I was going to review Tim Burton's excellent "Sleepy Hollow" this week. I was prepared to talk about how wonderful Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Christopher Walken, and Ray Park are. I was prepared to rave about the incredible sets and lighting, the wonderful Burtonesque tone that pervaded the entire film.
But then, "Toy Story 2" hit the theaters, and all thoughts of "Sleepy Hollow" were banished from my mind. "Toy Story 2" is one of those magical movies that can transport you back to when you were a child, when Santa Claus was real, the world was good, and Pokemon wasn't even a twinkle in a greedy corporation's eye. The "Toy Story" series harkens back to the days of our youth, before the cynicism began to set in. They are the purest and most enjoyable types of cartoons, lacking the vicious crudeness of "South Park" or the irony of "The Simpsons". The fellows at Pixar, under the guidance of John Lasseter, have created something magical. Everything they touch seems to be made of gold. Even their worst film, "A Bug's Life", is heads above anything Disney has put out since "The Lion King."
The Pixar skill is shown at the very start of "Toy Story 2", with a short film that explains where Pixar got their distinctive desklamp logo. The short is "Jr.", the first film that Pixar ever put together; it's the heartwarming story of a desklamp and its son playing catch. Pixar's ability to create distinctive characters out of inanimate objects, capable of expressing emotions simply astounds me.
As advanced as "Jr." was, "Toy Story 2" is light-years beyond it. If you saw "Toy Story", you know what to expect. Andy's toys are a distinct community of friends who help each other out. All of the toys are back from the first movie: Mr. Potato Head, Slinky Dog, Rex the cowardly dinosaur, Hamm the piggy bank, Sarge and his army soldiers, the aliens ("the Claw!"), Buzz Lightyear, and Woody. But while "Toy Story" was mostly focused on the education of Buzz, "Toy Story 2" focuses predominantly on Woody's story.
There is, however, room for new toys. The best new toys are the members of Woody's roundup gang, who live in the office of a toy collector. There's Jessie the cowgirl, Woody's horse, and Stinky Pete the Prospector, a collectible toy who resents that he was never let out of his box. But the best laughs come from the relationship between another Buzz Lightyear who doesn't know he's a toy, and his enemy, the evil Zurg. Their parody of "Star Wars" is funnier than anything Mel Brooks ever did.
The only complaint I have about the movie is that Pixar still hasn't managed to duplicate human movement. While the humans, when stationary, look incredible, their movement is still a little awkward. It's ironic that the toys are more lifelike that the humans in "Toy Story 2."
Of course, the big question is whether "Toy Story 2" is any better than the original. Sadly, the answer is no. It falls just a little bit short of the original. But "Toy Story 2" is by far the best animated movie that I've seen in the last two years, and should be on many year's best lists this year. Together with the original, these two movies form one of the most delightful series of films that I've ever seen. I don't believe that I would be going out on a limb to call the two "Toy Story" movies masterpieces. In a post-modern world choking on cynicism and irony, these films are a wonderful change. Go see this movie.
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