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TOY STORY 2 – Randy Newman

November 19, 1999 Leave a comment Go to comments

toystory2Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

When Toy Story first appeared in the scene four years ago, it revolutionized the world of animation. The first computer-generated feature film in motion picture history, and featuring a voice cast line-up that any live action movie would drool over, the film made stars of its fictional lead characters Woody and Buzz Lightyear, launched “to infinity and beyond” as an international catchphrase, and gave the Pixar animation studios carte blanche to develop their production as they saw fit. Now, after the record breaking success of A Bug’s Life two years ago comes the inevitable sequel – Toy Story 2.

Despite again being directed by John Lasseter, and featuring all the familiar characters from the original movie, Toy Story 2 was originally planned as a straight-to-video release, in much the same manner as Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride and Aladdin and the King of Thieves. However, when the Disney executives were shown the early footage created by Lasseter and his band of genius animators, they immediately greenlit it as a fully fledged cinematic sequel. Having patched up their differences at the end of Toy Story, Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) now live in harmony with the other inhabitants of Andy’s toy box. The new-found harmony is disrupted, however, when an unscrupulous toy collector realizes that Woody is in fact a rare, highly collectable figurine from a 1950s TV show called Woody’s Roundup, and steals him from a garage sale so that he can be sold off to an Asian museum. But toys will be toys, and Buzz and the gang emerge from the security of Andy’s bedroom to rescue their friend.

Returning to perform scoring duties is composer Randy Newman, whose resulting work is just as enjoyable as his previous efforts, but more than a little schizophrenic in its make-up. To Newman’s credit, he treats the digital animation as though it were a proper dramatic film, never once alluding to the artificial world his music inhabits. This can sometimes be one of Newman’s problems – such is his nature, he cannot resist having little jokes at the expense of his employers and the audience, and it sometimes lands him in trouble. On Toy Story 2, despite some blatant mickey mousing and action-grabbing, Newman’s score is generally enjoyable, amiable, light-hearted, and occasionally tinged with moments of brilliance.

Such moments occur in the action epics, ‘Zurg’s Planet’ and ‘Emperor Zurg vs. Buzz’, parts of which seem to have been inexplicably derived from James Horner’s cult classic score Battle Beyond the Stars with a touch of The Big Country thrown in for good measure. They surely make for unusual bedfellows, but ones which nevertheless work well in context (especially as Cowboys and Space Rangers play major parts in the Toy Story movies). Equally effective are the comical ‘Woody’s Dream’, the rousing Coplandish duo of ‘Jessie and the Roundup Gang’ and ‘Woody’s A Star’, and the light and lively ‘The Cleaner’ (which greatly reminds me of something else, but I can’t for the life of me think what…). The best of the lot, though, are the conclusive trio of ‘Use Your Head’, ‘Jessie’s In Trouble’ and ‘Ride Like The Wind’, which run the gamut of emotions and musical styles, concluding with a rousing western action theme that accompanies the heroic cowboy and his trusty steed saving his yodeling cowgirl from a fate worse than death.

The only problem, really, is that there is nothing subsequently memorable about any part of the score. There are a few familiar Newmanesque string progressions that can be traced back to scores like Avalon and Awakenings, and as mentioned above several excellent individual cues. The music is performed well, interesting in its orchestration, and undoubtedly fits the movie well. It’s just that it’s so – well – generic. Although it is agreeable enough while you are listening to it, nothing stays with you upon the album’s completion, and for a composer as talented as Randy Newman, this is highly surprising. I can hum the main title from Awakenings, the fanfare from A Bug’s Life and the mural theme Pleasantville without hesitation, but Toy Story 2 would have me struggling.

The three songs which open the album are enjoyable enough, albeit in vastly different ways. ‘Woody’s Roundup’ is an old fashioned, cheesy TV jingle in performed by country crooners Riders In The Sky, who claim that Woody is the rootin’est, tootin’est cowboy in the wild wild west. ‘When She Loved Me’ is one of Newman’s lovely, sentimental ballads performed by the enticing Sarah McLachlan, while Robert Goulet’s loungey rendition of the classic ‘You Got A Friend In Me’ is both brilliant and hilarious, complete with Vegas ad-libs “son” and “babe” and a mock-serious jazz combo backing. Newman has always been good at songs, as his earlier career in the pop world attests, but his work here lacks the bite of any of his earlier efforts. They are fun, but by no means earth-shatterers.

Many people get tremendously excited by the work of Randy Newman and, although I have great admiration for many of his earlier scores, especially the aforementioned Awakenings and Pleasantville, I still find him to be a composer whose work is rather hit and miss. His command of the orchestra is admirable, his melodies lovely, and his songs sublime. But he seems to have been suffering from composer’s block when he wrote Toy Story 2. Although the film may well have lived up, and in some cases surpassed, it’s illustrious predecessor, the same cannot be said for the music.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • Woody’s Roundup (written by Randy Newman, performed by Riders In The Sky) (1:53)
  • When She Loved Me  (written by Randy Newman, performed by Sarah McLachlan) (3:05)
  • You’ve Got a Friend in Me (Wheezy’s Version) (written by Randy Newman, performed by Robert Goulet) (2:56)
  • Zurg’s Planet (3:39)
  • Wheezy and the Yard Sale (3:11)
  • Woody’s Been Stolen (1:28)
  • Chicken Man (1:17)
  • Woody’s Dream (3:55)
  • Jessie and the Roundup Gang (1:24)
  • Woody’s a Star (1:28)
  • Let’s Save Woody (2:07)
  • Off to the Museum (1:29)
  • Talk to Jessie (:43)
  • The Cleaner (1:50)
  • Al’s Toy Barn (4:00)
  • Emperor Zurg vs. Buzz (2:41)
  • Use Your Head (4:18)
  • Jessie’s in Trouble (2:14)
  • Ride Like the Wind (1:29)
  • You’ve Got a Friend in Me (instrumental) (2:59)

Running Time: 48 minutes 18 seconds

Disney 60647-7 (1999)

Music composed and conducted by Randy Newman. Orchestrations by Jonathan Sacks, Ira Hearshen and Randy Newman. Featured musical soloist Tom Scott. Recorded and mixed by Frank Wolf. Edited by Bruno Coon. Mastered by Doug Sax. Album produced by Randy Newman and Frank Wolf.

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