Structure: Toy Story 2

The second movie in the Toy Story trilogy resonates with me the most. Toy Story 3 builds on it thematically, far more than on the first installment. Like all Pixar pics, Toy Story 2 is not just a kids movie. It digs deeply into the fears of its characters.

After seeing Inception this week, for me Toy Story 3 is still the only movie I have seen in cinemas this year that has a flawless story, reaching for a four-quadrant audience with a script that is at the same time intelligent and moving. But while analyzing Toy Story 2 I was reminded how much I love this one – and how much TS3 is indebted to it.

Because the Pixar brain trust have proven beyond any doubt that they understand how stories for the big screen work, I have decided – encouraged by a good friend and fellow Pixar fan – to analyse every single movie from their stable. You can now find structural analyses on this site for the following movies:

A Structure that works

So far I have found that the Pixar movies are often structured around an eight-sequence hero’s journey, with two sequences in acts one and three and four in the second act. Sometimes (like you will see below) Act Two consists of five sequences with the mid point sitting in the middle sequence rather than at the end of the fourth sequence.

Each movie has a powerful Mid Point Reversal – not just a ‘point of no return’ – and all three Toy Story movies have more than one transformational journey. Later (e.g. with Finding Nemo and Ratatouille) we’ll find that some of the Pixar stories have a  dual protagonist, each with their journey of change.

all three Toy Story movies have 
more than one
transformational journey.

Now let me ask you: do you like these movies? Have you embraced the structural engine behind them? Do you master it? Or are you still resisting the structure, thinking that it’s all just about the characters?

Well, good luck to you if you are.

spoilers about Toy Story 2 and 3

We’re only eight minutes into the movie when Woody rips his arm and Andy shelves him. Right there is a metaphor reminding us of our mortality, soon reinforced by Wheezy’s statement that there is no use in prolonging the inevitable: all toys are ultimately destined for the garage sale.

How much deeper can a movie go
with its thematic challenges?

In Act Two Woody has to decide what his purpose in life is when he actually does have an opportunity to ‘prolong the inevitable’ by going to a museum. Now he has to choose between (the equivalent of) immortality and happiness for a child. How much deeper can a movie go with its thematic challenges?

At the Mid Point, there’s a heart-wrenching moment when Jessie shares her emotional wound with Woody. This experience will be referenced again in Toy Story 3 when Jessie says “It’s Emily all over again!” and it’s not hard to recognize the exact same emotion in Chuckles’ story about Daisy leaving Lotso, Big Baby and himself behind. In Toy Story 3, however, the abandonment is a result of a mistake rather than a deliberate donation.

Now, despite the fact that Toy Story 2 is immaculately – and, yes, almost mathematically – structured around nine sequences,  this movie is not all about just slavishly following structural principles. Actually, it breaks one major rule… Look carefully and you’ll find something quite peculiar about the second act.

Look carefully and you’ll find
something quite peculiar about the second act.

Where in most transformational movies at the Mid Point the Hero changes the approach from ‘doing it the easy way’ to ‘doing the right thing’, Toy Story 2 shows that the opposite can work, too. Initially it is Woody’s plan to return to Andy; at the Mid Point he is so moved by Emily’s story that he changes his mind, only to be brought back to reason at the end of Act Two.



Sequence A: Preparing for cowboy camp, then shelved. (10mins)

00.00 Disney + Pixar Logos + Credits, space version.
01.00 Opening Sequence: Buzz vs. Zurg (video game)
04.30 Woody’s hat is missing. Going to cowboy camp with Andy.
06.30 Slinky: good news (hat found) and bad news (Buster the dog). Red alert!
08.00 Five minutes: Andy plays with toys. Rips Woody’s arm. Leaves him behind.
09.00 Mom: Toys don’t last forever. Woody shelved. Andy leaves without him. (I.I.)

Sequence B: Rescuing Wheezy, then stolen by collector. (9mins)

10.00 Andy back early from cowboy camp. Nightmare. “Bye Woody!” Wakes up.
11.00 Woody finds Wheezy. Shelved, too. Yard Sale. Emergency Role Call.
12.30 Mom takes Wheezy away. Woody calls Buster: to the yard sale. Toys don’t get it.
13.30 Outside: not being noticed, into box, find Wheezy, falls off Buster.
14.30 Al picks up Woody. Offers 50C, then $50, then steals him.
16.00 Buzz goes after him but falls off. License plate: LZTBRN.
17.00 Al goes into apartment. No children allowed.
17.30 Toys reconstruct abduction, decode license plate: Al’s Toy Barn.


