Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Pixar edition. Toy Story 2

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: Toy Story 2

Year: 1999

Source materials: based off of characters from the original Toy Story.

Budget: $90 million

Box office: $497.4 million

Plot: Andy prepares to go to cowboy camp with Woody, but he accidentally tears Woody’s arm. Andy’s mom puts Woody on a shelf, and Andy leaves without Woody.


The next day, Woody finds that Wheezy has been shelved for months due to a broken squeaker. Andy’s mother puts Wheezy in a yard sale, but Woody rescues him, only to be stolen by a greedy toy collector, Al, who takes him to his apartment.


Buzz and the rest of Andy’s toys identify the thief as the owner of Al’s Toy Barn. Buzz, Hamm, Mr. Potato Head, Slinky Dog, and Rex set out to rescue Woody. At Al’s apartment, Woody learns that he is based on a 1950s television show called Woody’s Roundup, and that along with the other Roundup toys – Jessie, Bullseye, and Stinky Pete the Prospector – he is set to be sold to a toy museum in Tokyo, Japan.


Woody intends to return home to Andy. Stinky Pete explains that the museum is only interested in the collection if it is complete, and without Woody, they will be returned to storage. When Woody’s arm is torn off completely, Woody attempts to retrieve it and escape, but is foiled when Al’s television set turns on, and blames Jessie when he finds the TV remote in front of her.


The next morning, Woody’s arm is fixed by a toy repair specialist, and he learns that Jessie once belonged to Emily, who eventually outgrew her and gave her away. Stinky Pete warns him that the same fate awaits him when Andy grows up, whereas he will last forever in the museum. Woody decides to stay, now believing that all toys will eventually get discarded by their owners.


Meanwhile, Buzz and the other toys reach Al’s Toy Barn. While searching for Woody, Buzz is imprisoned by a Utility Belt Buzz, who believes that Buzz is a rogue space ranger.  joins the other toys, who mistake him for Andy’s Buzz. After discovering Al’s plan, they go to his apartment, while Andy’s Buzz escapes and pursues them, accidentally freeing an Emperor Zurg toy, who follows him with the intent of destroying him.


After the toys find Woody, Buzz rejoins them and proves that he is Andy’s Buzz, but Woody refuses to go home. Buzz reminds Woody that a toy’s true purpose is to be played with, which he would never experience in a museum. After seeing a boy play with him on television, Woody realizes that Buzz was right, and asks the Roundup gang to come home with him and Andy’s toys. However, Stinky Pete declines and stops them from leaving. He was the one responsible for foiling Woody’s earlier escape attempt and framing Jessie for it.


Al then returns, takes the gang in a suitcase and leaves for the airport. Andy’s toys pursue Al, but are caught by Zurg, who battles Utility Belt Buzz, until Rex inadvertently knocks him off the elevator. Utility Belt Buzz then chooses to remain behind with Zurg, who has revealed himself as Buzz’s father. Accompanied by three toy Aliens, Andy’s toys steal a Pizza Planet delivery truck and follow Al to the airport, where they enter the baggage handling system and find the suitcase. Stinky Pete rips Woody’s arm during a struggle, but Andy’s toys stuff him into a little girl’s backpack. They free Bullseye, only for Jessie to end up on the plane bound for Japan. Assisted by Buzz and Bullseye, Woody frees Jessie, and the toys find their way home.


When Andy returns from camp, he accepts Jessie, Bullseye, and the Aliens as his new toys, thinking that his mother bought them and repairs Woody’s torn arm. Al’s business has suffered due to him failing to sell the Roundup gang, while Wheezy’s squeaker has also been fixed. Woody tells Buzz that he is no longer worried about Andy outgrowing him because, when he eventually does, they will still have each other for company.

Background: Around a month after the film’s opening, Ed Catmull, John Lasseter, and Ralph Guggenheim visited Joe Roth, 1 about a sequel. Disney had recently begun making direct-to-video sequels to its successful features. Lasseter regarded the project as a chance to groom new directing talent, and turned to Ash Brannon, a young directing animator on Toy Story whose work he admired.

“The story of Toy Story 2 is based a lot on my own experience. I’m a big toy collector and a lot of them are like antiques, or one-of-a-kind toys, or prototypes the toy makers have given me. Well, I have five sons, and when they were little and they loved to come to daddy’s work, and come in into daddy’s office and they just want to touch and play with everything. And I was sitting there saying ‘Oh no, that’s uh, you can’t play with that one, oh no, play with this one, oh no….’ and I found myself just sitting there looking at myself and laughing. Because toys are manufactured, put on this Earth, to be played with by a child. That is the core essence of Toy Story. And so I started wondering, what was it like from a toy’s point of view to be collected?” —John Lasseter

The concept of Woody as a collectible set came from the draft story of A Tin Toy Christmas, an original half-hour special pitched by Pixar to Disney in 1990. The development of Jessie was kindled by Lasseter’s wife Nancy, who pressed him to include a strong female character in the sequel, one with more substance than Bo Peep. They incorporated ideas that came from the first film, such as theoriginal opening sequence featuring a Buzz Lightyear cartoon playing on television, Woody having a nightmare involving him being thrown into a trash can, and a squeak-toy penguin with a broken squeaker. Roth and Peter Schneider viewed the film’s story reels, with some finished animation, and became interested in releasing Toy Story 2 in theaters.

