Following meme modified from bookblather
Okay, folks. As April first is Saturday, I hereby pledge not to post any pranks, jokes, false links, or screamers. Nothing originating on this blog will be a prank or deliberately incorrect. If I re-post or link to other people’s pranks, which I may, they will be clearly marked so you don't click on them and think they're real.
No direct links to howling horribleness, and no 'alternative facts', will ever purposefully appear on this blog. If one does, it's a hack or something changed, or I messed up; please let me know immediately so I can fix it.
Stay safe out there, my dears! We non-pranksters have got your back.
Pushing the button on the next Lost Kings update. PSA: if you’ve not read the rest of the series, I think this one stands alone anyway because I used an outsider POV!
I am extremely excited because I get to use my Cassian Andor: Murder Muffin hashtag.
The Hard Sell:
“This is a goddamn nightmare,” Cassian said a little while later. Even with K2’s sensor to pinpoint Dameron’s tracker, Cassian hadn’t been able to see or hear him. He was like a ghost. He’d gone within six meters of their hiding spot, in between the refreshes on the sensor’s sweeps for the tracker, and neither of them had seen or heard him.
But there had been a trail of scuffs in the dirt, and one clear bare footprint in a softer patch of mud, to attest to the kid’s passage, right where the tracker had shown he’d been.
“I thought you said he’d been a cargo loader his whole life,” K2 said, as the two of them contemplated the footprint.
One consolation: a plant from the Empire designed to lure Cassian wouldn’t have bare feet.
“Molo didn’t even raise him,” Cassian said. “I don’t know where he fucking learned this.” But he did; Molo had told him, Lita had been a guerrilla with him when they were young, before the Empire. They’d all grown up like this.
“There goes the plan to just assassinate him at a distance, I suppose,” K2 said.
“Stars, would you shut your fucking mouth?” Cassian hissed.
“Technically,” K2 began, and Cassian hissed wordlessly at him again. K2 gestured with his hands as if he were offended.
(it’s marked chapter 1 of 2 because chapter 2, coming up soon, is Baby Poe!)
eveningly reblogging, for an attempt
(plans to buy internet histories of politicians and make them public).
And I was snickering while reading the Trumps' Troll Fans are outraged at this attack on their internet privacy:
The nominator of Riddick 2013 would like the Pitch Black and Riddick 2013 nominations get moved to The Chronicle of Riddick series fandom. Does the Pitch Black nominator agree?
The following fandoms are too big:
- Riverdale (TV 2017)
- Breaking Bad
- The Musketeers (2014)
Some googling around makes me think this might not be an unreasonable supposition, actually. If so, I’m surprised they survive for any length of time, because that sucker was LOUD.
Unrelatedly, I finally, after a few years of letting my lost book fines haunt me, paid off my library card. Freeeeeeeeeeeeedom. (I'm not reading many books at the moment anyway, because among other things I'm watching old Farscape and Torchwood, but the OPTION is good.)
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I wander'd lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
"Beware the Daffodils, my son!
The stems that bite, the leaves that catch!
Beware the Jasmine plant, and shun
The frumious Buttercup!"
He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the floral foe he sought--
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.
And, as in uffish thought he stood,
All at once he saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretch'd in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw he at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left them dead, and with their heads
He went galumphing back.
"And, has thou slain the Daffodils?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!"
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
"O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.
I wander'd lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
Wife, being the wonderful person she is, talked me into staying home and resting up. And not working from home, either - just sleeping and reading The Fox, lots of pillows propping me up in bed. (Heads are really heavy!)
It was totally amazing. I've been low-key miserable at work for.... uh. A while. And I'm really, really into these books. So getting an unexpected break and a chance to do nothing but read (I had 60% left this morning, and was finished before the delicious dinner doctorskuld prepared for us) was pretty sweet. Even with the pain - it's been gradually fading, an there's not too much alarming creaking in my neck anymore. Some, but not too much. And my range of motion is increasing, too.
And I'm lucky in that my current workload is fairly low and non-urgent, and my boss was very sympathetic (having some personal experience with this type of injury, I believe). So I don't feel too bad, all things considered. Maybe I can even go for a run tomorrow?
