The unwritten rule of sequels is to paint exactly the same picture, only bigger, brighter, flashier, and more crowded. The result, with precious few exceptions, is diminished returns, a hollow second- or third-generation copy without the soul that made the original worth sequelizing. Toy Story 2, the sequel to Pixar Studios' groundbreaking computer-animated debut, instead gets everything right, applying the bigger-and-louder rule to a fresh, funny, sharply written story that effectively appeals to every possible demographic. An elaborate chain of mishaps and adventures is set off when floppy-limbed cowboy Woody is stolen by a toy-store owner who knows his/its value as part of a set that includes a yodeling redheaded girl, a loyal horse, and a mint-in-box grizzled prospector. The original Toy Story kept its stars' world limited, staying mostly confined to two houses and a backyard fraught with peril. This one takes Woody's friends (Buzz Lightyear, the slinky dog, Mr. Potato Head, the piggy bank, and Wallace Shawn's hilarious dinosaur) through the wide aisles of a toy store, up and down an elevator shaft, under the wheels of a moving plane, behind the wheel of a moving car, under traffic cones on a busy street, and so on. But never lost in the clutter and chaos is a message for kids and collectors—take your toys out of their packaging and play with them—packaged with resonant wit, timeless pop-culture gags, and admirable attention to detail. A scene in which Woody discovers a gleaming collection of vintage toys bearing his visage is a brilliant touch: The scene of the toy learning its pop-cultural roots parallels Buzz's awakening in the original, but here it's even better, creating with relatively little buildup a beautifully rendered, detailed world to take in all at once. A technical marvel that's packed to the margins with details and tricks, pathos and inside jokes, Toy Story 2 fulfills the immense promise of its predecessor where it might have diminished its charms. That's an outstanding accomplishment, technical and otherwise.
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