“When we went from a direct-to-video to a feature film and we had limited time in which to finish that feature film, the pressure really amped up. Forget seeing your family, forget doing anything. Once we made that decision [on the schedule], it was like, ‘Okay, you have a release date. You’re going to make that release date. You’re going to make these screenings.'” – Karen Jackson, co-producer of Toy Story 2.

The work done on the film to date was nearly lost in 1998 when one of the animators, while routinely clearing some files, accidentally started a deletion of the root folder of the Toy Story 2 assets on Pixar’s internal servers. The film was saved when technical director Galyn Susman, who had been working from home to take care of her newborn child, revealed she had backups of the assets on her home computer.

Animation: Character models received major upgrades internally and shaders went through revisions to bring about subtle improvements. The team freely borrowed models from other productions, such as Geri from Pixar’s 1997 short Geri’s Game, who became the Cleaner in Toy Story 2.


To achieve the dust visible after Woody is placed on top of a shelf, the crew was faced with the challenge of animating dust, an incredibly difficult task. After much experimentation, a tiny particle of dust was animated and the computer distributed that image throughout the entire shelf. Over two million dust particles are in place on the shelf in the completed film.

Songs: Randy Newman wrote two new songs for Toy Story 2 as well as the complete original score:


  • “When She Loved Me” – performed by Sarah McLachlan. 2
  • “Woody’s Roundup” – performed by Riders in the Sky
  • “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” – sung at two different points during the film by Tom Hanks and Robert Goulet, returns from the original movie

Voice Cast: Most of the original cast returned for the sequel, including Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts, John Morris, Laurie Metcalf, and R. Lee Ermey.

Joan Cusack as Jessie. Cusack has twice been nominated for Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her work in Working Girl and In & Out. She appeared with her brother John in the movies Sixteen Candles, Grandview, U.S.A., Class, High Fidelity, Grosse Pointe Blank, Say Anything…, Cradle Will Rock, Martian Child, and most recently, War, Inc. She also appeared in Addams Family Values, School of Rock, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. In 2010, Cusack joined the Showtime drama/comedy Shameless as Sheila Gallagher 3 Kelsey Grammer as Stinky Pete. He’s best known for playing the role of Frazier Crane for twenty years on the sitcom Cheers and its spinoff Fraizer, for which he won four Emmys. He won a fifth Emmy for voicing Sideshow Bob on The Simpsons. He also played Beast in the X-Men movies.

Wayne Knight as Al. Among his films include roles in Space Jam, Bee Movie, Punisher: War Zone, Dirty Dancing, Born on the Fourth of July, JFK, and Basic Instinct. He is best known for playing Dennis Nedry in Jurassic Park and Newman on the sitcom Seinfeld. Estelle Harris as Mrs. Potatohead. She is best known for her supporting role as Estelle Costanza on Seinfeld.

Jonathan Harris returns as the cleaner and Jodi Benson returns as Tour Guide Barbie. Joe Ranft returns as Wheezy (with Robert Goulet as the singing voice) and Andrew Stanton voiced Evil Emperor Zurg

Pizza Planet Car: It has an important role in the plot, as it is the car the toys take to the airport


A 113: In the airport, an announcement is made for Lasset Air, Flight A113.

Where in the World is John Ratzenberger? : John returns as Hamm, the piggy bank.

Critical Reception: Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four and said in his print review “I forgot something about toys a long time ago, and Toy Story 2 reminded me”. In January 2000 upon seeing the film, animation legend Chuck Jones wrote Lasseter (a personal admirer of Jones) a letter calling the film “wonderful” and “beautifully animated”, and telling Lasseter he was “advancing the cause of classic animation in a new and effective way.” Lasseter has the letter framed in his house.

Legacy: Toy Story 2: Buzz Lightyear to the Rescue, a video game for the PC, PlayStation, Nintendo 64 and Dreamcast, was released in November 1999. The game featured original cast voices and clips from the film as introductions to levels.


Toy Story Land is scheduled to open at Hollywood Studios in Orlando on June 30th.


My take: The rare sequel that is as good as or better than their predecessor.  It also brings up ideas that will pay off in Toy Story 3.

Jessie is a great character. And if you can sit through “When She Loved Me” without crying, then you’re a lot tougher than I.

I also feel that clueless Buzz is much funnier than aware Buzz, and we’ll see that next time as well.

Next Week: Fantasia 2000