C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series is a long one. With Convergence, the latest book, the adventures of paidhi-aiji Bren Cameron now fill eighteen volumes. Well, the adventures of Bren Cameron and Cajeiri, the young heir to the aishi’ditat.
For those unfamiliar with Bren Cameron and his world, Convergence is really not a good place to begin one’s acquaintance. It relies even more heavily than usual on the consequences of what has gone before not just for its emotional impact, but for any of the narrative to make sense. Don’t start here! (But do read the series. Once Foreigner gets properly started, it goes all kinds of interesting places.)
But for fans of the series, how does Convergence fit in? Does it live up to the best of its predecessors? Does it follow up the upheaval and revelations of Visitor with appropriate weight and emphasis?
Convergence is perhaps not the best and most engaging entry in the Foreigner series. Even for a series that is intimately concerned with the workings of politics and the politics of personality across cultures—a series that spends quite a large proportion of its time invested in the significant nuances of political manoeuvring that take place over invitations to tea and in the course of formal dinners, in meetings, in passing conversations and the choice of words, in translation and negotiation—Convergence is very full of meetings and bureaucracy and waiting to talk to the right person in order that the next thing can be set up to happen. This is a feature of the series, not necessarily a bug, and at this point most readers know whether or not they enjoy Cherryh’s measured approach to pacing. But with that acknowledged, Convergence does somewhat drag at points.
In Visitor, the alien kyo visited the planet shared by both humans and atevi. Bren Cameron, Cajeiri, and Cajeiri’s great-grandmother Ilsidi—the dowager aiji, and a political power in her own right—figured out how to communicate with them in more detail than they had previously managed. They negotiated a treaty while dealing with the knock-on complications of adding humans from the destroyed space station Reunion to the population of the space station above the atevi planet. And Bren learned, in the course of these negotiations, that the kyo are at war on the far side of their territory—at war with other humans.
In Convergence, absent the immediate crisis of a kyo visit, the consequences of the extra humans on the station must be dealt with in a more permanent fashion. As, too, must the ramifications of earlier political upheaval in the aishi’ditat: the overthrow and restoration of the aiji Tabini has left two clans leaderless, and the political fallout from matters taking place in space affects decisions on the ground. In an unprecedented move, the aiji sends Bren Cameron as his personal representative in full state as an official of the aiji’s court to human-controlled Mospheira, to make his position clear regarding the disposition of the humans from Reunion and to protect the young human associates of Cajeiri, who may in time become paidhis for the next generation.
While Bren wrestles with a bureaucracy which has never quite reconciled itself to losing control of him and his skills, and no longer quite understands all of what he does for the aiji in the aishi’ditat, Cajeiri is sent by his father to his great-uncle’s estate, for a holiday which has a political dimension, involving manoeuvring to fill the leadership of a clan left leaderless in the wake of Tabini’s restoration. Cajeiri is growing into his responsibilities as heir to the aishi‘ditat, while also still being very much a nine-year-old child. His point of view on the activities that surround him is vivid and engaging, and gives a fresh perspective to the political activity that Bren sees from an adult, and mostly human, dimension.
Bren’s share of Convergence‘s narrative is less engaging than Cajeiri’s. Humans are so much less interesting than atevi, at least for the kinds of stories that Cherryh is interested in telling here. And Convergence spends a great deal of its time with Bren talking to other humans. Much of Convergence, in fact, seems to be setting up for other things to happen later, in future books—and while I’m delighted to spend more time in Bren’s company, and in Cajeiri’s, I would have liked to feel that a little more had actually happened during the course of this novel.
Convergence is very definitely a Foreigner novel. A solid and entertaining Foreigner novel, this far along in the series, packing no real surprises: not the best, and not the worst. If you’ve enjoyed the series to date, Convergence will be plenty satisfying. If you haven’t… it’s not going to change your mind.
Convergence is available April 4th from DAW.
Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Find her at her blog. Or her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council and the Abortion Rights Campaign.
