FOUR STARS - Uplifting
Like the storytellers of old whose fables created talking animals to teach the moral of the story, the modern story tellers of “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2”, create talking toys in a computer-generated world. And like their ancient predecessors, these talking messengers also get beneath our usual defenses and deposit their morals deep within our hearts and minds, enriching our lives.
Created with a simplicity which children can understand and a morality which parents can applaud, the witty humor and cultural allusions make it a film for adults to enjoy as well.
The depth of this second film, “Toy Story 2”, is not only obvious in the advancement of the quality of its images but also in the depth of messages. Where the first film dealt with such feelings as insecurity, jealousy and competition, this sequel deals with the larger issues of rejection, life purpose and mortality. The answers given generate an intriguing tale and leave us with enriched lives.
Toy Story 2 begins where the first film leaves off, with Andy (John Morris) having accepted both the cowboy doll of his earlier years named Woody (Tom Hanks) as well as the new space doll of his developing world named Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen).
Woody is excited to go with Andy on their annual visit to “Cowboy Camp” when Andy accidentally tears Woody’s arm and decides to leave him behind. This tear begins the adventure at every level of the film.
Symbolic of the aging process in which the physical body suffers wear and tear, Woody is literally “put on the shelf” by Andy and left behind from this cherished experience of going to camp with him.
This is the first of the major themes of the fable: Everyone gets old and left behind. Unable to function as he had when he was newer, Woody is kept behind for his own good, as Andy explains later that at camp Woody could have been hurt further. It becomes clear that it is Andy’s love for Woody that gets him “shelved.”
This depiction of the paradoxical nature of aging is inspired. The fact that our aged “threads” and bones can get hurt by doing the robust things we love often causes those who love us to shelve us from such activities. Thus, it is their very love for us that ends our active lives. The fear that they will then forget us is also symbolically portrayed as Woody meets a little penguin toy who is covered with dust from having been shelved earlier because he lost his squeaky whistle.
Having set the stage, the tale then starts down a path of exciting adventure. Woody, through the heroic attempt to save the little penguin from the toy-death of a yard sale, comes under the greedy control of Al McWhiggin (Wayne Knight). McWhiggin is a toy collector who knows the inestimable worth of Woody as a collector’s item to an overseas buyer.
This is the second moral of the fable. Some value us only for what we can do for them. McWhiggin is not interested in Woody for himself, but for what he can gain by selling him. The antithesis of Andy’s love, McWhiggin stands for all those who would use us for their own purposes.
What makes Woody so valuable is that he is a part of Americana in which he was the star of his own television program along with his horse, a cowgirl named Jessie (Joan Cusack) and Stinky Pete the Prospector (Kelsey Grammer).
It is here that we hear the third moral of the fable: Not only do we get old, shelved and left behind, but those who love us can outgrow their love for us.
Jessie, a cute, spunky female version of Woody, had been deeply loved by her owner, just as Woody was loved by Andy. But then Jessie’s owner grew up and discarded her in the donation box of a local charity. She had been replaced by make-up, phones and teenage interests.
But into this world of shelved and discarded lives comes the love, loyalty and courage of Woody’s friends. With a creativity that matches their self-sacrificing love, these toys master a major boulevard and a highrise apartment complex to come to Woody’s aid.
This brings us to the final moral of the fable: Love, for however long it may be experienced, is to be chosen over any other option.
Having been convinced by jealous Pete the Prospector that Andy does not love him any more because he shelved him, Woody has decided to not try to return to Andy but to go to a toy museum with the others in Japan. But when Buzz leads his toy friends to his rescue, Woody realizes how much he is loved and that love is his choice as well for “infinity and beyond.” We agree.