Thursday, July 2, 2020

Reserved Seating Ranks the Pixars: TOY STORY 2

by Adam Riske and Rob DiCristino
The review duo who are mint-in-box.

Adam: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Adam Riske.

Rob: And I’m Rob DiCristino.
Adam: Our Pixar series returns with Toy Story 2, once again directed by John Lasseter and starring Tom Hanks and Tim Allen as our heroes Woody and Buzz Lightyear. Reversing course from the original, Toy Story 2 is a movie where Buzz is the one trying to rescue Woody alongside Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), Rex (Wallace Shawn), Hamm (John Ratzenberger), and Slinky Dog (Jim Varney). Woody has been stolen from a yard sale by the evil toy store owner Al (Wayne Knight), who intends to sell him to a museum in Japan and out of Andy’s life forever. Along the way, Woody meets the rest of the crew of the television show (“Woody’s Round-Up”) from which he was based, including plucky cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack), his trusty horse Bullseye, and a thorny prospector named Stinky Pete (Kelsey Grammar).

I was always of the opinion that the first Toy Story was the best in the series. It sets up all of the characters and the universe, so it gets maximum credit for launching the series. I was wrong. The best in the series definitely Toy Story 2. This was my first rewatch of Toy Story 2 since probably the year 2000, when it came out on DVD in a cool double feature pack with the first Toy Story, so TS2 felt pretty new to me in a lot of ways on this revisit. I mentioned this in our review of the first movie, but I’ve seen Toy Story so many times that it feels like I’m checking boxes more than enjoying it at this point so it was nice to feel some discovery with the sequel. Everything in this movie works and each separate story is just as compelling as the other so there’s no letdown when we move from Buzz in a toy store full of surplus Buzz Lightyear’s to Woody reacquainting himself with his own origin story. The new characters are all solid additions as well and it becomes very apparent on re-watch how much Toy Story 3 and Toy Story 4 xeroxed the themes of Toy Story 2. Re-discovering a movie like I did with this is the ultimate prize for why I wanted to run a Pixar series with you. I can see myself coming back to Toy Story 2 many more times in the future, if only to listen to the “Woody’s Round-Up” theme which I think now is the best song in a series with a lot of songs.

What do you think of Toy Story 2? Is this your favorite in the series?
Rob: Like you, I have the first Toy Story more or less memorized, but I’m almost positive this is only my second viewing of Toy Story 2. I remember liking it in the theater, but by 1999 I was 13 and fully into my first Star Wars phase and had little incentive to revisit it. Same with the other sequels: My friends and I saw Toy Story 3 in college and appreciated the nostalgia, and I only just saw Toy Story 4 during #Junesploitation. My point is that I’ve never really digested the sequels, so I’m also glad we’re doing this. Toy Story 2 rules. Its willingness to invert the character dynamics and introduce real stakes — playing off Pixar Rule of Storytelling #6 — that push Woody and the gang off balance make it a perfect sequel. Since the first Toy Story, I’ve been fascinated with the idea that the toys live forever and have to deal with the finite nature of their relationships with their human companions. That’s expanded upon in Toy Story 2 in a surprising way. Whereas the first film focuses on Buzz’s loss of identity, this one deals with Woody’s rediscovery of his own. It plays down the “toy” jokes — though there are still a few great ones — and concentrates on layering in new levels of humanity.

Adam: One aspect of the movie I find interesting is Al, and specifically his role as a collector. John Lasseter and co. seem to really reject the idea of toys as collectibles and frown upon grown-ups who collect with the intention of profit instead of simply nostalgia. As someone who grew up going to collectibles shows at malls and hotels (mostly for sports trading cards/autographs), I find it pretty awesome that these guys are getting taken down a peg or two. I think there’s room for every kind of collecting but I also have bristled at collecting just because you thought something was going to be valuable one day.
Rob: Agreed, and that “toys are for playing with” thing is something that The Lego Movie would take a bit further many years later! I was never a big collector, but I’m glad the movie addresses the pitfalls of that point of view without necessarily demonizing it. At first, I was afraid that Toy Story 2 would take easy shots at Al for his physicality or supposed “immaturity” as an adult toy collector, but instead it focuses squarely on his greed. That’s the right move. As an adult toy lover, Al represents that empty future that the Woody gang is facing: Admiration, sure, but no love.

Adam: Was there a standout sequence for you in Toy Story 2? It might be because we watched Fast and Furious 6 not too long ago (which has its own elongated runway sequence), but the rescue at the airport and through the baggage area really works for me. I think it’s one of the best sequences Pixar has ever done. It’s just big enough. Even though I hadn’t seen Toy Story 2 in a while before this viewing, this movie has long burned the image in my head that the baggage claim at an airport is an endless highway of conveyor belts and that if you’re bag is late or lost its because of toy-related shenanigans. I also really enjoyed how this sequence is about 10 minutes or less compared to later Pixar movies that can, at times, get bogged down in overlong action sequences during the climax.

Rob: Agreed. I loved that sequence, but my favorite moment might be when Woody is introduced to his TV show and all the merchandise. We get little flashes of that egotistical/insecure Woody from Toy Story, but it’s mixed with such a good Tom Hanks performance that we feel the warm heart of that personality. It’s a wistfulness for youth.

In the end, it wasn’t the characters in Toy Story 2 that made me nostalgic for a bygone filmmaking era (era), it was the economy of the storytelling. The story is propulsive at every turn. It’s constantly introducing new opportunities for the characters to grow and new challenges for them to overcome. It’s subtle, but you rarely see it in mainstream blockbusters anymore, especially since the Marvel model taught us to read series as serials more than individual entries. Both Woody and Buzz are forced to contrast their identities as part of a toy line against what they’ve come to learn and grow into as individuals. I read it as a midlife crisis movie. Does Woody retreat into his past glory days when confronted with the possibility that his personal relationships may end, that Andy may one day grow up and leave him behind? Can Buzz save his family from what is essentially a headstrong and ignorant version of himself? His past mistakes? And then there’s Jessie, who is encouraged to trust again after being abandoned by her original owner. It’s a sensitive topic that the movie is willing to devote real time to — including a montage — and see Jessie through to the other side. It’s so good.

Who was your favorite new addition to the cast?
Adam: I’ll cheat, because my heart says Bullseye because he’s the Pluto of the series, where he’s basically a dog while all the other characters (including animals like Hamm) are human in personality. My brain says Jessie because I relate to her moodiness but you can tell it’s a protective layer of someone with a good heart.

Rob: I’m Team Jessie, all the way.

Adam: One last question for you - why do you think Pixar animators always go for the “my agent/Hollywood amirite?” joke in the bloopers? I feel like they do this in every movie. It’s like they have to keep that part in check while making the actual movie and then they decide to get their hack comic out of their system for the end credits.

Rob: Yeah, that’s kind of weird, right? Do they think the adults aren’t paying attention and need to be won back in the end? If so, I can’t decide if that’s Pixar failing us or us failing Pixar.

I was really glad to revisit Toy Story 2. What’s up for next week?

Adam: We’re back on the Pacino beat with one of his greats, The Insider. It’s our course correction for The Humbling. Until next time…

Rob: These seats are reserved.

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