Vault Pixar #3 – Toy Story 2

Directed By: John Lasseter

Starring: Tom Hanks and Tim Allen

Screenplay By: Andrew Stanton, Rita Hsiao, Doug Chamerlin and Chris Webb

Original Release: November 24, 1999

Toy Story 2 is considered, by most, to be a perfect film. The characters are amazing. The stakes are higher than the first film. And the emotional beats hit harder than before. With two successes under their belt, it’s hard to believe that Pixar could not only be consistent with that quality, but somehow also manage to pull off something even more amazing than we thought possible. Expanding the mythology of this world and really making us feel for the toys that we forgot as children, Toy Story 2 is, in the words of Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way. Let’s find out why.

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That’s right. Bask in my glory. It’s okay. I know you want to.

Disney actually planned to make Toy Story 2 a direct to DVD sequel. Most of the staff that had made Toy Story so good were busy working on A Bug’s Life. Yet, when they saw the early story reels, they couldn’t help but realize the potential of the story and the film was upgraded to a full theatrical release. The catch to this was that the film already had a set release date and by the time anyone realized it was good, that release date was only nine months away. In a single weekend, the story was retooled and the film began anew, somehow managing to hit its deadline despite time constraints.

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What do you mean only two weeks?

As with any film, there are plenty of twists and turns in the creative process but I want to share just one of my favorite tales from my research of this film. Production had been slow but effective. The work that the team was producing was great but they were in a time crunch. At one point in 1998, one of the animators accidentally started a deletion on his computer that targeted the root folder for all the Toy Story 2 files. This meant that literally as the other animators were working, they started to see character models deleting off their computers. This was not good. They quickly shut down the server to stop the deletion but by that point, they had already lost 90% of nearly two years worth of work. Things seemed unsalvageable. The backups they’d created were faulty and failed on startup. It wasn’t until technical director Galyn Susman revealed that she had her own backups did things finally end happily. She’d been working from home in order to care for a newborn, and thus saved the film.

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No heart beat. I think this one might be dead…or made of wood.

Toy Story 2 takes us through a very simple yet effective emotional idea. What does a coming of age story look like from a toy’s point of view? As Andy grows up, Woody starts to realize that maybe his time as a play thing won’t last forever. This proves to be a great way to tell a story as Woody is subjected to the idea of “How long can it last?” Everything is more complex in this film, The emotional arcs, the characters and the world. All of that is to say that Toy Story takes everything that was great about the first film and expands it.

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Be gone filthy cowboy.

We’re treated to several new characters who are simply fantastic. Jesse is delightful and full of energy.  Watching Toy Story I realized that the series simply didn’t feel the same without her. She’s fits into the team so effortlessly. Bullseye, while not having the same impact, is still adorable and I love seeing his instant loyalty to Woody who he has this instinctual connection to. Of course, we have some baddies as well.

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You can trust me. I’m just a helpless old man…in a box.

The Prospector is exactly what you would imagine an angry toy might be like. Left in the box and never purchased, he has rejected the world and thinks that children who play with toys are a waste of time. He’s more interested in self preservation. I think it’s interesting to see this toy who feels like an outcast because he never got taken out of his box, actually pushing for going to a museum where he’ll never be taken out of his box. As a villain, he’s great because he takes the thing that hurts him most and turns it into his downfall. It’s the old idea of what happens if we can’t allow ourselves to let go of being hurt? How far does it take us down the path of inhumanity. Did I mention this is a film all about toys? TOYS!

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We really should stop spying on the neighbors.

Even though he isn’t much of a villain, I have to give an honorable mention to Zurg. Not only is it great to see this character we’ve heard so much about, it’s also just hilarious after the first film to see the whole story play out. On that note, I LOVE the addition of the Buzz Lightyear who doesn’t know he’s a toy. Watching him interact with the old Buzz we know is always hilarious and is just such a great way to show how these characters have grown over the years.

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Death to Cybertron!

And even though we get some great new characters, it’s good to see that old characters that we know and love are back and better than ever. I loved that Slink, Rex and Mr. Potato Head got more of a role in the story and though they still are fairly one dimensional, their jokes are hilarious, and the scene in which they ride around the toy store with Barbie is an amazing gem in the film.

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And to your left you’ll see, you guessed it, more toys!

The heart in this film is fantastic. We all know that Pixar movies are notorious for making us get the feels and this seems to be where that starts. Watching Woody be forced to choose between a few great years and then the unknown or a most definite lifetime of no play time is heartbreaking and we really feel for him and his plight. I love when Buzz has to confront him and reminds Woody that “life is only worth living if you get to be played with by a child.” It’s such a powerful idea. It transcends the film and the toys. We can play it safe and choose the easy path, but life is meant to be lived. Life is meant to be taking with the good and the bad and this is the lesson we can all learn from Toy Story. We see the world of toys in this film from the eyes of the child and the collector and ultimately we realize that toys, believe it or not, are meant to be toys. They are meant to be loved and thrown and torn and lose pieces. Life is only worth living if you get a few scars along the way.

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I swear, I didn’t know she was your sister.

I could go on. I really could. I love the old man who fixes the toys. I love Star Wars and Jurassic Park references. I love Mrs. Potato Head. In truth, I love everything about this film. For as many times as I’ve seen it, I still found myself laughing hysterically. It’s a film that never gets old or fails to disappoint. I’d even go so far as to say that even three films in, we’ve already seen one of the absolute best films in the Pixar line up. Toy Story 2 is a pinnacle to which other animated movies are judged. It proves that a sequel can in fact surpass its predecessor in every way and it does it with flare. Now go dig up your childhood toys from the attic and give them a big hug. Just make sure not to go looking for your toys in the closet. The monsters probably ate those ones. Don’t worry, I’ll explain it all next week.

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Welcome Home.

Next Up: Monsters, Inc.

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11 thoughts on “Vault Pixar #3 – Toy Story 2

  1. Dan says:

    I love reading your Vault.. posts. I like the little nuggets of history you reveal behind the making of them, but more than that it’s thrilling to have you describe what you love about these films. A showreel of these moments instantly starts up in my head when I read these. Jesse is awesome: “Wood-ee!”

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