Farm Baby was really really really really two this weekend. It was An Experience. On two separate occasions when I was the nearest adult in the house and she made sounds of distress, I came to help her (one time, she was trying to put on a shirt, and had one sleeve inside-out; another time I think she was trying to connect a toy train and it wouldn’t go), and she started S C R E A M I N G that NO NO NO it couldn’t be ME it had to be MOMMY to help her, to the point that one of the times her mother came running in from outside because she genuinely thought the child had at least a broken limb. One time she was trying to put on her shoes and I asked if I could help, since she had the strap twisted, and she screamed NO and grabbed the shoes and RAN, and I said, I won’t, and walked away, and she kept running away through the house screaming. On all three occasions I just said okay and backed off, and it did nothing to lessen her distress. I’ve been trying to make a point of respecting her desires when they’re clearly stated and not something that’s going to put her in danger or destroy the house or both, because both her parents have also been trying to teach her that she’s allowed to have opinions sometimes, and she hasn’t grasped any of those distinctions at all.
Her main jam lately is running away. Just, grabbing whatever you’ve told her she can’t have, and bolting for the door, and just running outside and keeping on running until someone wrestles her down. Which is a Big Problem because the house is twenty feet from a 45-mph two-lane highway on a sharp curve, frequented mostly by enormous semi-trucks heavily laden with tons upon tons of gravel from a nearby mine. They’d cream her flat and straight-up never even notice. And she knows not to run into the road, but she’s two, she’s not that good at remembering stuff.
(Edited to add: yeah, there’s various locks and fasteners and things on the doors, but she keeps learning how to unfasten them, and at this point she can just lunge straight through the gate in the fence they installed in the yard. It slowed her down for months, but she’s figured it out now.)
So just now I hid myself in the living room as her father very sternly and heartfelt-ly explained the concept of death to her, and also instated a rule that she doesn’t get to watch TV if she runs away like that.
Currently there’s some bloodcurdling screeching coming from the bathroom where she’s being given her bath, but I actually sort of think someone might be tickling her; that could be delight. It’s impossible to tell.
I really might need to indulge myself and write some Baby!Poe kidfic, because as the earlier post I reblogged pointed out, he really embodies the TURN DOWN FOR WHAT aesthetic, and him at two would be kind of fucking intolerable and it’d be a whole new way for me to torture Kes.
*image of Shara sitting at a table across from some brand-new New Republic official, clutching a mug in both hands with a frozen-serene expression as Kes hollers something incomprehensible that includes the syllable “Poe” repeatedly in the other room*
*something crashes loudly with the distinct sound of shattering components* “So,” Shara says brightly. “You said you’re short on starfighter pilots? It turns out, you know, I think I can get away.”
more from the archives. i need to write this bit. i really do.
“The Girl Who Told Time” goes way back in Magicians-land—and moves a lot of things forward. Remember how there were 39 other time loops in which the Brakebills gang faced the Beast and failed? Thirty-nine loops thanks to Jane Chatwin (RIP). And 39 loops in which Julia went to Brakebills. Hedge witch Julia is the wild card that changed everything.
It’s an important reminder.
Fogg: “One thing I’ve learned about you, Miss Wicker, is that you are a searcher.”
Julia: “You don’t know me.”
Fogg: “Thirty-nine times I’ve known you. Which is why I trust that you’ll put aside your fear and self-pity and look for the answers that can save you.”
I don’t know who I feel worst for this week. Fogg, who remembers those other 39 time loops, full of death and grief? Alice 23, shocked to the core by the sight of Quentin, alive? Fen, panicked about losing her child? Or Quentin, who just let go of one version of Alice, only to be faced with another one?
What do we call the scene with Fogg and Julia? A flash-sideways? What a reminder of how her life could have been, and how much she unknowingly lost in this timeline, in which everyone lives—but not without damage. We can only assume that Julia’s discipline is the same, and that it’s relevant, as Fogg spells it out so precisely: “Your discipline is meta-composition. You are a knowledge student. Part psychic, part physical. There really is no branch it doesn’t touch on. The short version: you are drawn, mind and body, to the discovery of magic.”
