Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #234
Director: John Lasseter
Starring: Tim Allen and Tom Hanks
Middle installations of trilogies are rarely the best film of the three, and more often than not, they're the worst. There's no pressure to draw in a new audience (because the first movie did that if you're being allowed to make a second) or finish out the series strong, because that's what the third movie is for. With the notable exception being The Empire Strikes Back (and maybe Oldboy if the first and third "Vengeance" movies don't hold up once I watch them – but that's not a true trilogy in the sense that the more episodic ones are), second movies in trilogies don't maintain the legacy of the films that surround them. That's very much the case with Toy Story 2. While Toy Story introduced Pixar Studios to a wide-eyed, gaping-mouthed world, and Toy Story 3 packed the emotional punch of a thousand freight trains, Toy Story 2 exists as a merely highly entertaining entry in the canon. That's right, highly entertaining – and even a bit emotionally resonant. Make no mistake, Toy Story 2 is very good; it just doesn't stand a chance of going down as a classic by anything other than association with its fellow trilogy members.
We might as well tackle the emotional aspects of this film first, since those are the only bits that warrant much discussion. When Andy's mom has a garage sale, a sweaty, dorky collector-type snatches up Woody for his huge collection of Woody-related memorabilia. Woody realizes how popular his brand once was, and he becomes obsessed with the idea of a domestic life with cowgirl Jessie, horse Bullseye, and prospector Stinky Pete. Unbeknownst to Woody, though, his toy pals have set out to rescue him. The convergence of the two parties creates a lot of tenderness, and this is the movie's greatest strength. Woody eventually snaps out of it and realizes that his place is at Andy's, and he manages to steal away Jessie and Bullseye to come with him. It ends exactly as it's supposed to, and it even adds some new friends to the gang along the way, but there's some truly tumultuous moments. In that respect, it helped pave the way for the grimness that Toy Story 3 – yes, grimness; how many kids' movies show the protagonists hurtling towards their fiery death and completely accepting their fates before finally being saved at the last possible moment? – would subject young audiences to eleven years later.
At the end of the day, though, Toy Story 2 is just entertainment. I saw it in theaters when I was nine, loved it, got the VHS for Christmas one year, wore it out with the help of my younger siblings, and can revisit it anytime and be genuinely captivated for two hours. But it doesn't quite hold up as a great movie, in my opinion. Maybe it's just because I feel compelled to compare it to the other movies in the trilogy (as well as the rest of Pixar's work), but I really think it's missing something intangible. That's not to say there's anything wrong with being an entertaining movie, and if anyone ever asks if I want to watch Toy Story 2, I have a hard time seeing myself saying no.
The Good: Introducing Stinky Pete, Jessie, and Bullseye is done flawlessly. However, I love Western characters in just about any form, so I'm biased as hell.
The Bad: The Buzz storyline with Emperor Zurg and New Buzz isn't all that riveting. Yeah, it's all setting up a Star Wars reference, I get it.
The Skinny: I probably wouldn't keep it on the list if I had to re-draft one.