2019 has been a big year for Toy Story films. Not only did Pixar make a miracle of a fourth movie that lived up to its predecessors, it also happens to be the 20th anniversary of Toy Story 2.
Since we’ve heaped enough praise onto 4 already, let’s focus on 2 because not only is it great but because it’s a goddamn miracle it exists at all due to all the problems Pixar faced in the making of it. We’re talking about situations that literally involved life and death, and issues that would’ve killed any other film.
Toy Story 2 began life in 1997 initially as a straight-to-video release, which was the norm for most hit Disney films at the time. After being surprised at the quality of work being produced at Pixar and the realisation that straight-to-video releases weren’t the big money-making things they were expecting, the Disney suits decided to upgrade the project to a full blown sequel to be released in cinemas in November 1999.
After some initial re-teething issues that involved bringing in the original Toy Story team back to help whip the film into a releasable state, things were going alright for Woody and his pals. That is until 1998 when an animator accidentally wiped out 90% of the work completed so far on Toy Story 2 and there was no way to recover it.
Now this would’ve been it for any other project but lady luck was shining on the team.
Technical director Galyn Susman had just given birth and was working from home so she could take care of her newborn child. As part of this arrangement, she made back ups of nearly all the Toy Story 2 assets and this stroke of luck saved Pixar’s bacon (sorry Hamm) as the team were able to recover nearly all their work.
But that wasn’t the end of Toy Story 2‘s production problems. At the start of 1999, the Pixar team weren’t happy with how the film was turning out and it was agreed that they would rework major bits of the film. So in a nutshell, they were essentially starting from scratch (again).
The only problem? They now had only nine months to finish everything in order to meet the November 1999 release date and moving the date back wasn’t an option due to all the merch and promo deals in place.
This led to a brutal months long crunch period where Pixar worked themselves to the brink in order to complete Toy Story 2 in time. Repetitive strain injuries started affecting animators and overtime became the norm. In fact, the team were so dedicated to their work that an animator reportedly forgot to drop their kid at daycare one morning and left their kid in the backseat of their care.
The kid was ultimately fine thanks to quick action of rescue workers but it spoke volumes as to how brutal the production was on Toy Story 2 due to all the issues, as well as the dedication the Pixar team had to the film.
In the end, the only things that remained prior to the early 1999 reboot were Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Hamm, Potato Head and Rex, Andy’s room, and the big sequence at in Al’s Toy Barn. Everything else was new.
Pixar somehow managing to meet their deadline was a miracle in of itself and the fact that Toy Story 2 was showered with critical and commercial acclaim was a massive surprise given all the production troubles.
In the borrowed words of Buzz Lightyear, Toy Story 2 got sent to infinity and beyond several times, and yet it still managed to make it back and surprise everyone.