THIS 'TOON DECADE may be remembered as a second golden age of animation—like the '40s, when Bambi, Dumbo, and Fantasia were released. Partly it's the result of computer-effects wizardry exemplified by Pixar's 1995 Toy Story, and partly it's the marketing strategy of Hollywood. Nobody remembers cartoons more fondly than baby boomers, meaning that the parent-child demographic can double the ticket sales to a funny, entertaining, well-made animated feature, which Toy Story 2 certainly is.
TOY STORY 2
directed by John Lasseter
with voices by Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, and Joan Cusack
opens November 24 at Metro, Oak Tree, Pacific Place, and others
But for those without children clamoring to go—what's in it for us? Splendid visuals, for one, and the pleasure of being wholly unconcerned with plot while simply concentrating on the undeniably inventive animation. Nonparents will recall the slack-jawed absorption of staring at Saturday morning TV cartoons, marveling at the sheer plasticity of characters and silly improbability of events—things that simply can't be achieved with traditional live-action movie making. That's the abiding fun of TS2.
This time around, damaged cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks) is abandoned by his kid owner. "Woody's been shelved," another toy despairs. The boy's mother explains, "Toys don't last forever," introducing the film's poignant subtext—that their figurative death corresponds to the death of imagination in kids nearing adolescence. Woody then falls into the clutches of an evil toy collector (Wayne Knight, essentially reprising Newman from Seinfeld), who reunites him with his valuable complete "set." That de facto family also includes love interest Jessie (Joan Cusack) and a grumpy old miner (Kelsey Grammer). Meanwhile, the other toys set out on a traditional Hollywood rescue mission, led by astronaut Buzz (Tim Allen).
MERCHANDISING GAGS explicitly link Woody's short-lived Howdy Doody-like '50s TV show with today's TS2 mania. It's one of many times the movie winks at adults—who'll still have to reach for their wallets to please their kids. Movie references are particularly abundant, including riffs on Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, 2001, Jurassic Park, and The Wizard of Oz.
Yet this 'toon achieves remarkable effects not indebted to any other film. The toy rescuers' attempt to cross a busy street produces a memorable action set piece. Reflections off Buzz's convex helmet visor are exquisitely rendered—unlike any previous cartoon. The texture produced on styrofoam packing nuggets is simply amazing (while the hairs on a supposedly live dachshund are creepy and uncanny).
"They forget you," says Jessie of their pre-teen owners (a theme numbingly reiterated in her big ballad). And that sad suggestion of childhood lost lingers beyond TS2's predictably happy ending.