Toy Story 2, then. Originally conceived as a direct-to-video monstrosity (a la the Aladdin sequel, Return To Jafar), it was only reconfigured for cinema release – with the consequential extra resources being thrown at it – when it became clear midway through development that Pixar’s work was exemplary and deserved the additional time and effort to fully realise its potential.
The film is widely regarded as one of those few sequels that’s better than the original, but for a number of years I didn’t think that was the case. I’d wager that most people have seen Toy Story 1 a lot more, maybe because it was the first of a new breed of filmmaking, but also because the second incarnation is a more challenging movie all round.
While the original dealt with the issue of rivalry and provided a fresh take on the buddy movie, Toy Story 2 deals with the fear of loss, and at times is a very grown-up movie. Of course, kids like to be treated with respect. Talk down to them, and while they may engage with surface thrills they don’t respond in the same way that they do when a story recognises their intelligence. Toy Story 2 has action and a razor-sharp wit, but it’s not afraid to deal with concepts that youngsters may find difficult to understand. Consequently it’s a very satisfying watch for all ages.
A bravura sequence set to music in the middle of the film, where cowgirl Jessie recounts her experience of her owner Emily growing up and leaving her behind, now seems like the prototype for “that” heartbreaking scene in Up (doubtless one of the most affecting few minutes in movie history. In an animated film. Incredible), and now that I’m a few years older and (maybe) wiser than I was when I last saw Toy Story 2, the penny dropped that what I was seeing was much richer, with more depth than the first film, superb though that was.
Indeed, while watching the film you can see Pixar’s mastery of storytelling growing and taking on a new maturity. The philosophical argument between Woody and Buzz about a toy’s eventual fate, and whether it’s better to be loved for a short time than to live longer without that kind of relationship, is heavy stuff. This development continued throughout the studio’s subsequent output, with Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and Wall-E all striking that fine balance between entertainment and a message, while never being heavy-handed with the latter. Believe me, that’s quite a juggling act.
So as I prepare to see Toy Story 3 tomorrow night, excited as I am by the 3D and the jump in animation, I’m more looking forward to seeing how Pixar have advanced their storytelling craft still further in the 11 years since Toy Story 2 came out, and applying it to the characters that I know and love. Once more unto the well, dear friends? That’s not Pixar’s style. I fully expect the film to be phenomenal.