The difference in Julia’s face, then and now, is almost as drastic as Fogg’s. But Fogg’s faith in her is unshaken, and it means so much. Brakebills didn’t take her, this time, and Quentin’s friends don’t like or trust her. Her relationship with Q is strained. But Fogg knows who she can be—and who she still could be. It counts for a lot.
And then there’s Quentin, who has a different kind of faith when he, tripping balls on Josh’s magical edibles, sees Julia’s shade in another world. So much is packed into this episode that there’s no time to remind us just how rattled Q should be right now. His childhood best friend tossed him at a rabid trickster god without a second thought, yet he opts to help her just as quickly. It’s a reminder of Quentin’s growth: When he sees Julia’s shade, he knows he can help her be herself again. Help her be a person who doesn’t feed her friends to wolves. So he puts whatever anger he has aside and chooses to help.
This kind of choice defines a person as much as his choice to let Alice go does. Q may (understandably) want to spend some of his time drunkenly moping around Fillory, but he’s capable of more. Even he’s starting to realize that. There’s such a dance of friendship and forgiveness happening with Q and Julia, and it plays out beautifully—a plot full of coincidence (Todd!) and choices in equal measure. This part of the story does so many things, from reminding us of all the stories Fogg knows (and mostly isn’t telling) to demonstrating Julia’s control (the grace with which she and Fogg work the Tesla Flexion spell) to, well, making life shitty for Quentin again.
What does it mean that Quentin encounters two different versions of the two most important women in his life? Is it just a reminder that he has some control over who he chooses to be—that there are other outcomes, other ways to hurt more or less? Julia’s shade is so young and scared; Alice 23 is heartbroken, obsessed. Where was she, before she wound up in this tent with other Quentin? What damage will this do to her, when she’s already so tired and sad and traumatized? She knows just enough to help—that shades go to the underworld, that they need to find an ancient one to help them get there—and she desperately needs the time to apologize.
This scene is almost too much about Quentin, but giving Alice 23 that moment is important, and so is Quentin’s response. He can’t change anything, not in his time, and not in Alice 23’s. He can’t even escape seeing versions of Alice that are not the woman he loved. But he can do one little thing:
“I don’t know what the other Quentin thought, but in this world, I love you. No matter what, I love you.”
It’s very cruel of the world to keep throwing not-Alice in his face, but he needed that. Even if it makes him sadder for a while. It’ll help in the end. Maybe having been able to say that to an Alice will make him stronger when niffin-Alice inevitably shows up again, ready to wreak more havoc.
Meanwhile, in Fillory, Eliot is a groomzilla, Josh has to make a like-potion to trick the Fillorians into liking the neurotic High King, and Margo is in a pinch. Three months have passed in Fillory. Three months of Margo stressing about how to fix the fairy situation. Three months of Eliot playing backgammon with Bayler and somehow convincing himself Bayler’s his pal now. Three months of Fen seeing fairies around the castle and thinking she’s hallucinating.
What has poor Fen done to deserve this? She’s freaking out, but she’s still supporting Eliot, telling him it’s her job to be understanding about the third person joining their marriage, that it just means a stronger kingdom. When Margo tells her what she sort of agreed to, Fen has a moment of defiance, but mostly we see panic—and then what looks like a fairy spiriting her away. Can the girl please get a break?
Things are somewhat less fraught with Kady and Penny, though she’s still not sure he needs to be helping her with Reynard. She doesn’t want to owe him, to further complicate their relationship, but Penny has the right idea when he says, “Rapist monsters are a universal problem.” This is the thing everyone kept forgetting—a thing Penny finally understands. Reynard isn’t just Julia’s problem. He’s a huge problem.
Would the library agree? And is this library bad news? The argument about whether there’s some information that’s too powerful to be readily available is kind of a muddle, but it sets Penny up in conflict with his new employers and gives Kady somewhere to aim her ferocious focus. Also, it’s an excuse to bring in an utterly wonderful Marlee Matlin as Harriet, the force behind “Fuzz Beat,” a website that does “serious news and cat videos at the same time.” Except not exactly, because half of the content is encoded knowledge for magicians. (The Magicians: Justifying all our time spent on Buzzfeed in a single scene.)
