(1999)5Derek ArmstrongToy Story 2 narrowly escaped straight-to-video status, a common fate even for sequels to Disney's more successful films (The Return of Jafar, the sequel to Aladdin, is a prime example). But with the same director, vocal talents, and high-budget digital animation gathered for the second go-around of Woody, Buzz, and their plastic pals, Disney and Pixar positioned Toy Story 2 for another Thanksgiving theatrical release, saving one of film's most satisfying family franchises from the scrap heap. The sequel earned a 245-million-dollar domestic gross, well outpacing the original, and some say did the impossible: it actually improved on the near-perfect Toy Story. The film opens with a James Bond-like vignette of Buzz Lightyear dodging aliens and lasers on a wondrous foreign planet, eventually facing the Evil Emperor Zurg, his nemesis. It turns out to be a video game played by the toys in Andy's bedroom, in a sly commentary on Andy's changing interests; little do the neurotic toys know it, but video games will ultimately make them obsolete. As visually arresting as the opening is, the rest of the film maintains the pace, taking the characters through an adventure that rivals the original: saving Woody from a nerdy toy collector, outrageously embodied by Wayne Knight, who channels his pesky Seinfeld alter ego Newman. The mission brings them up and down an elevator shaft, through the place of their origin (a toy store), and face to face, in a wonderful setup, with a toy version of Zurg, delusional and hell-bent on wrecking havoc. The success of Toy Story 2 suggests that these characters could have endless adventures beyond the toy chest; however, they will have to be without Slinky Dog, voiced by Jim Varney, who died the following year.