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On Video: Almost a year later, the great sequel is finally out on video

Friday, October 20, 2000

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Like Woody riding to the rescue on Bullseye, his faithful horse from their hit 1950s TV show, "Toy Story 2" (4 stars) arrived on video and DVD this week.

Children watching Tigger, Tweety or mermaid Melody as if they were on a continuous loop, have something new to watch. Even better, though, they have something wonderful to watch. They have a clever, funny and heartwarming story that temporarily restores our faith in Hollywood, or at least this profitable partnership between Disney and Pixar.

"Toy Story 2," rated G, loses little on the small screen and enough time has passed since its November 1999 theatrical debut that it feels fresh again. And who can resist that song, "When She Loved Me," composed by Randy Newman and sung by Sarah McLachlan? It celebrates that fragile bond between child and favorite toy.

It makes you feel sorry about neglecting or disposing of your toys (especially if you and your sister had vintage Barbies and all their teeny accessories and you sold them for a ridiculously low price, but I digress).

"Toy Story 2" opens with Woody suffering an accidental injury to his right arm. It splits on the seam, prompting Andy's mother to stash Woody on the shelf -- while Andy goes to cowboy camp. Being relegated to the dusty ledge is the toy equivalent of forced retirement. It's one step closer to a yard sale, which is where Wheezy, a penguin with the broken squeaker, ends up.

When Woody goes to rescue Wheezy, he is spotted by an obsessive collector named Al McWhiggin who steals the cowboy. Al is the owner of Al's Toy Barn who, tellingly, lives in a high-rise that bans kids.

Al now has a complete, very valuable set of toys from "Woody's Roundup," a once-popular children's show that inspired collectible plates, lunchboxes, banks, yo-yos and other memorabilia. He plans to sell the toys -- Woody, cowgirl Jessie, Bullseye and Stinky Pete the prospector -- to a Tokyo museum.

Jessie, Bullseye and Stinky Pete are thrilled with being freed from storage. Pete has never even been out of the box. But their liberation means Woody's separation from Andy, the boy whose name is emblazoned on the bottom of one of his boots.

As Woody struggles with his choice, Buzz Lightyear and some of the other toys come to his rescue, after their own wild experience in the store where they encounter partying Barbies and Zurg, nemesis of Buzz Lightyear. In the end, "Toy Story 2" weighs what toys should be -- loved by a kid or frozen behind glass.

"Toy Story 2," with an A-list cast of voices led by Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Wayne Knight and Joan Cusack, has lots of inside jokes, as when tour-guide Barbie drives by rows of Buzz Lightyears and announces, "In 1995, shortsighted retailers did not order enough dolls to meet demand." An elderly gent who fixes toys first appeared as a chess player in the Pixar short "Geri's Game."

Best of all, though, "Toy Story 2" has no Sid, the nasty neighbor who dismembered and reassembled toys in wacky, scary ways. It also has a hilarious set of faux bloopers or outtakes, as "A Bug's Life" did.

It's a shame that "Toy Story 2" was released too early to qualify for the first Academy Award for feature-length animated film. There's no guarantee one will be awarded in March 2002, but that's the earliest a statuette will be given.

The video of "Toy Story 2" has a suggested retail price of $26.99. DVDs of "Toy Story" and "Toy Story 2" are being sold together for $39.99. A collector's edition has three discs and extras such as audio commentaries, on-set interviews and 360-degree tours of sets and characters.

"Toy Story 2" initially had been targeted for a direct-to-video release, but the early scenes were so strong that the project was upgraded to a theatrical release. That makes it different from "Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea" (2 1/2 stars), which went directly to video.

I saw "The Little Mermaid" twice in the theater and at least once on video and thoroughly enjoyed it. I watched "Little Mermaid II" one time and that was enough.

The sequel takes the original tale -- mermaid falls in love with a human prince and will do anything to shed her fins -- and turns it on its head. This time, it's the spunky daughter of Ariel and husband Prince Eric who is drawn to the water. But her parents have constructed a sea wall around their palace, to keep Melody safe from Morgana, the evil sister of Ursula the sea witch.

The barricade doesn't keep Melody from giddily slipping into the sea. After a particularly disastrous birthday party, where Melody feels even more out of place than usual, she ends up in the clutches of Morgana.

The sorceress promises to turn her into a mermaid permanently if she can obtain the trident, or three-pronged spear and symbol of power, of King Triton, who Melody doesn't realize is her doting grandfather.

In addition to returning Ariel's sidekicks -- Sebastian, Scuttle and Flounder -- "Little Mermaid II" gives Melody a couple of her own. They are Tip the penguin and Dash the walrus.

Jodi Benson again speaks for Ariel, while Pat Carroll handles Morgana's voice (as she did Ursula), Buddy Hackett is Scuttle and Samuel E. Wright is Sebastian. Tara Charendoff provides Melody's voice while Max Casella is Tip and Stephen Furst is Dash.

"Little Mermaid II" has a handful of songs, none terribly memorable, and it breaks no new ground either in its storytelling or animation. The first movie, after all, won Academy Awards for best score and best song.

Disney drags out the usual female-heroine template for its main character: big blue eyes, pert nose, long hair and a figure that is more girlish than womanly. That's appropriate for a girl who has just turned 12.

It's been 11 years since the first film, which seemed so ground-breaking. Now, other studios are seriously in the animation game and the bar has been raised. If you think of animation as a three-tiered system -- theatrical movie, video release, Saturday cartoon -- this is comfortably in the middle.

It makes a case for children sharing their dreams with their parents, with the parents being honest with their children, with children being given a chance to know their grandparents and for breaking down barriers. Sometimes literally.

"Little Mermaid II" has a suggested retail price of $26.99 for video and $29.99 for DVD. It's rated G. If you sit through the credits, you'll find plugs for two other direct-to-video sequels: "Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame II," both scheduled for release next year.

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