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As anyone that is remotely familiar with the world of film and popular culture knows, sequels are a dubious business. For every rare successful sequel or even rarer superior sequel, there are a thousand god awful sequels that should never, under any circumstances, have seen the light of day. Thankfully, when a sequel to the hugely successful Toy Story was devised, the filmmakers managed to do the impossible, make the sequel, aptly titled Toy Story 2, better than the original in almost every single department.

Toy Story 2: Special Edition
Film
Toy Story 2 begins in a similar way to its predecessor, in Andy’s room. Everything seems blissful amongst the toys with Buzz and Woody now friends as they share the affection of their owner Andy. But as is the pattern, problems emerge when Woody is damaged just before he is all set to go to cowboy camp with Andy. Reluctantly, Andy leaves his favourite toy at home and sets off for camp. While he is away, Andy’s mother holds a yard sale and in the process of rescuing another toy from the sale, Woody is stolen by Al McWhiggin of Al’s Toy Barn and it’s up to the rest of the toys to rescue him. Little do Buzz and co know that McWhiggin needs Woody to complete his Round Up Gang collection, which he intends to sell to a Japanese toy museum. Woody is introduced to his fellow collectibles, trusty steed Bullseye, cowgirl Jessie (voiced by Joan Cusack) and the Prospector Stinky Pete (Kelsey Grammer). But while Woody is intrigued by his new friends and famous history, he must decide between his simple life as Andy’s beloved toy or that of a gawked at celebrity toy at a museum.

Unlike the first film, the plot of the sequel allows for much more scope for the action to take place. Most of the original film revolved around Andy’s room with only a few other locations offering adventures for the heroes. This time around the toys venture out into the big wide world and much of the charm of the sequel lies with this particular expansion of the world, not to mention the introduction of some memorable characters in the form of Woody’s round up gang Jessie and Bullseye. Once again, the sweet, nerdy Pixar guys have created loveable characters in a fully functional and believable world that offers a glorious escape into toydom.

Toy Story 2: Special Edition
The most remarkable thing about this sequel, however, is how is expands one of the central themes of the original film and makes it more heartfelt and sincere. A toy’s purpose is to be there for its owner and while the first film explored this theme with the introduction of Buzz, a toy who didn’t know he was toy, in Toy Story 2 it is fiercely devoted Woody who questions his purpose of existence. Woody ponders the possibility that one day Andy won’t want him anymore, a prospect that is illustrated by the sad story of Jessie, who was abandoned by her child. Jessie’s story is told through the Randy Newman penned  ‘When She Loved Me’ sung by Sarah McLachlan, which plays over a flashback sequence that would reduce a grown man to tears. I must admit that after watching this film I looked at my favourite toy, my old Cabbage Patch doll, Lulubell, a little differently, just pondering how I treated her when I was a kid and how she now simply sits atop a small bookshelf, alone, only occasionally being moved so as not to collect dust. It’s one of the many sad aspects of growing up, when the treasured friends who you once took everywhere and experienced numerous adventures with gradually become just toys. Toy Story 2 delves into this idea from the toys perspective, just as the original film did, but the introduction of two characters, Stinky Pete and Jessie, offers two new perspectives of life as toy.

Much of the humour of the film is provided by the rescue gang, Buzz, Hamm, Rex, Slinky Dog and Mr Potato Head. As this plastic posse set out to find Woody they are faced with a variety of obstacles such as crossing the street (they cause a pile up), opening the sliding doors to Al’s Toy Barn and driving to the Airport. Of course, the rescue mission is tackled with plenty of wisecracks and a few close calls, with the hair raising finale plane chase particularly exciting. But at the end of the day, it’s back to the simple life. Andy gets some new toys, Jessie and Bullseye get a new home and Woody is back where he and all the other toys belong, Andy’s room.

Video
Like its predecessor, Toy Story 2 is released in its original 1.78:1 theatrical aspect ratio and it couldn’t look better. The presentation is near perfection with sharpness and detail superb and overall clarity simply magnificent. Colours are rich and vibrant and saturation is consistently impressive. Granted, like any Pixar film, the imperfections will be minimal, if any, but Toy Story looks particularly impressive, mainly due to a rich colour palette. Most animation DVDs offer amazing reference quality transfers is this film certainly delivers another one. There is not one flaw visible anywhere and the quality of the transfer is really evidence in the Al's Toy Barn sequence when lighting is constantly changing, with details always superb.

