Toys rescuing toys is once again the dominant theme in this delightful, visually stunning sequel to Toy Story. While attempting to save a meek little penguin from being sold in the family yard sale, Sheriff Woody is stolen by Al, a pudgy, balding and avaricious toy collector eager to round out his menagerie of classic "Woody’s Roundup" dolls, er, action figures.
But Woody’s friends Buzz, Rex, Hamm, Mr. Potato Head and Slinky Dog are not about to take the cowboy sheriff’s abduction sitting down, and they spring into action in an attempt to bring him back home—alive. Meanwhile, Woody meets the ensemble cast of his 1950s-era TV show—a spirited cowgirl named Jessie, his trusty steed Bullseye, and an old prospector named Stinky Pete who’s never stepped foot out of his original box.
The trio is thrilled to be out of storage and headed for a toy museum in Japan. But they must convince Woody to join them. Without the star of "Woody’s Roundup," it’s back into storage for Jessie, Bullseye and Stinky Pete—a dark fate they’re frantic to avoid.
Will Woody go with his new friends and seize this big opportunity? Or will he return to Andy’s bedroom even knowing that his owner will soon outgrow him and move on to more mature activities?
The story operates under the premise that toys are meant to be played with and enjoyed by children, subtly scolding collectors who prize the item, but miss the point.
Heroic self-sacrifice appears throughout. Buzz explains, "Woody once risked his life to save me. I couldn’t call myself his friend if I wasn’t willing to do the same." The rude, dishonest Al McWhiggin is a greedy scoundrel whose actions are clearly portrayed as undesirable. In song, Jessie describes the heartbreak of being forgotten by an owner who simply moved on in life (a lesson that could serve as a metaphor for helping children understand the pain of losing a friend who simply outgrew the relationship or shifted loyalties).
When Buzz (who, in the first film, had to accept the fact that he was "just a toy") encounters another Lightyear toy who has yet to learn those lessons and exhibits the same delusional behavior that once dogged our hero, it’s clear that Andy’s Buzz has matured, accepted his limitations and is fully content being the best child’s plaything he can be.
Other positive themes include a plug for fathers and sons to spend time together. Hamm sees a forlorn Al on TV following Woody’s escape and comments, "Crime doesn’t pay." Buzz reminds Woody that he once told him, "Life is only worth living if you’re being loved by a kid." Woody speaks on behalf of many a parent when he concludes, "I can’t stop Andy from growing up, but I wouldn’t miss it for the world." When Woody’s new friends move to Andy’s house, Jessie is excited to be "part of a family again." Accentuating that message, Woody’s character on TV says, "Now remember, deputy, the real treasures are your friends and family."
Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head repeatedly display their affection for each other, including kissing and tickling. In one scene they look surprised to be caught thusly engaged when a Lincoln Log house collapses and exposes them. Woody and Bo Peep are on the verge of kissing when they’re interrupted. Andy goes ahead and makes them kiss, and provides for them the expected smooching noises.
At a toy store, a group of Barbies are having a pool party in bathing suits, prompting the mouths of Woody’s all-male rescue party to hang open. Mr. Potato Head acknowledges this moment of temptation by repeating, "I’m a married spud, I’m a married spud." In outtakes at the end of the film, Stinky Pete is shown to be something of a womanizer, as he has his arms around a pair of Barbies in his box. He seems embarrassed when the camera catches him flirting with two dolls at once.
For the most part, this upbeat sequel avoids such things as mutilated toys, the vindictive boy and homicidal pooch which were made famous by its predecessor. Exceptions to that: In a dream sequence, Woody is thrown into a trash can and dragged down by the arms of other discarded toys. And in a video game, Buzz’s torso is vaporized, leaving only his smoking legs. Stinky Pete ends up with a pickax in his back in a TV cartoon. He also tries to sabotage Woody’s escape plans by cruelly and coldly using his ax to tear Woody’s shoulder stitching and thus disable the sheriff’s arm.
Buzz destroys enemy robots in an opening scene. A pair of Rock’Em Sock’Em Robots get punchy and one gets his "block knocked off." Woody and Jessie scuffle. Two Buzz Lightyears square off in battle, resulting in one being tied up and returned to his packaging. Woody loses that aforementioned arm, though it causes him no pain. Cars wreck trying to avoid road cones. Andy dangles Bo Peep over a toy shark and asks, "How shall she die, shark or death by monkeys?"
In a battle with Buzz’s nemesis, Emperor Zurg, and during other action sequences, various characters are battered about.
Other Negative Elements
Though Stinky Pete seems to be a sage old gentleman at first, he ultimately proves to be quite lacking in the character department. He has no interest in making children happy, saying of Woody’s desire to please Andy, "Idiots! Children destroy toys. You’ll all be ruined, forgotten, spending eternity in some landfill, rotting." Stinky Pete sits on a burning fuse, then exclaims, "My biscuits are burning."
Buzz belches loudly and exclaims, "I can’t remember eating that." The prospector passes gas twice in his box, exclaiming after each eruption (respectively), "I guess that’s why they call me Stinky Pete!" and "Oh, my!"
As inventive and funny as the original, this fresh-faced insta-fave cleverly expands Toy Story’s imaginative universe, introducing new characters and dynamic locales. Racing through a toy store. Riding atop an elevator. Dangling from an airplane that’s about to take off. It’s 85 minutes of nonstop action, humor and impressive computer-generated animation.
Once again, the filmmakers use subtle pop-culture references to captivate older crowds (look for nods to Star Wars and Jurassic Park). And the cleverly conceived collection of "Woody’s Roundup" merchandise is affectionately designed to reflect Eisenhower-era craftsmanship.
Very mild suggestive humor, a few moments of violence and a bit of name-calling do detract slightly. But this sequel handily preserves the franchise’s overriding emphasis on the toys’ strong character traits and goodhearted nobility. Friends and loyalty remain paramount. And it’s insisted that true community requires teamwork and sacrifice.