the set to prevent Alan Ladd's co-stars from towering over him. Same for Toy Story: In some cases, Woody was sunk into the floor of the virtual stage so that he and Buzz could be closer to eye level with each other. This is also where you go if you want to know what Buzz and Woody sound like in Swedish.
"Music & Sound" (26 mins., SD)
A chintzy "video" for "You've Got a Friend in Me" joins the disappointingly superficial "Designing Sound," in which a disembodied Rydstrom isolates the characters' non-vocal "voices" but doesn't go into how these uncanny noises were generated. Lastly, there's a batch of Randy Newman demos that should please the avid fan of his I-have-an-avocado-in-my-throat-but-that-won't-stop-me-from-trying-to-revive-ragtime stylings.
"Publicity" features character interviews (puh-lease), trailers, TV spots, animated galleries of poster and toy designs, and fifteen "Toy Story treats" that devote a funny little vignette to one of the supporting characters, although the Buzz Lightyear commercial is filed under here as well.
Toy Story 2
"Toy Story 3 Sneak Peek: The Characters" (4 mins., HD)
Unkrich returns. You know what sounds hilarious? Michael Keaton as a Ken doll--enough so that I'll give the casting of animation cliché Whoopi Goldberg the benefit of the doubt.
"Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: International Space Station" (4 mins., HD)
Another instalment of Buzz in Space. Ground covered: gravity issues, EVA spacewalks, solar energy. As I learned something, I'm not knocking these, but that doesn't change their inexplicableness.
"Paths to Pixar: Technical Artists" (4 mins., HD)
More ersatz Errol Morris, this piece was perhaps designed to weed the wheat from the chaff of aspiring animators, considering it emphasizes the mathematical aspects of what Pixar does vs. the late-night Laser Tag and winning Oscars. I'd like to hear more from Mike Krummhoefener, who saw Jurassic Park, quit his job, sold his worldly possessions to buy computer equipment, and moved in with his parents. How did he get from there to here?
"Studio Stories: Toy Story 2 Sleep Deprivation Lab" (1 min., HD)
Pixar productions were once a four-year process compacted, in the case of Toy Story 2, into seven or eight months. (The hows and whys of that are what I wish the commentary had properly elucidated.) Narrator Lindsey Collins ends by saying that the truncated schedule probably led to a better movie--but what does that say in advance about the years-in-development, much-massaged Toy Story 3?
"Studio Stories: Pinocchio" (2 mins., HD)
Unsupervised animators + a much-abused Pinocchio puppet + fibreglass insulation = good times.
"Studio Stories: The Movie Vanishes" (3 mins., HD)
A genuinely nightmarish account of a computer glitch that led to Toy Story 2 getting vaporized rather than rendered. Big deal, they had backups, right? You'd think.
"Pixar's Zoetrope" (2 mins., HD)
Inspired by the Ghibli Museum's Bouncing Totoro, this giant zoetrope uses dolls of Woody, Buzz, and Jesse posed twenty-four incrementally different ways on a merry-go-round behind a strobing viewer to demonstrate the principles of animation to the masses at Disney's California Adventure and Hong Kong theme parks. Trés cool, though the arrangement of the figures looks a little busy.
"Celebrating Our friend Joe Ranft" (13 mins., HD)
The late jack-of-all-trades Ranft receives another eulogy from the folks at Pixar. (Similar testimonials grace the Blu-ray releases of A Bug's Life and WALL·E.) I don't begrudge his colleagues' their protracted mourning period, and he really seems like a swell guy in archival footage, but I'm definitely feeling grief fatigue. Given that Ranft was the sort to defuse a schmaltzy moment with an off-colour joke, I can't help but think he'd appreciate the hilariously poor-taste button mentioning that all the movies he worked on are available to rent or purchase from Disney.
