Reach For The Sky: How Toy Story 2 Became Pixar’s Masterpiece

Today marks the 20th anniversary of Disney Pixar’s Toy Story 2, one of the most beloved animated films of all-time.

Since its release in winter 1999, we have seen the release of two further sequels, with the latest instalment, Toy Story 4, released earlier this year.

It’s hard to imagine a world without these four films, and the well loved characters of Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Jessie, Bo Beep and more.

However, we came very close to never seeing Toy Story 2, and the story behind the troubled production of the film we all love and treasure is worthy of being its a film in itself.

Disney Pixar

With the surprising success of the first Toy Story, it was inevitable that a sequel would be made by Disney Pixar. The characters were universally loved by audiences young and old, and it was evident that a sequel would be met with open arms.

Disney chairman Joe Roth and his company originally envisioned a direct-to-video sequel, and while it is hard to imagine that, prior to Toy Story 2 Disney had a poor track record with sequels at the box office.

Pixar were less than thrilled with this prospect, and were concerned about the quality of the end product as home video productions were generally given less money towards production costs.

Disney Pixar

The majority of Pixar’s animators were currently working on A Bug’s Life, and only 150 people were working on Toy Story 2 but still, Pixar were adamant that the sequel should be released in cinemas rather than on home video.

The story reels were shown to Roth, who instantly agreed that the sequel should be released in cinemas, and the release date was set.

With less than a year to go, as the team were working on the film much to their dismay they began to notice elements of Woody’s outfit disappearing.

An animator had entered a command to delete files in the shared-network project system, intending to run a routine file cleanup. All the team could do was watch on in horror as error messages stating ‘Directory No Longer Valid’ began to flash up on the screen. Only ten percent of the film’s assets remained, the rest had been deleted.

Disney Pixar

There was still hope in this dire situation, as Galyn Sussman (Supervising Technical Director for Pixar) quickly sprung into action and requested tape backups of the film from the IT department.

The Pixar team were quickly invited back into work to go through the files, but the reality of the true extent of the problem sunk in fast.

It was discovered that the backup tapes were corrupted meaning everything they had been working on for the last couple of years was now gone.

Disney Pixar

Sussman soon discovered that she had backups of the assets at home, as she had been working there during her maternity leave. And, luckily the Pixar team were able to recover nearly all of the lost assets apart from a few recent days of work.

They then began the task of painstakingly recreating the film.

Staff were staying late and working into the early hours of the morning, with some even sleeping over at the Pixar office. And, rather than start a witch hunt to find the culprit, the Pixar team decided to focus all their energy and attention into completing the film.

Disney Pixar

Upon the release of A Bug’s Life, they now had the time to study the current state of the film.

The main issues were that the story was too predictable and the jokes just not funny enough.

With just over nine months to go until the release date, the decision was made to start again and rewrite the story from scratch. John Lasseter and Lee Unkrich would go on to co-direct the film along with Ash Brannon.

Disney Pixar

Pixar was under immense pressure to deliver the completed film for the release date and to delay would have been a poor reflection of the company, according to Steve Jobs who stated that marketing partners were already getting toys and promotion ready.

In the end Pixar managed to deliver the completed film that we all know and love today on time.

Toy Story 2 would go on to gross nearly $500 million at the box office and received raving reviews with many critics regarding as superior to the original film.

The story behind Toy Story 2’s production is an example of true teamwork and determination, and something we should all admire.

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Bianca Garner

Bianca Garner

Contributing Writer

Bianca 'Bee' Garner is a total film nerd! She confesses to watching far too many bad Nicolas Cage films, Vampires Kiss being her favourite, and also enjoys cheesy 90's action blockbusters such as Waterworld, The Rock and Independence Day". Aside from that, she also does her bit to bring attention to female filmmakers and has recently set up In Their Own League which is a site devoted to women in film. Her favourite seat in the cinema is E17, not to close nor too far away from the screen.