Saturday, February 1, 2014

Star Wars in Disney--Well, Pixar: Toy Story 2

MIKE SAYS Toy Story 2 is, on its own, a great film.  An extraordinary film, actually, especially for a children's movie.  Add it together with the other movies in the series and you get one of the most well-rounded, tightly woven and best-written trilogies ever made.

While -he film is by and large its own, self-contained and original story, the chance to play with Star Wars references, especially with the robotic Zurg, was just too good to pass up. Perhaps the coolest thing about this reference was its rarity.  At the time, pop culture references were fairly new, especially a direct shout out.  Disney and Pixar certainly led the charge on this, with Aladdin, Lion King, and others.

Since then, pop culture references have become rather commonplace, almost expected, and they have lost  a lot of their former luster.  While the references were fun surprises, it's important to note just what these references communicated:  the people who made this movie are products of the same culture as the audience themselves;  this is a film made by and for film junkies.  Which just makes it feel all that more personal.

Writing this review from the perspective of Fatherhood is difficult;  I love the film, and I would list it among the best children's movies of all time.  At the same time, I could probably go another ten years without the need to watch it.  This is probably due to my children watching it repeatedly.

But I still identify with the film:  The idea of nostalgic value being more important than monetary value, and the idea of preserving important aspects of our childhood.  For me, Star Wars will always be one of those childhood memories that will always have a special place in my heart.  Which may be why the Toy Story movies resonate so well:  they tap into those memories that most powerfully take us back to childhood.  

KATE SAYS this film is brilliant. It is one of those movies that has everything: a strong story with an actual ethical dilemma; clever dialog; engaging characters; and lots of spot-on cultural allusions that nevertheless don't overwhelm the story.

One of those great Pixar moments that make you cheer while
breaking your heart.
Before I get to the allusions, I must make a few shout-outs.

First, the story. The strength of Toy Story 2 is that Woody's dilemma is a real one. The "bad" side is not immediately obvious. The pros for going to the museum, lasting forever, giving generations of children (in the broad sense) something to look at and delight in combine to form a powerful argument. Woody has to fall back not on some easy answer but on his own sense of ethics. He also has to think outside the "box" (ha ha; sorry, more on this later) to deal with Jessie and Bullseye. Considering that this is a child's film, the philosophical debates at work are quite impressive.

Second, the dialog. It's hilarious and full of puns. At one point, Woody cries, "Stinky Pete, you're out of your box!" a great riff on "You're out of your mind." Also, like the first movie, Toy Story 2 contains neat little jokes that may go over a kid's head but make an adult yelp with laughter: my favorite from Toy Story is Rex's explanation of his origins:
REX: And I'm from Mattel. Well, I'm not really from Mattel, I'm actually from a smaller company that was purchased by Mattel in a leveraged buyout.
The excellently cast Wayne Knight.
The characters are just as strong as in the first movie. I love the "cameo" of the "Cleaner" (he's the guy from the Pixar short who plays chess against himself). Naturally, Tom Hanks and Tim Allen are excellent as well as lovable John Ratzenberger, but I have to give huge shout-outs to newcomers Kesley Grammer and Wayne Knight. Wayne Knight is so perfectly drawn and voiced, I feel like I'm watching, well, that guy from Jurassic Park.

Speaking of Jurassic Park . . . but no, I'll let you find that awesome movie allusion yourself.

There are, of course, a number of great Star Wars references. The opening sequence is more generic sci-fi than Star Wars-specific. However, there are a few very Star Wars-y moments and sounds. And it is just about the longest set-up for a truly great pay-off I've ever seen in a movie. The pay-off doesn't come until almost the very end with the release of Evil Emperor Zurg (played by James Earl Jones' sound-alike, Andrew Stanton). It is totally worth it!

This kind of thing--constant allusions to outside media and current events--has become de rigeur in movie and television scripts in the last few years. Such allusions run the risk of eclipsing the story, but Toy Story 2 combines its allusions so effortlessly with plot, characters, and gentle spirit, nothing is lost.

And what a great way to put one's Star Wars knowledge to use! I've always said it's worthwhile knowing one's popular culture!!

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