Classic DVD Bonus Features
"Making Toy Story 2" (8 mins., SD)
As we discovered for ourselves with the Toy Story platter, the opening Buzz cartoon and Woody's nightmare were conceptual holdovers from the first film, but I loved Lasseter's confession that his alter ego in the film might be the evil Al: He used to have a problem with his own children playing with his precious toy collection.
"John Lasseter Profile" (3 mins., SD)
Disposable, save a prophetic comparison of Lasseter to Disney. (He now more or less occupies Uncle Walt's old post at the company.) I'll tell you one thing: he's probably nicer than Disney.
Note: the remaining odds and sods are for whatever reason shunted to a subfolder labelled "Toy Box."
"Cast of Characters" (3 mins., SD)
I wish they'd touched on how unusual it is that Allen and Hanks recorded some of their dialogue together this time around, and whether this impacted their performances in quantifiable ways.
"Outtakes" (5 mins., SD)
The two sets of faux-outtakes that appended Toy Story 2's theatrical release; the second half will be fresh to viewers of this incarnation of the film.
"Jessie's Gag" (1 min., SD)
Putting a darkly-comic spin on the capper to the "When She Loved Me" flashback, this is too good to spoil.
"Who's the Coolest Toy?" (3 mins., SD)
Various cast and crew are polled in the all-important Buzz vs. Woody debate. My favourite part is when mopey Sarah McLachlan votes Buzz because she finds his insecurity "beautiful." You couldn't parody her better than that, unless maybe you put a sick dog on her lap.
"Riders in the Sky Music Medley" (3 mins., SD)
A music medley from Riders in the Sky.
"Autographed Pictures" (45s, SD)
The lamest extra in the history of the sport: a montage of "cast" photos "autographed" by the likes of Woody and co..
"Deleted Scenes" (4 mins.)
Only two, and animated to near-completion: Rex inadvertently sparking a chain reaction that lands Woody in the yard sale (a smart cut that puts Woody's fate back in his hands), and the pylon-disguised toys causing the same vehicular mayhem they do in the finished film, except with suburbia as the backdrop. Brannon introduces/explains.
"Design" follows the template on the Toy Story disc to a tee, but sub production designer Jim Pearson for Eggleston.
Before delving into a reprise of layout tricks and animation steps, "Production" (14 mins., SD) takes a gander at the toys associated with Woody's Roundup, some of which were fabricated into real-life props that Lasseter and Brannon show off. Meantime, effects technical artist Leo Hourvitz deconstructs the faux-kinescope of Woody's Roundup, a CG breakthrough in that many refused to believe it wasn't shot live-action with puppets.
Under the "Music & Sound" umbrella: Disembodied no more, Rydstrom appears in "Designing Sound" (6 mins.) to discuss the mixing of the crossing-the-street sequence, but the clips illustrating his points are rather frustratingly not in 5.1. (Too, he expressly states that the runaway hubcap is assigned to the rear centre channel--should Toy Story 2 have 6.1 audio on Blu-ray?) "Making the Songs" (3 mins.) races through soundbites from from McLachlan and Riders in the Sky, the "Woody's Roundup" jingle (1 min.) receives its own cut-rate video, and Newman performs "When She Loved Me" in a demo that sounds exactly like you think it will.
"Publicity" (9 mins.) encompasses additional batches of character interviews, trailers, TV spots, and posters, as well as something titled "Baseball Woody" that shows Woody winding up for a pitch on a baseball mound. I suspect it was jumbotron fodder at Major League games circa Toy Story 2.
Rounding out the Toy Story and Toy Story 2 platters alike are "Maximize Your Home Theater" diagnostic tests plus so-called "sneak peeks" (in HiDef) at Disney Rewards, Toy Story and Toy Story 2, The Princess and the Frog, James and the Giant Peach, Disney Parks, Toy Story 3, Disney Blu-ray, and the Beauty and the Beast Diamond Edition. Those last three also cue up on startup. Originally published: March 23, 2010.