We’ve seen plenty of sequels and prequels from Pixar lately. Of the ten distinct “franchises” Pixar has created (Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Monster’s Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incedibles, Cars, Ratatouille, Wall-E, Up, and Brave), five have been given additional films (Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3, Monster’s University, Cars 2, Finding Dory, The Incredibles 2). That reality grates against the credit the studio gets for creative originality. In the time between Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3, Pixar released some of their most successful films, all of which were new stories. Of the seven films released in that stretch, all were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Picture and five won the award. As often as sequels are denigrated for lack of originality, we have seen plenty of examples of quality films coming after an original. Grantland ran a series on sequels and crowned Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back as the victor of its Sequeltology tournament of films. Sequels aren’t inherently bad, it’s just that we see so many bad ones. Even Pixar isn’t immune to sequels troubles, as Cars 2 was panned critically despite its huge box office success. But twelve years before Lightning McQueen rode again, Woody, Buzz and the toys returned for a second outing. An outing that proves sequels can be just as good or better than the original.
Picking up where Toy Story left off four years earlier, we find the toys enjoying life with Andy. Buzz has integrated into the group seamlessly, Mr. and Mrs. Potoato Head are living happily ever after and Rex has nearly figured out how to beat Emperor Zurg in his video game. Woody is getting ready to spend some quality one-on-one time with Andy at cowboy camp but a rip in his stitching sidelines him and forces him to miss camp. Depressed and disappointed, Woody feels the sting of loneliness until he finds the lost toy Wheezy behind one of the books on the shelf. Woody and the other toys thought that Andy’s mother had taken Wheezy to be repaired after he broke his squeaker. When Andy’s mother puts Wheezy out into a yard sale, Woody pulls off a daring rescue mission on dog-back. Just as Wheezy is brought to safety, Woody falls from his trusty canine steed and ends up being stolen by a sleazy, chicken-suited toy dealer. Woody, Rex, Hamm, Mr. Potato Head and Slinky set out on a rescue mission of their own to save the Sheriff. Back at Al’s apartment, Woody is reunited with Jessie, Stinky Pete and the toy horse Bullseye. The three toys tell Woody tell Woody that they were all part of a valuable collection of western themed toys. They show him collectible merchandise stamped with Woody’s image and clips of the TV show Woody’s Roundup which starred Woody and the others. Shocked by the discovery his former fame, Woody waivers when deciding it he should to return to Andy. They remind him that eventually Andy will forget about Woody, just as Jessie’s former owner forgot about her. Thinking back to how it felt when Andy stopped playing with him in favor of Buzz and what happened to Wheezy when he was injured, Woody decides to join the rest of the roundup in Japan where Al plans to sell the group to a toy museum.
Like its predecessor, Toy Story 2 deals heavily in the fear of abandonment. Stinky Pete and Jesse are fueled by this fear and we see the first sequence Pixar employs which might be considered overly manipulative. Michael Barrier, an “animation expert and historian…widely respected [as an] expert in the field” criticized the use of these sequences and described the studio as “emotionally manipulative in a fundamentally dishonest way” . Barrier cites the opening sequence of Up specifically which is now famous for its heartwrenching look into the lives of Carl and Ellie. The sequence showcasing Jessie’s life with Emily and her eventual rejection by the girl is the first time I think the studio could be accused of this manipulation. While I’m not sure if this sequence or any to come cross any lines, they are effective and do come more frequently after this third film. Of course, few people are offended by the films and Up was only the second animated film ever to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture and picked up Pixar’s fifth Best Animated Picture Academy Award (the fifth in the streak mentioned above).
Questions about the intentions of the writers aside, I would argue that Toy Story 2 is an improvement on its predecessor. If may not be a historic landmark like the first film but the animation is objectively better and the plot is more expansive. With the more plentiful story arcs we get more of the secondary toys, especially Rex who is one of my favorite Pixar characters overall. One of the comedic highlights arrives when the rescue team finally reaches the street where Woody is being held. Once they realize several lanes of cars separate the rescuers from their target, Rex turns around and says “Oh well, we tried” and starts to walk home. His lovable insecurities play off of Buzz and the others perfectly. Relationships like these are reason enough to hope for sequels.