Pixar gave us reason to doubt the legitimacy of Toy Story with its second outing in A Bug’s Life. Was Toy Story Pixar’s one-hit wonder? Is Toy Story 2 just going to ride the success of its first movie? No, Toy Story 2 is arguably as good as Toy Story.
The adventure starts to take form with Woody’s first injury. What’s interesting to note is that physical damage does not hurt these toys. This was established in Toy Story when Buzz Lightyear lost an arm. The only reason why Woody freaks out is because he believes this means Andy will not play with him or like him anymore, as he sits on the top of a book shelf waiting to be repaired. Once again, Pixar gets to the core of the human experience—it’s not the physical pain that we remember most. This makes the story all the more relatable to us.
The Pixar Moment
Woody gets stolen by some toy collector at a yard sale who tries to sell Woody, Jessie, Bullseye, and Stinky Pete the Prospector to a Japanese museum. Buzz and the gang try to rescue Woody, and along the way, we get the very nice additions of Evil Emperor Zurg and another Buzz Lightyear.
This Pixar moment really comes out of nowhere, and that is because it also serves to develop this character for the very first time: Jessie. For what it’s worth, this is my favorite Pixar song, although they don’t have very many, and I think this moment epitomizes Pixar storytelling—no dialogue, simplistic music, minimalistic styling, thematically-driven, and emotion-filled. The song is When She Loved Me, and it tells a short story about Jessie being abandoned by her owner.
So why does this work? It works because it does what a sequel should do: it builds off of the original. In the first movie, we saw Woody deal with the same fears that came into fruition for Jessie, and this makes us feel extremely sympathetic for her.
By the time Buzz comes to Woody’s rescue, Woody has become friends with Jessie, Bullseye, and Stinky Pete; Woody doesn’t want to be rescued.
But Woody’s constant loyalty to the people he meets only serves to make this event believable. The real, underlying reason why Woody is set on being preserved forever in a museum is because he is confusing admiration with love. Woody thinks being loved means enclosing yourself off in a glass display and having children take your picture and watch your TV show. But is that love? Can love be achieved without the physical and emotional tearing of the body? More importantly, if you had the choice, would you rather be admired for eternity or loved for a brisk lifetime? Toy Story 2 answers all of these questions convincingly.
Toy Story 2 makes the very smart decision to make this about Woody instead of Buzz. While Buzz’s story is about accepting reality and living a life for others, Woody’s story is about accepting pain and living a life for love—just because something can hurt you doesn’t mean you should run away from it.
What makes me say this is slightly worse than the original is because it splits its time between two journeys. One journey is mainly for entertainment, and that is Buzz’s group trying to rescue Woody. The other journey is mainly for substance, developing new characters and setting up the Pixar moment. The fact that each journey has a particular function makes the movie feel a little jumpy and a little formulaic at times. While Toy Story occurred over two locations, inside Andy’s room and outside Andy’s room, there was only one journey that served as both entertainment and substance. With that said, Toy Story 2 equally explores vital human conditions.
Final Grade: A- (91%)—Pixar’s first sequel continues the tradition of brilliant screen-writing.