I have a lot of questions about Harriet, including why she kept Principals of Conjuring Elementals for so long, why she knows about the Poison Room, how she can be so good at magic that she bespells a library card in one flick of her finger, and where she found out about the exact book Kady needs. (I love that Kady knows sign language almost as much as I love how frustrated Penny gets when he can’t understand them.) Did she hex that librarian on Kady’s behalf, or was she after something for herself? Does she split because she thinks the Library will come after her? Does the library come after her? What does magical librarian justice look like?
Obviously the really important question is: What else is in the Poison Room? “There is knowledge behind that door, Penny, that could destroy more than just people,” the main librarian says. “It could destroy worlds.”
Hello, creepy foreshadowing.
- “I need a free moment to rub one out in a hot bath before I fucking kill someone.”
- Margo and Eliot perform so well for an audience that it’s a delight, momentarily, to have Josh around to serve in the audience role. It was Quentin’s role to appreciate them, back in a different era, when they were all so much more innocent. Josh is less into it (“You guys, stop the bit, I’ll go”) but Eliot so wants to keep performing. It’s their comfort zone, his and Margo’s, and you can see them missing it.
- Eliot! You cannot tell Josh he can shave the nymph of his choice, this is a serious consent issue.
- Pretty confident the librarian is eyeing Penny with a more than professional interest.
- What else is Fogg not saying about the other 39 timeloops? He doesn’t volunteer the shade information, but he doesn’t hold back when they ask him for it, either.
- For the record, there is no better way to end a Magicians episode than that look on Julia’s face and … CUT TO DRAGON.
Molly Templeton is anxiously excited about dragons on a Syfy budget.
For decades, Disney executives never bothered with sequels, apart from the occasional follow-up to an unusual project (The Three Caballeros, which if not exactly a sequel, was meant to follow up Saludos Amigos), or cartoon short (the Winnie the Pooh cartoons in the 1960s.) But in the late 1980s, struggling for ideas that could squeak by the hostile eye of then-chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, animators proposed creating a full length animated sequel to the studio’s only real success from the 1970s—The Rescuers.
The result, The Rescuers Down Under, provided an opportunity for Disney to test out its new CAPS software, and if not exactly a box office blockbuster, did at least earn back its costs. And it happened to coincide with a sudden growth in the VCR market, along with cheaply made, direct-to-video films. The combination gave Disney executives an idea: cheap, direct to video sequels of their most popular films that could also be shown on their broadcast and cable networks.
The first venture, the 1994 The Return of Jafar, a sequel to the 1992 Aladdin, may have been a critical failure (and “may” may not be the correct word here) but small children liked it enough to make it a financial success. Joe Roth, who had replaced Katzenberg as the chairman of Walt Disney Studios, ordered more sequels for their popular animated films. The box office success of Toy Story immediately placed it in that “popular” category.
Meanwhile, over on the Pixar side, executives and computer programmers alike, bogged down by A Bug’s Life, had doubts about their current technological ability to animate either one of their other two potential projects: a little story about monsters, which required animating fur, and an even more complex idea about fish, which required animating water—something A Bug’s Life was even then demonstrating was beyond Pixar’s current animation and rendering capabilities. They worried about moving forward on either option. A fast, cheap, sequel to Toy Story, everyone agreed, would give Pixar enough time to finish A Bug’s Life, figure out how to animate fur and water, and allow Pixar to train new directors for feature films. John Lasseter started working on story concepts.
Sure, both Disney and Pixar had questions—should the sequel be computer animated, or outsourced to the cheaper hand animators then working on Disney’s TV shows and the other animated sequels? Could Pixar get Tom Hanks, who had followed up his voice work in Toy Story with yet another Oscar nomination (his fourth) for his performance in Saving Private Ryan, for a direct-to-video sequel (most people thought no) or even Tim Allen, still extremely busy with the popular Home Improvement? (Allegedly, ABC initially thought no, whatever its parent company felt.) Could Pixar afford to pay either one? (Steve Jobs thought no.) Could Pixar finally obtain rights to other popular toys, now that Toy Story was a success? (Mattel thought yes.)
The question nobody asked: what if the sequel turned out to be, well, good?
