TOY STORY 2

G

-By Kevin Lally


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Toy Story 2 is a very worthy successor to the 1995 blockbuster that took computer animation to an entirely new plateau. Director John Lasseter, who also helmed the sensational A Bug's Life, is back at the helm keeping the toy antics lively, and he's reunited with his invaluable voiceover stars Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, as the genial cowboy doll Woody and the swell-headed spaceman Buzz Lightyear, respectively. The script by Andrew Stanton, Rita Hsiao, Doug Chamberlin and Chris Webb retains much of the original's cleverness, with an added touch of poignance and a true ethical dilemma for the goodhearted Woody. Parents couldn't do much better choosing a holiday kids' entertainment.

After an action-packed, Star Wars-style opening depicting Buzz in a breathless video game, the film returns us to the familiar bedroom of young Andy, home to a community of bickering toys. Soon, Woody is embarking on his own adventure, rescuing a broken squeak-toy penguin from a yard sale. Woody himself is 'toy-napped' by collector Al McWhiggin, owner of local emporium Al's Toy Barn, who recognizes the cowboy doll as a rare, valuable specimen dating back to the '50s children's TV show 'Woody's Roundup.' With a nod to Babe: Pig in the City, Buzz leads an expedition to Al's city lair to save his cowboy buddy. But Woody isn't entirely displeased with his new surroundings: Convinced Andy has abandoned him, he's delighted to discover he was once a big TV star, and now has the opportunity to rescue his fellow collectibles-Jessie the cowgirl, Bullseye the horse and Stinky Pete the prospector-from a miserable life in storage and join them in a place of honor in a Tokyo toy museum.

Matching the denseness of detail of the animation, the action and comedy rarely let up. There's a very funny set-piece that answers the question, 'How do a bunch of toys cross a busy highway?' and a delightful sequence in which the gang wreaks havoc at Al's Toy Barn, their toy hormones fired up by a bevy of Barbies. The visualization of the extremely primitive marionette show 'Woody's Roundup' is a hoot, as is new cast member Joan Cusack as the tomboyish Jessie. The movie only strains a bit in its cliffhanger climax, as the toys handle such impossible feats as driving a human-size car and racing against a departing jetliner.

Once again, the heart of the movie is Tom Hanks, who brings real conviction to the story's central concern: What's a toy to do when his owner outgrows him? (Sarah McLachlan sings a lovely Randy Newman song that illustrates the point.) Other standouts in the voice cast are Wayne Knight, very Newman-like as the greedy toy speculator, and Kelsey Grammer as the old prospector who isn't quite as folksy as he first seems.

In all, Toy Story 2 is a disarming return visit with a collection of computer-animated eccentrics who haven't come close to wearing out their welcome.

--Kevin Lally


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