“Toy Story 2” is stunning, witty, exciting, enchanting, and very moving. Amazingly, it is even better than the sensationally entertaining original.
The animation is better — the facial expressions of the main characters should qualify the animators for a “Best Actor” Oscar and the backgrounds are more authentically lived in. But most important, the script is better. It is very, very funny, with sly references to Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jurassic Park and even Rear Window. But it is also insightful and touching, with a sort of “Velveteen Rabbit” theme about the importance a well-loved toy plays in the life of a child.
Woody (again voiced by Tom Hanks) is stolen by Al (voice of Wayne Knight) an evil toy store owner, who recognizes Woody as a valuable collectable. With Woody to complete the full set of toys from a 1950’s television show (deliciously re-created), Al can sell them all to a toy museum in Tokyo. Woody is delighted to find out his origin and value, and to meet up with “Woody’s Roundup” co-stars Jessie (voice of Joan Cusack), Stinky Pete (voice of Kelsey Grammer), and his faithful steed Bullseye. They tell him that he will be better off in the museum than waiting for Andy to outgrow him, and he starts to think they may be right.
Meanwhile, Woody’s friends from Andy’s house have organized a rescue mission led by Buzz Lightyear (again voiced by Tim Allen). After a series of hilarious and breathtaking adventures, they arrive to rescue a Woody who is not sure he wants to be rescued.
In these days when 8 year olds can talk knowledgeably about the extra value a mint tag adds to a Beanie Baby auction on Ebay or the market value of 20 different kinds of Pokemon cards, it is enormously valuable to think about the issue Woody must face. Should he have a brief but satisfying life as the beloved friend of a child who will eventually grow up and leave him bereft? As Jessie says with some bitterness, “Do you expect Andy to take you on his honeymoon?” Or should he remain perfectly preserved and perpetually honored as a museum exhibit? Ultimately, Woody concludes that “I can’t stop Andy from growing up, but I would not miss it for the world.” And Buzz agrees: “Life is only worth living if you’re being loved by a kid.” This is an enormously satisfying and meaningful point for a child — or a parent, especially as we face the holiday season avalanche of ads and gifts. Just as it is important for the toy, it is important for the child to love and respect the few toys that are really precious and think about what it is that makes them so special. As The Little Prince says, “It is the time you have wasted on the rose that makes it so important.”
P.S. As I type this, my Raggedy Ann and Andy, given to me on my 10th birthday, are smiling at me from across the room.