Toy Story 2: Ways to Navigate Change By Playing with a St. Francis ‘Action Figure’

This is the third of a 23-part series in which we visit the Pixar movies in chronological order.

Back in 1999, Hollywood wasn’t quite consumed with sequels, prequels and reboots as it is now. But still, it was surprising that Pixar was going there three movies in! Toy Story had already proved wildly successful with tons more storytelling potential, so why not play with it some more?

The whole gang is back!

It Seriously Played

Toy Story 2 was a hit! The decision to go sequel so soon, paid off. Audiences came out to play to a Randy Newman tune of ………. “I’ve got a friend in you,” indeed. Not bad for a project that was once considered for straight to video. No really!

“Most sequels are just part of the same old story being told again, which actually makes the original less interesting,” said director John Lasseter in a 2009 interview with Gamesradar. “And we always looked at The Empire Strikes Back and Godfather Part II, which are two sequels we held up as our model, because both expanded on the original. And that’s what we wanted to do.”

Origin Story

This story continuation sees Andy, beloved keeper of the toys, going off to summer camp, leaving cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks), space hero Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and friends to their own devices. Things go awry when Woody is kidnapped by a toy dealer and collector Big Al (Wayne Knight). His friends mobilize a rescue mission!

Things get complicated, though, when Woody discovers his origins – he once starred in an old timey television show called “Woody’s Roundup” – and what’s more, he’s not alone. There’s his faithful steed Bullseye, Jessie the yodeling cowgirl (Joan Cusack), and sidekick Stinky Pete the Prospector (Kelsey Grammar. They are bonafide collectables! And together, they are “complete.” 

As Woody rekindles these relationships, doubt creeps in. Does Andy care about him like he used to? Does he even want to be rescued? Meanwhile Buzz is grappling with his own origin issues and wrestles with himself – literally.  

Hey Kids, Let’s Contemplate Our Own Mortality

Toy Story 2 is ultimately about choices, what growing up really means, and embracing the inevitability of change. At one point Woody rips his arm and questions his own mortality. Heavy stuff for a children’s movie.

The film deftly handles these themes while maintaining a zany, fun energy throughout.   

It continued Pixar’s early streak of brilliance and is easily one of the best sequels ever made. Yes, Mr. Lasseter, right up there with The Godfather Part II

That’s the Sound of Inevitability

To ever so slightly paraphrase the philosopher Agent Smith, of the Matrix: “You hear that, Mr. Woody? It’s the sound of inevitability.” It’s one of the great struggles of life.

Woody is faced with a tragic truth.

Stinky Pete: "How long will it last, Woody? Do you really think Andy is going to take you to college, or on his honeymoon? Andy's growing up, and there's nothing you can do about it. It's your choice, Woody. You can go back, or you can stay with us and last forever. You'll be adored by children for generations." 

Pete may be manipulating Woody for his own selfish reasons, but he’s not wrong. Jessie affirms it through her own traumatic experience and backstory, having faced abandonment herself. At one point she experiences something akin to a panic attack. Despite being in seemingly perfect condition, she is clearly a broken toy.

The boy, Andy, Woody’s reason for living, is going to grow up. And nothing, not even the powers of infinity and beyond, can stop that.

Change is inevitable.

Keep the Change? Make Some Change?

Losing a job or starting a job, moving to a new city, new relationships, lost relationships, parenthood… PANDEMIC?… there’s no shortage of life happenings – exhilarating or disappointing – readily available to shake up our lives at a moment’s notice. Some change we have to keep.

So how to healthily navigate changes as they happen in our lives, particularly those that cause anxiety?

There are always ways to empower ourselves even when things feel out of our control. Consider this well known prayer from St. Francis of Assisi: “Lord, grant me the strength to change the things I can, the serenity to deal with the things I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.“ Even the non-spiritual have to admit there is some solid self care happenings here, with karate chop action!

Collect Yourself

This St. Francis self care plan requires an intentional level of evaluation of self and situation. Ask ourselves: What can I take responsibility for here? This will allow for moving towards empowerment, working towards the possible.

If it’s a loss, remember it’s okay to sit with the sadness. Then instead of pushing back and avoiding, acknowledge it, learn from it, and seek support, whether from a trusted friend or a therapist. Make a list of your strengths and what you have come through in the past.

Once Woody was able to collect himself (he’s a collector’s item, remember?), he acknowledged his own unique situation. The changes he feared was future tense, something that could paralyze him if he got too bogged down in the what-ifs.

His resulting action was to take a risk, bring himself back into the present, perhaps taking a deep breath, regaining his focus and being proactive. It meant returning home and leaning into his support system – Buzz, Bo Peep and the rest.

Invite Others to Play

We are not alone!

Note that once Woody was able to reorient himself, he found other struggling toys. How beautiful was it when he took Jessie and Bullseye under his wing, brought the two back to Andy’s house, effectively restoring them to community and sense of purpose? Can we not do the same?

Yes, the threat of future “abandonment” still loomed but they would deal with it together. And, as Toy Story 3 would prove, these scary changes can still find bittersweet resolutions. But that, of course, is for a future installment in this series.

Where to Watch

Toy Story 2 is currently streaming on Disney+. What did you think of Pixar’s third outing for its favorite toys? Is it a sequel worthy of the greats? How do you navigate change? Let us know in the comments below!

Other installments in the Pixar series:
Part 1 - Toy Story
Part 2 - A Bug's Life

Toy Story (1999)

Director: John Lasseter

Screenwriters: Andrew Stanton, Rita Hsiao, Doug Chamberlin, Chris Webb

Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Kelsey Grammer, Joan Cusack, Wayne Knight, John Ratzenberger, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, Annie Potts

Rated: G

Runtime: 85 minutes


  1. Unwanted Life

    Toy Story 2 really does teach the people who watch it that some changes are unavoidable, but that with a strong support system around you, you can take on anything and thrive.

    It’s easy to become comfortable in the situation you’re in because it’s known, rather than taking the step into the unknown that comes with change. I know that because I’ve felt that, and I’m going through a significant change at the moment

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  2. Jordanne || Ofaglasgowgirl

    Toy Story 2 was my favourite movie for ages when it came out. I remember going to see it in the cinema and crying through Jessie’s song/story. I was 6 at the time and still remember it so clearly. I really do agree with John Lasseter when he says “Most sequels are just part of the same old story being told again”. A lot miss the mark not only with plot, but with cinematography and holding an audiences attention. But, Toy Story 2 knocked it out of the park so to speak. The storyline, although still using tropes from the original, was a breath of fresh air and stands on its own as a great children’s movie. Even as an adult now I enjoy watching it with my son.

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      Scott Harrison Rees

      YES!! Jessie’s backstory was heartbreaking. I love the Toy Story movies, and Pixar as a whole, because they are not simply content with providing jokes that adults can appreciate but they seem to tap into the human experience. So in some ways we appreciate these stories in new ways in later rewatches. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Elaine

    Toy Story is one of my favorites. I had a Woody doll from the original that was my daughters and I just gave it to my grandson. I never get tired of it!

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  4. Monika

    Love this post and the nice analysis of a (not-so-simple) children’s movie. I really like that nowadays even movies for kids can have so much depth.

  5. Charlie-Elizabeth Nadeau

    A trip down memory lane! Love your take on Toy Story and Disney movies. For me they were such a big part of my childhood and family moments that make you dream. Thank you for sharing this reflection, super interesting.

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