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Don't miss the inside joke in ''Toy Story 2''

A guide to what’s new and improved in the sequel to the 1995 smash

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Toy Story
Disney Enterprises, Inc.

This Thanksgiving, Buzz Lightyear wasn’t the only one traveling to infinity and beyond. ”Toy Story 2” blasted to a record-breaking $80.8 million debut at the box office, meaning that kids weren’t the only ones buying tickets — unless you include all the giggling grown-ups getting in touch with their inner children. In fact, director John Lasseter says there’s something for children of all ages to love in the movie, especially those paying close attention. ”One thing we love to do is put in a lot of homages to other movies and in-jokes,” he says.

One example that only kids (and a few animation geeks) may catch has to do with the character known as the Cleaner. In 1997, Pixar Animation Studios produced an Oscar-winning short about an elderly man playing chess with himself called ”Geri’s Game.” (This was the first film to use the advanced computer technology that gives the characters in ”Toy Story” their realistic look.) The short eventually showed up on the home video of ”A Bug’s Life.” ”Now, we all know how kids watch videos 100,000 times at home,” says Lasseter. ”So they watched ‘Geri’s Game’ all that time. And in ‘Toy Story 2’ there was a need for a toy restorer who comes in to clean up Woody.” With the click of a mouse, Geri was cast in the bit part. ”It’s a bit of surprise, but when you’re watching in the theater you hear this laughter bubbling up from the kids,” says Lasseter.

Grown-ups, in turn, may be pleased to see their old childhood pal Barbie on the big screen — finally. When the filmmakers tried to cast her as a heroine in the first film, Mattel balked for fear of ruining the blond bombshell’s image. Lasseter credits her appearance in ”2” to the ”great role” she has in the sequel, but the original’s $191.8 million box office bonanza and wildly popular merchandising play certainly didn’t hurt. Even so, her role isn’t likely to boost sales of the latest version of the doll, which recently got a politically correct makeover to fill out her waist and deflate her bust. In the movie, Barbie is her old-fashioned, outrageously curvy self. ”That’s not Barbie!” Lasseter says of the new version. ”We wanted to celebrate her being the cool toy she is.” And her spooky resemblance to Pamela Anderson Lee is just a perk.