The Toys, as they say, are back in town. And if you're not already excited by this, then that key in your back obviously needs a few vigorous turns, because Pixar's latest CG spectacular is funnier, more thrilling and more genre-bustingly brilliant than you could imagine.
Disney sequels are usually just shunted onto the sell-through market, involving only a fraction of the original budget and effort (witness the Aladdin follow-up minus Robin Williams, or the slightly mangier Lion King II: Simba's Pride). But the keyboard-clacking bods at Pixar couldn't take the easy option and trot out an inferior product on VHS. No, their rough cut smacked the gobs of the men at the Mouse House so much that the running time was bumped up, new scenes and characters added, the original cast kept on and the whole thing redirected towards the silver screen.
Pixar supremo and TS2 director John Lasseter has always claimed that plot and character are as important as jaw-to-floor visuals, and his latest Lego-block-buster scores top marks on both. Just compare the graphics in the original with last year's ultra-textured A Bug's Life, and you'll have an idea of how far they've come with this second toyscapade. Okay, the main characters don't look that different, but then they don't really need to. Being toys, they don't require the roughness, spikiness and flakiness of A Bug's Life's insects. Besides, it'd be a bad move to change Buzz and co's appearance simply for the sake of change.
No, the real improvements are more obvious when you look at the non-toy world they inhabit: back-grounds are packed with detail and exteriors are breathtakingly vast, involving skyscrapers, main streets and an entire airport, while the opening sequence even whirls you around a immense sci-fi spacescape. Although both Andy and his mom haven't quite lost their plastic sheen, the pudgy, greasy Al - who has more screentime than any other human - is remarkably realistic, right down to the individual bristles poking out of his jowly chin. And, talking of hair, Pixar has done a superb job rendering the fur on Andy's dog, Buster, apparently a result of the work it's been doing on its next movie, Monsters Inc.
But it's in terms of story, script and character that Pixar's latest truly excels. Buzz is now at ease with his status as a plaything rather than a true-life cosmic adventurer, but that doesn't prevent him taking on the responsibility for Woody's rescue with deliciously hammy gusto, setting him up for some beautifully executed pratfalls. Woody, meanwhile, is developed far further when it's revealed to him that he's more than a mere doll... He's a collectible. One minor problem with the first film was that, unlike all the other toys, it was never clear how Woody ever came into being. Hamm's a piggy bank, Mr Potato Head we're all familiar with, Rex is a plastic dinosaur - but what's Woody? A floppy old cowpoke. Who ever had a toy like that? TS2 holds all the answers, and with them it introduces three new characters: Stinky Pete The Prospector, who's never even been removed from his box; Bullseye the clumsy cloth horse; and Jessie the cowgirl, voiced by a whooping, hollering Joan Cusack,who has her own, sad tale to tell (involving the movie's one slightly duff moment with an intrusively saccharine ballad). Also, now that Buzz and Woody are well established in the audience's minds, there's more time devoted to the supporting cast. So we're treated to some neat little sub-plots involving, for example, Rex's videogame addiction.
The jokes may fly thick and fast, but it's in the thrill department that TS2 really goes, well, to infinity and beyond (sorry). The pace rarely lets up, as you're hurled from one giddily kinetic set piece to another, right up to the fingernail-pruning intensity of the climactic airport scramble. It's only when you notice the deeply embedded grip marks on the arms of your cinema seat that you'll realise you're not just watching a great cartoon, you're watching the best family-oriented action movie for years.
Eye-rolling action, needle-sharp in-jokes, engaging characterisations, perfect plotting... The only fault with this movie is one slightly irksome ballad. But even that's not going to stop you floating out of the cinema sporting a big, soppy smile.