AS IF John Lasseter's computer-animated "Toy Story" wasn't brilliant enough.
You remember that wonderful movie of 1995. And you surely remember the gang of yore -- Woody the cowboy, Buzz Lightyear, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, Slinky Dog, Rex, Hamm and the rest of Andy's toys. These were good people -- good plastic people.
Well here it is, mirabile dictu: a sequel that eclipses the original. The toys are back with even more hilarious vengeance. The story's twice as inventive as its predecessor. And the vocal talents of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen and others bring even fuller soul to the proceedings than before.
Hanks practically owns the soul of Woody. Allen is amusingly robotic as Buzz Lightyear. And the others are equally full of beans, from Jim Varney's Slinky Dog to Don Rickles' Mr. Potato Head.
Once again, our hearts are kept breathtakingly close to breaking: A toy is only as good -- only as alive -- as his appreciative owner wants him to be. When that owner gets older, he (or she) puts away childish things. And that tossed toy is a dead toy.
Which is why Woody is devastated when his kid-owner, Andy (John Morris), doesn't bring him along to Cowboy Camp. Is this the end of the relationship?
There's another problem: Woody's arm has been torn at the shoulder. He's broken, useless. So Andy dumps him on the shelf -- either to be repaired later or (shudder) tossed into the bargain bin at the next yard sale.
Thanks to a comedy of errors, Woody is tossed into the bargain bin. Gulp! An egg-shaped, evil customer called Al McWhiggin (the voice of none other than Wayne Knight -- Newman!) snatches him from the box.
"Not for sale," says Andy's mother (Laurie Metcalf), who realizes Woody must have tumbled into the box by mistake. But there's no stopping McWhiggin, owner of the Tri-County Area's leading toy emporium, who recognizes Woody's true value.
The cowboy, it turns out, is the final piece he needs in a collector's item set from a 1950s TV show called "Woody's Roundup." Al simply steals him, intending to sell him to foreign buyers for bundles of money.
The toys, who have seen the whole shady maneuver from Andy's room, are horrified. What to do? Save Woody, of course. Buzz Lightyear -- and friends -- to the rescue!
But there's a twist. When Woody finds himself in Al's Toy Barn lair, he meets Stinky Pete the Prospector (Kelsey Grammer) and Jessie (Joan Cusack), Woody's buddies from the "Woody's Roundup" trio, who show him videos of the old 1950s show.
Woody realizes he's a former star, and that Stinky and Jessie were his regular pals. Now he's confused. To which family does he belong? And does he really want rescuing now?
This riveting dilemma is just one of many great features in "Toy Story 2," the screenplay penned by Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Rita Hsiao, Doug Chamberlin and Chris Webb. They create a perfect fusion of genuinely affecting narrative and gut-creasing comedy.
"We're all just a stitch away from here to there," a saddened Wheezy (Joe Ranft) tells Woody, pointing to the yard sale sign outside the toy room window.
And when the toys prepare for their rescue mission, Mrs. Potato Head (Estelle Harris) has these words for her brave husband: "I'm packing your shoes and your angry eyes if you need them."
Of course, the visual animation is the most prominent star. Lasseter's studio of animators has created an awesome series of soon-to-be-classic scenes. At one point, Buzz's five-toy rescue team, including Hamm (John Ratzenberger) and Rex (Wallace Shawn), attempts to traverse a busy highway under an artful cluster of traffic cones. This moving mass of orange causes vehicles to screech and smash into each other, as the toys head toward Al's Toy Barn on the other side. This endeavor is as arduous and nail-biting as any climactic scene from "Mission: Impossible." You're as terrified at the prospect of crunched plastic and crushed Slinky toy as you are convulsed with hysterics.
TOY STORY 2 (G, 85 minutes) -- Contains nothing objectionable. Area theaters.