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The toys are back in town


Arizona Daily Wildcat

Tim Allen and Tom Hanks reprise their roles as Buzz Lightyear and Woody in "Toy Story 2." Though this film focuses more on Woody, the two main characters still share friendly arguments about the fact that they are merely toys. Photo Courtesy of Pixar Animation Studios

By Graig Uhlin
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
November 29, 1999
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The Mattel Corporation has finally learned its lesson.

In 1995, Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios released the first "Toy Story" film, about toys that come alive without influence from their owners, but there was a familiar face missing: Barbies. Yet, after the sweeping success of the film, Mattel changed their attitude and now Barbie has become part of one of the most enjoyable ensembles in film history.

No understatement here, the "Toy Story" series has proven a landmark in computer animation, showing that well-rounded, likable characters - unlike "Phantom Menace's" Jar Jar Binks - can be created through the use of a whole lot of points-and-clicks.

And to think it almost never happened. "Toy Story 2" was originally slated to go directly to video, but after the script was written, the executives realized they had more on their hands than a cheap merchandising ploy.

"Toy Story 2" is a wonderfully funny, consistently delightful film, providing entertainment for adults and children alike. Its hilarity is matched only by its levity, the narrative proceeding with wild abandon. One senses that the filmmakers had as much fun as the audience.

In "Toy Story 2," Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) is kidnapped by Al (Wayne Knight), a toy collector and owner of Al's Toy Barn. Woody was once part of a short-lived, Howdy Doody-esque TV show and therefore is worth a lot of money, but to the other toys, he is just their friend. So Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and familiar faces Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), Slinky Dog (Jim Varney), Rex (Wallace Shawn) and Hamm (John Ratzenberger) embark on a courageous mission to save him.

What makes the "Toy Story" series so endearing is not only the nostalgia that the audience feels for the toy characters, but also the triumph of old-fashioned, kind-hearted values in the face of unabashed evil. Moreover, "Toy Story 2" does it without being heavy-handed. The film skillfully balances moments of sentimentality and episodes of cartoonish hijinks.

The audience delights in watching the group of characters facing menial obstacles which, to them, are heart-stoppingly frightening, like when they have to cross the street in order to reach Al's Toy Barn. As always, the solution to their problem leads to moments of laughter, fright and all the emotions in between. Viewers are swept away with a sense of adventure and excitement, like an Indiana Jones movie set in Toys 'R Us.

"Toy Story 2" makes some additions to the first movie's cast. Mr. Potato Head gets a Mrs. Potato Head ("Seinfeld's" Estelle Harris). The other characters from Woody's TV show, cowgirl Jesse (Joan Cusack) and The Prospector (Kelsey Grammer), appear along with Tour Guide Barbie.

These additions make the film more compact, if it is possible for it be more compact, with laughs, as the audience watches each of the characters' personalities collide with fantastically enjoyable results. "Toy Story 2" is a lesson in good casting. Animation requires that an actor's voice impart the attitude of the character, and here it happens with such ease that one could never imagine anyone other than Tim Allen as Buzz, Hanks as Woody or Rickles as Mr. Potato Head.

In fact, this goes for the whole movie. "Toy Story" has a signature style that is recalled to the mind by the mere mention of the title. No other animated film, or any film for that matter, is more fun, simple feel-good fun, than "Toy Story 2." Pretty good for a few billion pixels.

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