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Soundtracking: Toy Story 2

by Chris Feil

No one uses music to trigger instant tears with such sudden velocity as Pixar does. The “Married Life” sequence from Up, Coco’s “Remember Me” gaining depth through repetition, the reverence for youth that defined the entire Toy Story series with “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”.

But the first time Pixar went for the emotional jugular in a way that felt like a definitive part of their musical brand was to come in Toy Story 2. The sequel introduces us to Jessie, a cowgirl compatriot to Woody, filling space as a collector’s item instead of being cared for by an adoring child. But the film offers a standalone musical montage of Jessie’s former life as the prized possession of a girl named Emily, one who slowly and painfully outgrows her to the sound of Sarah MacLachlan and “When She Loved Me”.

Aside from the somber tone that the song strikes, the sequence is such a weepy classic because of the true human experience it details and how it connects us emotionally to a fantasy scenario. Part of what made this sequence so impactful to audiences is that it answered questions we were already asking during the first installment. If our toys have feelings, are we fair to them? How do toys feel when their expiration date is met? Are they as scared to move on as we are?

The beauty of Toy Story 2 and “When She Loved Me” is how it takes those absurd questions seriously because of what the answers might reveal about ourselves. It’s a more melancholy-tinged nostalgia than what has come before it, but transformative. It may be about talking toys, but here Toy Story 2 is grappling with themes such as fear of abandonment, loss of innocence, and the transience of relationships as we age. Watching Jessie be left behind is so devastating because somehow the film not only makes us think of what we’ve discarded on the way to growing up, but also perhaps when we ourselves were abandoned.

It’s a personification of the toys that’s a little bit darker than the optimistic shades that dominate the original Toy Story. “When She Loved Me” is kind of an antithesis to “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” in both intent and in sound. Even if the original film immediately upends the feeling of unity in its theme song, it concludes its story having returned to that sense of togetherness. In the grimmer comparison of MacLachlan’s elegiac vocal, the former sounds almost like winsome denial.

This song instead plays into the human guilt inherent to the series, the sense of something needing to be lost in order for another to be gained. Over the series as a whole, this song plays like a bridge to further complicated themes about growing up and moving on. When Jessie has to sustain her heartbreak with Emily to find a new community among Andy’s pals, this sequence is also preparing us for the inevitable that Andy will one day have to say goodbye as well.

All Soundtracking installments can be found here!

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Reader Comments (4)

A perfect song for a perfect scene.
I get teary just thinking about it.

June 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

I couldn't agree more, the "When She Loved Me" sequence is the greatest Pixar gut-punch ever.

But you forgot to explicitly credit RANDY NEWMAN for writing that amazing song! His scores and songs are the unsecret weapon of the Toy Story films (and many other films).

June 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDoctor Strange

Dang you, Sarah McLachlan!! Why must you make me cry so much??!!

Those ASPCA commercials and also this!

June 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew St.Clair

How can that song not make you cry? I'm not entirely fond of Sarah McLachlan as they used "Angel" and "I Will Remember You" too many times whenever someone passes away yet she is still awesome.

June 19, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

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