As a cinephile and animation fan long before I became a professional critic, I have a couple of very specific memories associated with Toy Story and Toy Story 2: With the first film, I remember being unimpressed with its ad campaign and even its technological novelty – that is, until I actually saw the thing, and totally loved it. And with the second, I recall sitting in a theatre the opening weekend of its release, sobbing my eyes out to "Jessie's Song" as hundreds of pre-teens and their parents impatiently awaited the next set piece.
Unfortunately, I think few people who are already fans of the franchise will find much new or different to remember now that they're in 3D. Meanwhile, newcomers to the most important computer-animated series in movie history will also probably not find anything more profound than the stories themselves, since they were already multi-dimensional long before anyone made their experience technical in addition to already being an emotional one.
While the first one remains a landmark animated film primarily because of those technical merits, its story really seemed to tap into something that both children and adults could relate to – for kids, the idea that their toys have secret lives, and for grown-ups, the deeper and more subtle themes of kids outgrowing their childhoods, much less their caretakers and parents. The second further explored these themes, again in a context that seemed remarkably specific and yet undeniably universal, but its impact was far stronger, thanks to the introduction of new characters like Jessie and the Prospector, not to mention the general surprise that someone could make a sequel that was actually better than its predecessor.
That said, those films have been analyzed and deconstructed to death, which is probably why Pixar elected to reintroduce them to audiences in 3D. While adapting older computer-animated films to 3D makes sense because the filmmakers can control all aspects of the image and framing, including changing it if necessary, it doesn't necessarily mean that the end result will automatically be better, or even enhanced. And unfortunately, neither of these films are serviceably better works of art because they're in 3D, despite the understandable hope of Disney and the portion of the moviemaking community that hopes 3D becomes the next great technological leap.
At this summer's San Diego Comic-Con, I got my first glimpse at the footage when Disney screened the opening scene from Toy Story 2. While it was absolutely dynamic and beautiful to watch, I couldn't necessarily say that the 3D was what made the difference; more likely, the intervening years between seeing the film last had a stronger influence, so my lack of immediate familiarity with its concepts, images and storytelling made the viewing experience exciting and new. But once I saw all of both films, I felt no different: the 3D is interesting, understated, technically proficient (if not superlative), but it doesn't change the movies or make them better.
Mind you, this might be Pixar's plan – namely, to introduce these films in this format as a modest stopgap before films like the upcoming Toy Story 3, which is being released initially in 3D, and subsequent movies both animated and live-action that intend to take advantage of 3D technology. But with films like these that are already so ingrained in the memories of their fans – even folks like me who remember the broader details but forget a few of the more specific ones – that a re-release seems redundant, and the 3D enhancement unnecessary. The movies work beautifully, if not perfectly already, so why change a good thing?
Let it be noted that I'm not afraid of the impending wave of 3D films, or the technology as a whole; for the filmmakers who see it merely as "another tool in the toolbox," I agree it can and should be used – albeit as a tool rather than an end unto itself. Truth be told, Pixar uses 3D "correctly," which is to say that watching their films looks more like the audience is peering through a window than recoiling at an attacking object; but the modesty with which they use 3D here doesn't improve upon what already existed – if in fact it could be improved. Ultimately, Toy Story and Toy Story 2 in 3D is a worthy experiment and a welcome reminder of the magnitude of the filmmakers' original accomplishments, but I'm not sure it's one that offers any new ones, which might leave some longtime fans feeling like they paid twice for the same Toy.