Wednesday, November 24, 1999

'Toy Story 2:' Woody and gang faster, funnier




BY MARGARET A. McGURK
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Behold, my friends, the superior sequel. Toy Story 2 is, I am delighted to report, even better than the original.

        Not only is this all-computer-generated comedy more technically spectacular than its beloved predecessor, it is also more action-packed and joke-soaked.

        Toy Story 2 blends new characters and technical advances with the best features of the first film — mostly, those wonderful talking toys.

        All the bigs stars are back — Tom Hanks as the voice of cowboy Woody and Tim Allen as spaceman Buzz Lightyear, plus their wacky playroom cohorts voiced by John Ratzenberger, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, Don Rickles, Estelle Harris and Annie Potts.

        Their new adventures revolve around the terrifying (for a toy) prospect of being discarded by their children, a threat raised when Woody suffers a ripped shoulder while trying to save another toy from a garage sale.

        That leads to Woody's kidnapping by evil toy trader Big Al (voice of Wayne Knight, Newman on Seinfeld) ) who sees only a valuable collectible. Turns out Woody was once a TV star with spin-off toys, lunch boxes, costumes — and supporting characters.

        At Big Al's lair, he meets his sister-like sidekick Jessie (voice of Joan Cusack) and the prospector Stinky Pete (voice of Kelsey Grammer). They are are delighted to be out of storage for the first time in years, even if it means spending their lives on display in Japan.

        The catch is they need Woody to go with them; their pleas test Woody's loyalty to his little boy. Of course, he eventually decides that the best destiny for a toy is to fall apart in the hands of a child.

        But first, his friends must rescue him in a series of scenes that represent some of the cleverest, wittiest, most elaborate special effects.

        Thanks in part to advances in special effects technology, the filmmakers incorporate all sorts of classic action scenes, including a fistfight in an elevator shaft, a car chase (Yes, toys can drive!) and a thrilling escape from an airliner.

        Filmmaker John Lasseter shares credit with two “co-directors,” plus seven other writers, but the movie owes its soul to his unerring touch for infusing animated creatures with wit and personality. (This man made his reputation by turning desk lamps into cuddly creatures, showcased in a cartoon, Luxo 2, shown with the movie.)

        Every scene in Toy Story 2 boasts new treats: the awesome detail of a dog's fur coat; the hilarious solution to the problem of crossing a busy street; even the clever way the filmmakers found to reintroduce the clueless Buzz, who takes his pretend powers seriously. They also weave in many jokey references to other films, particularly Star Wars.

        Ninety minutes of pure fun on the run, Toy Story 2 is so good you won't even need a kid to sneak you in to see it.

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