If you ever have the chance to visit Los Angeles, there is one thing that unites everyone in the City of Angels. No matter whom you meet, the Uber driver, door-dasher, pizza delivery person or even the front desk clerk at your hotel, each invariably will mention they are out West “working on a screenplay.”
In my Advanced Film class, we work on one all semester with the understanding that it does take a concentrated effort but can be accomplished. The products that I have read are excellent, and I hope that I can see them on the big screen someday.
This begs the question, with all the people writing new material, why do studios consistently place a Roman numeral two after a hit film? The answer is as varied as the films that are made, although the one constant is that if an audience cares about the characters, why not provide a new story about them?
The sequel process is not as risky as an original, but it is hard to live up to the first, especially if it has become an icon. So as we wrap up the second week of the second-to-last month of a year with two twos in it, it is only fitting that we look at two sequels that may have outdone the originals.
You might say, let’s double your pleasure.
"Toy Story 2" (1999)
To begin with, “Toy Story” from 1995 is the penultimate computer-animated film. I happen to have seen it four times in theaters, and to this day, I consider it a complete masterpiece. The Academy Awards did not have a Best Animated Feature category at the time; it most certainly would have won. Being the first feature film out of the box from Pixar, it put the bar at Mount Everest, but the sequel four years later cleared it – to infinity and beyond.
The film opens with an intergalactic Buzz (Tim Allen) attempting to find his archenemy Zurg and his secret lair. Upon landing on a planet that he is convinced is hiding the evil emperor, Buzz ends up getting “terminated.” Viewers then realize it is a video game that Rex (Wallace Shawn) is playing back in Andy’s room. Buzz compliments Rex on his play, but the big green dinosaur is slightly upset, thinking he will never win.
We come to find that Woody (Tom Hanks) is getting ready for cowboy camp but can’t find his hat. In a series of events that are laugh-out-loud funny, we find the hat but Woody is damaged in the process. He gets shelved and when one of the other toys ends up in a yard sale, Woody attempts to save him, only to get “toynapped” by Al (Wayne Knight) of Al’s Toy Barn. It becomes an all-out rescue operation to get their friend back.
For the remainder of the 92-minute film, the audience is treated to almost every emotion you can think of. Excitement, thrills, poignant thoughts and, lest we forget, laughter. Make sure you have an empty bladder because the road-crossing scene might be the funniest sequence in any Pixar film, and the climactic airport adventure might make tears appear from the nonstop giggling. When the toys go through Al’s store, the build-up is masterful in introducing a double agent and a tour guide Barbie.
The all-star cast brings together a motley crew of toys who are lovable and fun; and 21 years later, this film will bring a smile to your face, no matter how old you are.
John Lasseter’s masterpiece is rated G, and along with Disney Plus, Prime has it for $2.99.
"Grumpier Old Men" (1995)
Speaking of old, on Christmas Day in 1993, Warner Brothers opened “Grumpy Old Men,” starring the original "Odd Couple," Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. Two old men from Wabasha, Minnesota, are involved in a 50-year feud. In a story filled with hi-jinks and barbs, the two comedic greats give us a gut-busting 103 minutes. Thinking they didn’t use up all of their arsenal of jokes, they reprise their roles two years later in the followup, “Grumpier Old Men,” and hit another home run.
“Grumpier” is set in late summer with Max Goldman (Matthau) and John Gustafson (Lemmon) passing their days fishing for the uncatchable Catfish Hunter, and getting along because their children are getting married. When their beloved bait shop is purchased by Spaghetti Ragetti’s cousin, Max and John are excited to meet the new owner.
Of course, the new owner is not what they expected – Maria Ragetti (Sophia Loren) has plans for a lakeside restaurant. In an attempt to drive out the feisty Italian and her mother, the boys devise a handful of pranks to stall the opening. When Max runs into Maria on the lake, things change and romance fills the air. Then come a few situations that range from mildly funny to downright hysterical. Max and John end up taking the gloves off, which leads to some of the best practical jokes in movie history.
The movie is not without its tender moments and, like the first film, plays with your heart and head in the climax that is equally satisfying. Ann-Margret, Daryl Hannah, Kevin Pollak and Burgess Meredith (in his last film role) round out the deep and talented cast. Loren is strong, sweet and still sexy at 61 (when the film was made), and Lemmon and Matthau show that even at their age, they still have comedy chops of the highest caliber.
The 101-minute film is rated PG-13 for “salty” language and innuendos, but, quite frankly, it can be watched and enjoyed by almost everyone. Prime has it for $2.99
There you go, double down on two sequels that double the fun and can be enjoyed by anyone age 2 to 102 on a two-day weekend.
By the way, if you enjoy my reviews of some of the wonderful films in history, join me at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12, when I speak on "American Cinema: Past, Present, and Future" as part of the McHenry County College Experts and Insights series. It will happen live via Zoom, with more information at www.mchenry.edu/experts. The program is free, but registration is required.
“See” you there!
• Jim Stockwell is a tenured instructor of film and broadcast journalism at McHenry County College, teaching Introduction to Film, Advanced Film and Introduction to Public Speaking.