Continuing with this series of 47 moments in film that I love (Why 47?), today, for #20, we have a look at one of the greatest animated movies ever.
Toy Story 2 (1999)
Directed by: John Lasseter. Co-directed by Lee Unkrich and Ash Bannon.
Woody is stolen by a collector who knows that he is a valuable part of a set of cowboy toys. It’s up to his friends, led by space toy Buzz Lightyear to find him and bring him home.
Sheriff Woody has met Jessie, a fellow part of the toy set that Al the unscrupulous toy collector is planning on selling to a museum in Japan. He doesn’t understand why the cowgirl is so angry that he wants to escape and return to being his owner’s toy. She petulantly sits at the windowsill…
Woody tries to get Jessie to understand his situation by explaining how special his relationship with Andy is, but it turns out Jessie already knows. She had the same relationship with a girl named Emily:
The movie then goes into a music video sequence, featuring a song called When She Loved Me, written by Randy Newman and sung by Sarah McLachlan. Through the song and the visuals, we learn that Jessie was a favorite toy of the young Emily, and that though she enjoyed an idyllic life being played with and loved by a child, eventually things changed. From her vantage point of under her bed (where she had fallen, forgotten) Jessie watched Emily grow up from a girl to a teenager, with her love of horses giving way to gossiping with friends and experimenting with nail polish. When Jessie is finally rediscovered, her newfound joy is short-lived, as her last ride with Emily turns out to be to a drop-off point for goodwill donations.
When she finishes her story (and the movie finishes the song), Woody finally understands where Jessie is coming from, and we in the audience are left with the emotional devastation of the reality that these living toys are actually dealing with. Of course, this being a family film, the situation is redeemed pretty quickly, and by the end Jessie is once again excited at the prospect of being a child’s toy again. But in some dark alternate timeline, we can imagine a version of this story in which we see the final fate of these toys, all resting in some landfill, bitter and full of despair but helpless to do anything to alter or end their existence…
All that to say the sequence is fairly haunting. It draws from a warm visual palette to create what is effectively a short standalone little film, which not only shares the needed story information, but also conveys the emotion of the situation far more effectively than a “regular” scene with dialogue could have done so. Sarah McLachlan’s beautiful vocals are an important part of that, the song itself is another part, and the “camerawork” and editing another–but it is really in the blending of all of these elements that the scene packs an heartfelt punch that won’t soon be forgotten.
The real payoff is that Woody now understands who Jessie is as a “person”, and we understand how Woody could later be tempted to give up his life with Andy. Without this justification, that critical story beat would have been completely nonsensical.