Fashion magazines and fund-raising dinners vying for the participation of celebrities are in luck: The animation leaps made by the unbeatable computer-animation house Pixar are so terrific, fleshly talent may soon lose its market dominance. Following the groundbreaking 1995 hit Toy Story with a sequel Godfather II-like in its ability to match and even surpass the original, Toy Story 2 is the antidote to souped-up dreck like Baby Geniuses, family-style movies with zilch respect for human intelligence. It's a great, IQ-flattering entertainment both wonderful and wise.
That's quite a lot to lay on a non-Oscar-length movie about the adventures of a stuffed cowboy doll named Woody and a plastic space-ranger action figure named Buzz Lightyear, I know. But Toy Story 2 twinkles on so many levels that understatement would be stingy during this giving season.
The sequel assumes but does not require a knowledge of what came before: Woody (Tom Hanks, having a yippee-yi-yo good time) and Buzz (Tim Allen, flying high), co-firsts among equals in the toy collection of their boy owner, Andy, are getting a little frayed from use. Woody in particular could use some mending stuffing bursts from his shoulderand when Andy goes to camp, leaving Woody behind and vulnerable to a garage sale, the doll is kidnapped by Al McWhiggin (voiced by Wayne Knight), a classically obsessive collector (dig the mid-century modern furniture in his living room!) for whom the cowboy means big money. Woody's the rare piece Al needs to complete his set from the 1950s TV show Woody's Roundup, which also includes Jessie the Cowgirl (Joan Cusack) and Stinky Pete the Prospector (Kelsey Grammer), kept pristine in his original carton. The great news for Al is that a Japanese museum is willing to spend big to buy the whole lot.
As in Toy Story, serious issues of love, friendship, and faithfulness beat in the deep heart of a light adventure. In this case, Woody weighs the safety of lying low with his new, untouchable teammates against the perils (and pleasures) of being loved and played with (but likely eventually discarded) by an imperfect little boy. But while he dithers, his toy friends organize to rescue him in a spectacular sequence of advances and setbacks, led by Buzz and followed by the famous, familiar Toy brigade, including Jim Varney as Slinky Dog, John Ratzenberger as Hamm, and Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head, now joined by Seinfeld's Estelle Harris as his missus.
Crossing the street (hidden under traffic cones), entering Al's toy store (where Barbies serve as tour guides and boxed Buzz Lightyear dolls, who haven't yet realized they're toys, preen with imagined superpowers), finagling themselves into the cargo bay of an airplane, the toys keep to their mission in a perfect double strand of kid-size action and adult-pitched references (to Star Wars, to videogames, to 1950s TV shows in all their scratchy innocence). By the time the two plots entwine their ways to a suspenseful finish worthy of a James Bond spectacular, there's not a moviegoer in the world who wouldn't welcome a society built by Pixar in the millennium to come. A