Toy Story 2: Special Edition
Audio
Booming across all five channels with perfect sync, the Dolby Digital 5.1 THX certified sound package offers stunning audio that compliments the impressive video. This is a reference standard package with the sub woofer frequently put through the motions, particularly towards the action packaged finale of the film. With a few stand out songs included in the film, clarity and sync are very important and luckily there is nothing to complain about with every sound effect and musical number perfectly executed.

Extras
In a similar fashion to the Toy Story release, the extras for the sequel are spread across both discs. Firstly, on disc one there is a John Lasseter Introduction which is more interesting that his introduction for the first film. He comments that when production of the sequel was just beginning he passed by a child in a airport who was tightly clutching his most prized possession, a Woody Doll, and Lasseter realised that Woody and Buzz and all the other Toy Story toys no longer belonged to him or Pixar and that the sequel had to be made with respect and care because of the kids, like the one at the airport, who treasure the characters.

Next up is the Pixar gang Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich and Ash Brannon with the commentary.  These guys love what they do and they have trouble containing themselves on this commentary, which makes it extremely fun and informative for the listener. They discuss the development of the technology, their love of toy research and how they planned and executed certain sequences and characters. The final extra on disc one is a short preview for the next Pixar animation feature Cars.

The extras on disc two begin with a collection entitled ‘Toy Box’ and it’s full of different goodies. Firstly there are the outtakes, originally tagged onto the end credits part way through the films original theatrical run. Some of these bloopers are funny, others are a little too strained, and the highlight clip is probably the Bug’s Life 2 spoof. ‘Whose the Coolest Toy?’ is a short featurette included in the ‘Toy Box’ which contains interviews with various faces involved in the film discussing the question at hand. Some like Woody, some like Buzz and Lasseter cops out by saying that choosing the coolest toy would be like choosing which of his five sons he likes the best. Personally, my vote has to go to Woody.

Toy Story 2: Special Edition
One game is included in the Box; called ‘Which Toy Are You?’ it’s introduced by Hamm and Rex and involves answering a series of multiple choice questions to determine which toy you are most like. A B&W gallery of autographed photos of Woody, Buzz and the rest of the characters is a nice little extra and finally there is a very bizarre feature from a Japanese show called Ponkickies. Apparently Jesse, Woody and Buzz all appeared on the show to play rock, paper, scissors and this little feature allows you to play the game with the three characters. A seven minute ‘Making of Toy Story 2 ’ featurette includes interviews with all the usual suspects and various behind the scenes footage. The deleted scenes section actually includes two altered sequences titled ‘Godzilla Rex’ and ‘Crossing the Road’.

The behind the scenes section has sub sections just like the ‘Toy Box’ with the first feature a profile of John Lasseter whom everyone seems to adore and in watching this profile it’s easy to see why. Lasseter is like a hyperactive child with a sunshine tinted demeanour all wrapped up in a Hawaiian shirt. As everyone in this feature states, there would be no Pixar without this Magnum P.I. wannabe.

Next up is a ‘Cast of Characters’ section which consists of a four minute featurette with various members of the voice cast discussing their characters. Then there is the ‘Design’ section, which includes picture galleries of the characters, sets and colours and 3D turnaround clips of each character and 3D tours of some of the locations from the film. ‘Story’ uniquely presents two story pitches for ‘Woody’s Nightmare’ and ‘Jessie’s Song’. The storyboards appear on screen as a member of the writing team talks over the images, essentially pitching the story. The section ‘Production’ includes a variety of featurettes covering special effects, while also including a production tour and animation tests. The ‘Music and Sound” feature includes a music video and Randy Newman demo for Jessie’s Song, a ‘Making the Songs’ featurette and a designing sound feature. Finally the ‘Publicity section’ includes character interviews, trailers, TV spots and a poster gallery.

Echoing the design of the Toy Story release, the ‘Bonus’ and ‘Publicity’ menus contain Sheriff Woody stars that when clicked on offer short bonus clips, including one of Woody playing baseball.

Toy Story 2: Special Edition
Overall
Although I love Toy Story, Toy Story 2 is a much more fun film to watch, as a lot more happens and personally I find the humour more irreverent. But really the two films can't be separated; they are more like one long animated saga divided into two parts, with most of the action taking place in the second half. Toy Story and Toy Story 2 are must have films in any DVD collection. The question is if you already own the Ultimate Toy Box or other editions of the films are these new special editions worth the double dip? Well, it's difficult to say. If you’re not fussed about a few additional extras here and there, and you own the Ultimate Toy Box, these releases aren't necessary purchases. However, for anyone who has neglected to fill the Toy Story void in their collection, these releases are must buys.


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