You have very little time left to see this in theaters. I went opening night, and I’ve been floating ever since. Toy Story is one of the greatest films of the last 25 years, one of the singular achievements in cinematic history, and it’s revolutionized the way animated films are both drawn and told. It also began a run of films by Pixar that has proven to be the most impressive run of films by a production studio in the history of movie production– no other run of ten films has produced seven four-star classics and three more three-star films in a fifteen-year span. Ever. Toy Story 2 is included in the double feature, and while its animation is even more impressive than the first, and it performs admirably as a sequel to one of the best films I’ve ever seen, it doesn’t quite live up. Still, the two together, with retouched graphics and 3D effects added in, stands tall as one of the best times I’ve had in theaters this year.
I was ten when the original Toy Story came out. I was starting to get too old to believe your toys came to life when you left the room, but action figures and stuffed animals still had names, and still had their own personalities in my mind. Watching it now, nearly fifteen years later, I felt ten again. Before the film began, a trailer for Toy Story 3 showed Andy as an adult now, wondering what to do with his old toys. A montage of Andy growing older with his toys diminishing farther into the background of his life brought tears to my eyes. This was exactly what I had gone through– and sure enough, if I went back home, there all my old toys and stuffed animals would be, with my mom urging me coldly and logically to get rid of them, because I never play with them anymore, and I’m never home. Moms never understood in the Toy Story films. Mom was the one who never believed Andy when he said Woody and Buzz were missing. Mom was the smug one when Woody and Buzz showed up magically in Andy’s box. Mom was the one who went to Andy’s room to scoop up toys for the yard sale while Andy was away at summer camp. It’s not that Mom doesn’t care– she just has forgotten that toys have lives of their own, lives that only the child owner can fully appreciate and comprehend.
When the film started, showing me Andy’s familiar wallpaper, listening to the familiar strains of Randy Newman’s classic score, I was taken back to age ten with a startling quickness. When Woody first appears, with the pullstring utterance, “Reach for the skyyyyy!”, warm tingles ran down my spine. This isn’t just a movie from my childhood– it IS my childhood. Toy Story enables the viewer to relive that sense of being a kid again. The fact that I was a kid when Toy Story came out only adds to my appreciation, layering a touch of nostalgia on top. The musical montages made me reach for a tissuebox that I wish I’d anticipated bringing. “I Will Go Sailing No More” is one of the best musical montages ever in any film, and then the film has the grace to follow that beautiful heart-wrenching moment with one of the funniest scenes in the film, Buzz flipping out, yelling, “You see the hat?? I am Mrs. Nesbitt!” Every voice is perfect, every moment magically snapped into place flawlessly, and now with the retouched visuals, the animation looks as sharp and awe-inspiring as ever.
There is a moment in Toy Story that ranks up there as one of the best moments of its kind ever made. It’s the moment in which Woody and Buzz have been left behind by the moving truck, and they realize they’ve got a rocket and a match– they can still catch up! Woody lights the match… and the wind from a passing car extinguishes the flame. This moment is one of those moments where despite the fact that you know, you just KNOW, that the heroes will make it back and the day will be saved, you think for a moment, “Does this film truly have the guts to end with these toys… not making it back?” It’s an impossibility, and as an avid moviegoer, you know that they will make it. Yet when the surefire final solution is gone, what’s left to do? A similar moment is the moment in Back To The Future when Marty is racing the clock, and he puts the key in the ignition, and the car won’t start. These are the moments in film that sink our hearts into our stomachs, and they are only achieved when we have massive amounts of caring for the characters on screen and when the storytelling is nothing short of masterful. This tells you the caliber of film Toy Story is. It’s one of a kind– it’s magical.
Toy Story 2 does not reach the same level, but that’s like faulting Wilt Chamberlain for not scoring a hundred points in a single game twice. It begins with an exquisitely animated Buzz Lightyear adventure, which is done creatively but feels somewhat out of place with the heartfelt simpler pleasures of the first film. When we return to Andy’s room, the laughs begin, and the rest of the film stays within the toy point-of-view. Woody is stolen by a toy collector at a yard sale, and he discovers his worth as a classic collector’s item. Part of him wants to return to Andy… but the other part of him acknowledges the grim reality that his time in Andy’s life is short at best, whereas in a museum kids will marvel at him forever. Meanwhile, Buzz and the gang set off into the city to try to find Woody, and they enter a toy store, full of Barbies, other Buzz Lightyears, and the Emperor Zurg action figure hellbent on destroying Buzz.
The hijinks in the city is very amusing, but lacks the same sort of heart in these sequences that the previous film maintained throughout. The moments between Woody and the other figures that make up Woody’s Roundup Gang (voiced by Joan Cusack and Kelsey Grammer) have all of the heart and the thoughtfulness that we’d expect from a Pixar film, although a musical montage by Sarah McLachlan detailing how Joan Cusack’s character, Jessie, lost the favor of her owner, feels derivative of the “Strange Things” montage from the first film. There’s nothing wrong with this movie– it’s laugh-out-loud funny, full of the characters we love, and even more exquisitely animated than the first (the conclusion of the film at the airport is really sensational). It’s unfair that our brains automatically compare a sequel to its truly classic predecessor, but it’s the truth of the matter: you can’t leave Toy Story 2 without thinking, “It’s not AS perfect as Toy Story.”
Still, you’d be a fool not to check out this double-feature while it’s still in theaters– you’ve got at least one more weekend. The films are split by an intermission with trivia and little fun clips containing the whole gang (peppered with wisecracks so funny they made me want to skip my restroom break and stay the whole time). If you’re not familiar with these films, you’re in for a treat that I can’t begin to describe. If you saw Toy Story fifteen years ago, it’s absolutely worth seeing the gorgeous retouching they’ve done with it… and it’s always more fun seeing classics in theaters. But if you’re like me, and you’re of the rare age that you grew up with Toy Story, then this will be one of the best movie experiences of recent memory.
Though the movie Toy Story 2 by itself would be three kernels, Toy Story and the experience as a whole is…