Some of these questions were immediately answered by Steve Jobs, who took a look at a few of Pixar’s balance sheets and, after agreeing with analysts that the CD-ROM game based on Toy Story would not generate as much money as a cheap direct-to-video sequel, shut down the game development and moved all of its team over to Toy Story 2. That ensured that the sequel would, like the original, be entirely computer animated. And by March 1997, to everyone’s relief, both Tim Allen and Tom Hanks had agreed to sign on for the sequel, although original producer Ralph Guggenheim soon took off (reportedly at Disney’s request) for Electronic Arts.
A few months later, Pixar and Disney realized they had two problems: (1) as it turned out, Pixar was incapable of putting together a low budget, direct-to-video film, especially while simultaneously trying to churn out a film about bugs and compose a few sketches of monsters, and (2) Toy Story 2 was turning out to be just too good for a direct-to-video production. After more meetings, in 1998 Steve Jobs announced that Toy Story 2 would be a theatrical production—a decision that also freed up money to continue to attract and keep animators who might otherwise be tempted to meander off to Katzenberg’s new venture, Dreamworks.
The decision to turn Toy Story 2 into a theatrical release also meant that Pixar had to add another twelve to fifteen minutes to the finished film. That is why, if you were wondering, Toy Story 2 opens with a scene showing a Buzz Lightyear video game—it was an easy way to add a couple more minutes to the opening and a few more lines and jokes that could be inserted later on. The final chase scene was extended, and Lasseter and the other story contributors and screenwriters added in additional jokes and scenes.
Along with needing to add several more minutes of film, Pixar animators faced a new challenge: learning how to animate dust—something achieved in the old hand animated days by either never animating dust at all (the preferred Warner Bros approach) or by filming actual dirt, echoing the use of painted cornflakes to look like snow. Achieving the dust effect took weeks of failed effort, before finally one animator animated a single fleck of dust and had the computer copy the images. And in one horrifying moment, Pixar almost lost two years of work from their internal servers; luckily, someone had backups of most—not all—of the material.
Despite all of these technical challenges, Disney refused to change the film’s release date of November 24, 1999. To be fair, that date was the perfect time to release the intended direct to video sequel, right at the height of the Christmas shopping season—but considerably less ideal for a film that now was longer and more intricate. As a result, nearly everyone involved in Toy Story 2 began putting in massive amounts of overtime and pulling all nighters. Some animators developed carpal tunnel syndrome, and one stressed animator allegedly left his baby in the backseat of his car instead of at his planned destination—daycare.
At least one animator claimed that the stress was worth it: it had, after all, produced Toy Story 2, at that point, arguably the best film Pixar had yet produced, and one of the greatest animated films of all time.
Toy Story 2 does need a few scenes to get its pacing together. It opens on a scene of Buzz Lightyear heading to take out Emperor Zurg, in a setup for a subplot and later major gag midway through the film, then spends a few moments introducing us again to all of Andy’s toys plus one new addition: Mrs. Potato Head, briefly introduced via dialogue in the previous film, but speaking in this film for the first time. Woody is preparing for a major trip to Cowboy Camp, where finally he will have Quality Time with Andy. I’m not entirely sure why Woody is looking forward to this: Andy seems like the kinda kid who is kinda rough on his toys. We’ve seen plenty of scenes where Andy throws Woody around and knocks him against things, and that’s even forgetting about the last film, where it seemed that Buzz was about to replace Woody in Andy’s affections. Plus, Woody being Woody, he’s worried—very worried—about what will happen to the rest of considerably less responsible toys while he’s gone. On the other hand, it’s his chance to have something he desperately wants: time alone with Andy.
Unfortunately for Woody, he’s in a film that, already struggling with the dust issue, for technical reasons, did not particularly want to spend any more time than it absolutely had to animating humans, and thus needed to separate him from Andy. And so, just minutes into the film, Woody faces a major tragedy: his arm is ripped, and therefore, he can’t go to Cowboy Camp.
This is not actually the sad part.
