When Woody is mistakenly sold to an evil toy trader, the rest of the toys team up to save him.
Having made such a remarkable impact on the world of animation, swapping sentiment and dodgily-etched 2-D stereotypes for something distinctly more multi-dimensional - while creating the same sort of real-life demand for its screen playthings that it portrayed in the movie - it was inevitable that a sequel to Toy Story would appear at some point.
Originally envisioned, however, as one of the straight-to-video efforts that have proven so successful for Disney (to wit: Aladdin follow-up The Return Of Jafar, and The Lion King sequel Simba's Pride), the folks at Pixar sensibly decided this film was worthy of a big screen outing first. And right they are, for Toy Story 2, while lacking the immediacy of its predecessor and taking just a little too long to switch into high gear, is a highly superior sequel. In the States it zoomed its way to $150 million in just four weeks, kicking off with a not-to-be-sniffed-at $80 million opening weekend - proof, then, that this sort of thing may well come with a built-in audience, but at the same time, a little quality and thought goes a very long way.
This time around it's the summer after the original movie and Andy is heading off to cowboy camp, Woody in tow. Until, that is, Woody is incapacitated in a playroom accident and left on a neglected top shelf, along with a broken penguin, for repair. A further string of mishaps, mainly involving Woody's attempts to save the dusty bird from a yard sale in a brilliant rescue sequence, see him landing in the clutches of toy collector Al (of Al's Toy Barn fame), and finding out facts about his past life, involving a crap 50s black-and-white telly show, a bunch of new characters - cowgirl doll Jessie, boxed gold prospector Stinky Pete and mute pony Bullseye - and one of the biggest merchandising opportunities since, well, Toy Story. Meanwhile, Buzz and his pals set off to the toy store in order to bring Woody back to Andy's room, encountering a string of obstacles - from Tour Guide Barbie to a whole shelf of other Buzz Lightyears - along the way.
While Toy Story's plotline depended largely on Buzz Lightyear's refusal to believe in his action figure origins, this time around Lasseter ups the stakes; the underlying story strand, treated in one of the movies handful of songs, gets the toys pondering their fate once they become broken or outmoded, or their owner simply outgrows them. Knowing that the characters have only a limited lifespan lends proceedings a rather curious poignancy, although it doesn't detract from some quite sensational animation which, as it was first time around, is the major selling point. Here the detail is evident in everything from the amazing opening sequence, pitting Buzz against his arch nemesis, Emperor Zurg, through to the monolithic shelves of Al's Toy Barn. However, its the little touches - such as the thick dust layer adorning Woody's new shelf-top home - which stick in the mind longest.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Toy Story 2, however, is the amount of care that has gone into creating a film which is every bit as impressive as its predecessor, rather than delivering something vastly inferior that can be sold on the strength of its characters. Lasseter and new arrival Brannon have skilfully woven their way around the lack of surprise element to create new characters that charm and convince, set-pieces galore - leading up to a finale every bit as breathtaking as its predecessor - and a whole range of new and original jokes, not least of which is a canny repetition of Buzz's space ranger delusions to hilarious effect. Toy Story 2 doesnt quite knock The Godfather II from its best-sequel-of-all-time perch, but it still provides the kind of exhilarating cinema experience that leaves you gasping in admiration and actually wanting a third instalment. If only all sequels were this good.
As impressive as the first film, this actually leaves you wanting more.