CHRIS: Toy Story 2 (Lassester,Unkrich, Brannon, US, 1999)

The TOY STORY trilogy is probably the most successful trilogy in film history. Successful in the sense of its financial results at the box office and toy shops, but also successful in maintaining its integrity with its audience and critics. There has been a narrative consistency and each film has got better, with improved animation, additional characters and additional interesting layers to the world that the films create.

I have selected Toy Story 2, for two reasons, first, I have a theory that the second part of any trilogy is the best. I will explore this in other selections that will come later, however in summary, I believe the first film spends its time with the exposition of the characters, and the final part needs to provide a conclusion, whereas the middle film can begin the story without setting up the characters and can have a cliff hanger. The TOY STORY films don’t really follow this model, as they can stand alone, unbelievably, this film was originally conceived as a straight-to-video follow up to the second film. Second, I saw this in Las Vagas in a cinema next to the MGM Grand. We had bought the tickets earlier in the day, so when we turned up for the screening we were advised that the rest of the seats had been bought up by the boy band N-Synch and their entourage who were appearing next door. We were offered a refund or a seat right at the back. We were star-struck so sat on the back row in the hope of capturing a glimpse of Justin Timberlake and his then girl-friend Britney Spears. It was a memorable evening in the cinema!

One of the criticisms of STAR WARS is that it was the first film that tied merchandise very close to its production. TOY STORY, in one sense is the very pinnacle of this model of film production as its characters, by their very nature, are made for consumption. Woody the cowboy and his nemesis Buzz Lightyear, of star command have become established toys in their own right. However, despite my general cynicism about the ethics of exposing children to prolonged adverts to buy toys, I can forgive Pixar in this series because they do it with charm and a level of comic inventiveness that is less apparent in most other similar films.

It was also the first animated film that pitched its smart, witty gags at a duel audience, there’s something for adults and kids in the one-liners that pepper the script. It has become annoying now, as the the plethora of computer animated films that have scripts that are very ‘knowing’ and winking at the adult audience while entertaining the kids. TOY STORY does this more successfully than many of the others.

The central concept is engaging too, despite its vibrant colours the sentiment is challenging the value that people put on ‘stuff’ such as toys. Toys get their value from their engagement with children rather than the pristine ‘collectors items’ that are cherished by Big Al, the toy shop owner (who has cheese puff dust on his fingers you can almost smell!)

The animation is brilliant, when Woody is restored by ‘The Cleaner’ it is such an intricate animation that it appears like a short film in itself. The animation never gets in the way of the story, or the funny characters with witty, inventive visual and verbal gags, it enhances the suspenseful action sequences and great musical numbers (the best use of a Thin Lizzy track ever!)

I’m not sure what Timberlake made of it.

6 responses to “CHRIS: Toy Story 2 (Lassester,Unkrich, Brannon, US, 1999)

  1. the first film spends its time with the exposition of the characters, and the final part needs to provide a conclusion, whereas the middle film can begin the story without setting up the characters and can have a cliff hanger

    I think this depends on the strength of your characters. A lot of comic book and action franchises seem to be particularly bad at this, e.g. the Matrix trilogy and constant superhero “reboots” where the filmmakers just seem to get bored once they’ve got their origin story out of the way (21st century solution: “so let’s just tell it again! but with less jokes and more killings”)

  2. Yes, you’re right. It depends on the strength of the characters and on the narrative arc.

    Sometimes the narrative arc is not intentional: TOY STORY wasn’t conceived as a trilogy, neither was THE GODFATHER, but the ‘journey’ of the characters is more interesting in the middle.

    THE MATRIX is the exception that proves the rule. It is one of those films that has been damaged by the sequels. There are plenty of other examples.

  3. If I had to nail my colours to the mast I’d probably agree with the usual line that the first film in a series is generally the best, just because I often find the set-up more interesting than the denouement. When you’re making a ‘Part I’ you can chuck whatever you want at the screen without having to explain yourself, you don’t have to reveal the Emperor/Mordor/The Man With No Name’s Name/Keith Richards dressed as a pirate. It’s easy to create a sense of mystery and leave the audience wanting more. When you get to ‘Part II’ you either have to stick to your guns or start delivering on your promises.

    Maybe backed up by the fact that the major exceptions you mention (Toy Story, Godfather) didn’t set out to be trilogies.

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