Thanks to this, and a regrettable incident when a perfectly good penguin who isn’t ready to leave Andy just yet ends up at a garage sale, leading to a series of unfortun—wait, wrong franchise. Never mind—Woody finds himself stolen by a toy collector, Al (voiced by Wayne Knight, here more or less playing his character Newman from Seinfeld), and taken to Al’s apartment. Here, Woody meets a new set of toys—notably Jessie the Cowgirl, Bullseye the horse, and Stinky Pete, the still in the box, mint quality doll—who tell him the truth: he’s one of several toys based on Woody’s Roundup, an old black and white television show from the 1940s and 1950s that bears a remarkable and hilarious resemblance to the old Howdy Doody show. The central toy from that show, as it happens.
Now that Woody has joined them, the Woody’s Roundup toys can all be sold to a museum in Japan, doomed to spend the rest of their lives separated from children by thick glass. Ok, that sounds dreadful, but for Jessie, Bullseye and Stinky Pete, it’s better than the alternative: going back into a box and into storage, unable to even see children again. Anything is better than this. Plus, Jessie no longer trusts children. She had a child once, and then… she didn’t.
All she had was a place in a donation box.
What do you do, Toy Story 2 asks, when your original reason to live and find joy in life vanishes? When you lose your best friend? When you are abandoned, or at least feel abandoned? This might seem like deep questions to ask small children, but that’s also a group that can readily understand this. Small children can and do face huge changes on a regular basis—in some cases, all the seemingly larger because they’ve had such limited experience with change. What happens to Woody and Jessie and Stinky Pete feels real because it is real: the feeling of getting hurt, the feeling of being replaced, the feeling of losing a friend.
To its credit, Toy Story 2 doesn’t provide a simple answer to this—or even one answer. Left behind on a shelf with no chance to ever play with a child, Stinky Pete sets his hopes on life in a museum, which at least means a long life, if nothing else. Jessie, convinced that losing someone that you love is far worse than never having that person in the first place, is more easily persuaded. After all, as a toy, Jessie’s ability to control her circumstances is somewhat limited (if a bit less limited than typical toys, who in general are unable to climb out of an airplane’s cargo compartment and leap to the runway). But Woody and Buzz have different thoughts. They have a child. They have Andy. And that, argues Buzz, is the most important thing for a toy.
Toy Story 2 also asks questions about loyalty, responsibility, and sacrifice. If Woody returns to Andy and his friends, he dooms the Woody’s Roundup toys to a life locked inside dark boxes. (Or so everyone claims. Watching it now, I couldn’t help but notice that not one toy suggested that just maybe they should try to look for another Woody. Sure, Al claimed that he’d spent years looking for a Woody without finding one, but as it turns out, Al thinks that just driving across a street is a major commute, so maybe we shouldn’t be taking Al’s word here, toys! You just saw how many Buzz Lightyears a manufacturer can make! Go find Woody!) On the other hand, staying with the Woody’s Roundup toys means leaving his friends—and losing his last years with Andy.
Unless—maybe—Woody can persuade the other Woody’s Roundup toys to join him.
Toy Story 2 cleverly intercuts the angst ridden scenes of abandonment and fear with something much more fun: scenes of toys trying to cross a road and navigate a toy store. It’s difficult to choose any single highlight here, between Barbie’s expert mimicking of a Disney ride (in English and Spanish!); Rex finally figuring out how to win the Buzz Lightyear video game; Buzz Lightyear confronting an entire aisle of identical Buzz Lightyears, in one of the greatest images from the film; the toys failing to realize that they’ve been joined by a different Buzz Lightyear; or the emergence of Zurg, followed by a joke that, in the unlikely event that you haven’t seen Toy Story 2 yet, I won’t spoil.
Other highlights: the way this really is a sequel, featuring not just callbacks and appearances from previous characters (the sudden appearance of the Three Eyed Aliens from the first film provides another great laugh), but continued character development for Woody and Buzz. Once again, the other characters, except very arguably Rex, get a bit shafted in the character development department, but they do get a number of great lines, not to mention a major adventure.
