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TOY STORY 2: The Little Movie That Could, Part Two

The Shocking, Untold Story of Toy Mid-life Crisis.

By Mike Lyons     November 25, 1999

Woody, the pull-string cowboy hero of 1995's blockbuster, TOY STORY may be the first animated character to undergo male menopause. In this month's eagerly awaited sequel, the computer-animated hero experiences a very human emotion. 'He has his mid-life crisis in this film,' says producer Karen Robert Jackson. 'He has to decide whether to live life as a toy, if that means that eventually a boy might actually discard you, or he can have the fountain of youth and live forever on a shelf in mint condition, which means that you can't play with a boy anymore. He has to choose between bringing joy to millions or bringing joy to one child.'

Too much thought for what many may consider just another animated film? Not so, say the filmmakers at Pixar, the pioneering computer animation studio producing the sequel in conjunction with Disney. There is a heart and a soul that beats deep within the hard drives of the studio's computers that have brought to life not only TOY STORY and last year's hit BUG'S LIFE, but to a host of award winning short subjects, as well.

'If we hire an animator, the last thing I want is for that person to be spending their time worrying about technical issues,' says Glen McQueen, supervising animator for TOY STORY 2. 'They should only be worrying about the performance of their characters.'

'One of the reasons that Pixar has had the successes they've had is that they do concentrate on good story,' adds the film's art director, Jim Pearson. 'It's in the 'Disney mold' to a certain extent, because Disney has always had good stories and good characters. But, we take a slightly more irreverent approach.'

TOY STORY 2 does indeed seem to be the textbook definition of irreverent. In the sequel, Woody is 'kidnapped' by an obsessive toy collector, Al McWhiggan, at a neighborhood yard sale, and the other toys, Buzz Lightyear, Mr. Potato Head, Slinky Dog, et. al., must venture outside the playroom to rescue Woody.

'I always felt that there were possibilities for other stories,' says John Lasseter, who co-directs Toy Story 2 with Lee Unkrich and Ash Brannon. But, the filmmakers behind this unique sequel knew that they had to be careful. 'Most sequels are just rehashes of the first film,' adds Lasseter. 'They aren't really special in any way, kind of a 'been there and done that.' In film history, however, there have been sequels that take off from the original and became as good if not better than the original. GODFATHER II is one that I would put on that list, and EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is another. I was really inspired by them. They evolve the characters, and they have the notion that, 'Here's a sequel that's different and yet it has a lot of what made the first film great.''

One thing that differentiates TOY STORY 2 from other sequels is not only the fact that it's animated, but the fact that it does indeed dare to delve deeply into character development. In addition to Woody's 'mid-life crises,' audiences will be introduced to an older, wiser Buzz Lightyear. 'He's the one who tells Woody the other side of the story,' says Lasseter of Buzz Lightyear. 'This time, he gets to tell Woody, 'You are a toy; you're not a collectible. You are a child's plaything!' So, it's been kind of fun to turn the tables on the two characters.'

Part of Woody's character development in the sequel comes from his discovery of a past he never knew he had. It seems that, back in the '50's, Woody was the star of a Howdy-Doody-like kids show, Woody's Round-Up. The cast included Jesse, the yodeling cowgirl, Pete the prospector and Bullseye, Woody's trusty horse. The scenes that depict Woody's Round-Up, in the film, may have audiences believing that they're witnessing an actual re-run, as the filmmakers had to re-create the black-and-white, grainy, low-budget look of children's television from the '50s. Ironically, it took today's high-tech tools to bring to this to life.

'We looked at old Kinescopes of HOWDY DOODY and ANDY'S GANG,' says art director Pearson, referring to an early form of recording television shows by literally filming the image on a television screen, which resulted in poor picture quality. 'The way that the film looks is largely the work of one of our technical directors, Oren Jacobs. There's this 'bloom' that you get on anything that is lit on the old Kinescopes. Oren nailed that. Then we added scratches and skips. It's a beautiful job; it looks completely convincing.'

Once he's taken to Al's toy collection, Woody meets toy replicas of all his former co-stars, including Jesse, whose own bleak past has a profound affect on Woody's outlook. 'Jesse is one of the most important characters in influencing Woody's fate,' says co-director Brannon. 'She's a toy who, a long time ago, also belonged to a kid, but the kid grew up and abandoned her. It's almost as if she's a jilted lover.'

Adding to the character's depth is actress Joan Cusack, who provides Jesse's voice. Many say that the actress' unique emotional range may help make Jesse the film's most popular new addition. 'The animators were bribing their supervisors, so that they could work on this character,' says Plotkin.

All of the original voices return for TOY STORY 2: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, John Ratzenberger, and Wallace Shawn as Rex the skittish dinosaur. Joining the cast is Jodi Benson (The Little Mermaid) as Barbie, Estelle Harris (George's mom on SEINFELD) as Mrs. Potato Head, Wayne Knight as the overzealous toy collector, Al, and Kelsey Grammer as Prospector Pete.

'One of the fun things about him is that he's a toy that still 'mint in the box,'' says co-director Lee Unkrich of the Prospector. 'He's never been out of his box, and the other characters have to push him around the room like he's an old man in a wheelchair.'

Such whimsical touches prove that indeed technology may advance and change, but it's humor and heart that's at the core of TOY STORY 2. 'We like to think of ourselves as storytellers and artists and not computer 'teckies,'' says co-director Unkrich. 'Story and character are really number one to us and we've always tried to tailor the computer tools to aid in that process.'

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