Still missing, however: girl power. Toy Story 2 does improve on the original here somewhat, by adding Mrs. Potato Head, Barbie, and Jessie to the very slim list of female characters from the first film—Andy’s mother, Bo Peep, and Sid’s younger sister (absent in this film). Jessie, in particular, gets significant attention, and arguably the single most emotional—well, at least, the single most sniffly—scene in the film.
And yet. The toy who sets off to rescue Wheezy the Penguin? Woody, a guy. The toys who set off to rescue Woody? Buzz Lightyear, Rex the Dinosaur, Mr. Potato Head, Hamm the piggy bank, and Slinky Dog—all guys. Who sees them off? Bo Peep and Mrs. Potato Head, who never seem to even consider coming along. Navigating the terror of the airport luggage system? All of the above, plus three Three Eyed Aliens, and Stinky Pete—again, all guys, while Jessie remains locked in a box. Only in the very end does Jessie get her action adventure moment—and even then, it’s in the context of Woody rescuing her. It’s not enough to destroy my enjoyment of the film, but in a film that came out exactly one year after Mulan, inspired in part by the desire to correct this sort of thing, it’s noticeable.
I’m also not too thrilled about Stinky Pete’s final scene, where the evil toy suffers the fate—and from his viewpoint, it’s truly suffering—of getting found by a girl, and worse, an artistic girl who will, as Barbie assures him, color his face. Stinky Pete howls. On the one hand, I get it—all the poor toy had in life prior to this was the knowledge that he was in mint, box condition. Abandoned, sure, but museum quality, something that his new child will be taking away in a few seconds. And he’s not even the only toy in the film to prefer a life that doesn’t include a child—one of the other Buzz Lightyears makes the same decision earlier in the film. At the same time, though, given that part of the point of the film is that toys are better off when they are with kids, Stinky Pete’s dismay at his fate is a little painful. You’re out of the box at last, Stinky Pete! You’ll be played with! It’s what you wanted at one point! Is the problem that—I hate to say this, but I will—your new child is a girl?
Well, a touch of misogyny would hardly be Stinky Pete’s worst trait, and he really did want that life in a museum. It’s perhaps not all that surprising that he’s howling at that loss.
Though while I’m at it, given the supposed value of the Woody’s Roundup toys and the small sizes of the four main toys, why didn’t Al arrange to have all of them put into one single box that he or a courier could take to Japan by hand, keeping a constant eye on these valuable toys for their main journey? I realize that the answer is “So Pixar could give us that luggage conveyor belt scene,” but as a character/plot motivation, that lacks something.
But admittedly, these—and the poor quality of the animated fur on the dog—are nothing more than quibbles. Toy Story 2 may have left me sniffling in parts, but it also made me laugh out loud, and its final scenes are just such enormous fun that it’s difficult to complain too much. Even for me. As critics at the time noted, it’s one of the rare sequels to beat the original—proof that Pixar was not just a one-film story.
Toy Story 2 was an enormous success, pulling in $497.4 million worldwide at the box office, at the time behind only The Lion King as the most successful animated film of all time. Critics were also delighted, turning Toy Story 2 into one of the few films on Rotten Tomatoes with a 100% approval rating, something that as of this writing has been achieved by only two other animated films: the 1940 Pinocchio and the 1995 Toy Story.
By this time, Disney had belatedly realized that yes, toys related to Toy Story could indeed be a success—a previous failure snarked on in Toy Story 2’s script—and was ready to go with a full line of merchandise and related toys, including new toys based on Zurg, Jessie, Pete and Whizzy the Penguin. The new Toy Story rides springing up at the Disney theme parks focused on Woody’s Roundup (but in color) and the world of Buzz Lightyear and Zurg introduced in Toy Story 2. Stinky Pete, naturally, never became a particularly popular toy, but Zurg merchandise continues to sell briskly.
It was all enough to give Disney and Pixar executives a new thought: what if they did a third Toy Story movie, creating a trilogy of films? Sure, that hadn’t been done with full length animated films—yet. But Toy Story possibly had more worlds of magic and toys to explore.
But first, Disney and Pixar had a few more films to work on—including a small thing about monsters—and several more reasons to call in a few corporate attorneys.
Monsters, Inc., coming up next month.
Mari Ness lives in central Florida.