Sequence C: New friends – They want Woody to stay. (11mins)

19.00 Al: You’re gonna make me big bucks! Woody comes out of glass box.
19.30 Collector drives to work. Woody tries to escape.
20.00 Woody meets with Bullseye, Jessie, the Prospector: Woody’s Roundup.
23.00 Toys find address of Al’s Toy Barn and leave.
24.30 Woody watching end of show; canceled.
26.00 Playing with Bulls Eye and Jessie – on record.
27.30 We’re being sold to museum in Tokyo. Woody: I can’t go to Japan!
28.00 Woody: This is all a mistake. Jessie: I’m not going back into storage!
29.00 Al tears off Woody’s arm. Repair first thing in the morning.

Sequence D: Woody tries to get arm back so he can leave. (10mins)

30.00 Buzz and toys on their way to saving Woody. 19 blocks to go.
31.00 Collector asleep. Woody out of box, trying to recover arm.
33.00 TV Switches on – Al wakes up. Leaves, takes arm away.
33.30 Woody blames Jessie of switching on TV. Woody & Jessie fight.
34.30 Prospector stops them. Woody: get arm fixed, then out of here.
35.30 Toys have to cross the road. Traffic cones. Traffic chaos.
37.00 Repair man arrives – Cleaning montage (1). “You can’t rush art.”
38.00 Al’s Toy Barn closed. Opening door, all together. Going in.
39.00 Cleaning montage (2) – Painting over Andy’s name. Just like new!

Mid: Buzz swap – Jessie changes Woody’s mind: staying. (10mins)

40.30 Buzz at toy shop: Buzz Lightyear aisle, NEW utility belt.
41.30 Attacked by other Buzz: they fight.
42.30 Barbies dancing. Tour guide Barbie.
44.00 Buzz locked into box. Wrong Buzz joins friends.

45.00 Woody repaired, Jessie devastated. Tells about Emily.
50.00 Prospector: stay with us. Woody decides to stay.

The Mid Point of Toy Story 2 was an absolute highlight of the trilogy, with Jessie telling us about Emily through the Sarah McLachlan song When Somebody Loved Me.

Sequence E: Toys getting closer. Woody excited about Japan (10mins)

51.00 Toys looking for Woody, find Al. Buzz escapes box.
52.30 Collector leaves with toys. Buzz left behind.
53.00 Buzz escapes store but releases Zurg.
55.00 Toys enter apartment building, into elevator shaft.
56.00 Woody excited about Japan.
58.00 Toys arrive on 25th floor. Real Buzz on their heels.
59.00 Woody plays with his Roundup friends.
59.30 Toys go through air duct and break into apartment.

Sequence F: All is lost. Woody is a yo-yo! (7mins)

60.30 Buzz picks up Woody, real Buzz stops them. Fight of the Buzzes.
61.30 Woody: I actually want to go. Explains about Roundup. Shows TV.
62.30 Buzz: You are a toy! Let’s go. Woody’s not coming. Toys leave.
64.30 Woody: what am I doing? Changes his mind. Come with me!
65.30 Jessie & Bullseye want to go but Prospector locks them up.
66.30 Toys return but Al comes in. Grabs toys and leaves.


Sequence G: Airport Climax (11mins)

67.00 Zurg appears. Rex helps defeat him. Buzz: Father!
68.30 Toys follow Al outside. Al disappears in car.
69.30 Toys drive Pizza Planet van and chase after Al.
71.00 Airport: Toys enter in pet container.
71.30 Baggage conveyor room. Looking for Woody.
72.30 Buzz knocked out by Prospector. Woody vs. Prospector.
73.00 Toys help against Prospector. Ends up in girl bag.
74.00 Jessie on luggage trolley; Woody and Buzz follow to save her.
75.00 Onto plane, too late. Plane taxis. Open up and jump off.
77.00 Buzz arrives to help. Final episode. Woody & Jessie jump off. Let’s go home.

Sequence H: Woody’s Roundup united at home. (4mins)

78.00 Welcome home Andy.
79.00 Andy fixes Woody.
81.00 Wheezy fixed, too. Sings.
81.30 Woody about Andy: fun while it lasts. After that: Buzz.
82.00 Credits

4 thoughts on “Structure: Toy Story 2”

  1. Its great to see a breakdown of a great movie like Toy Story 2. I remember you telling me about the intro being a perfect 5 minute summation of the Hero’s Journey, with Buzz literally entering the inner cave. Seems that Pixar makes a habit of starting with mini 3-act-structure to introduce the characters (certainly the case with Up and Ratatouille). Its no wonder parent company Disney come to them for script doctoring, first with Tron Legacy and recently with the Muppets reboot.

    • Good to see you around again Oscar! (Western Australia?)

      Perhaps Australian filmmakers should turn to the local Pixar expert for script doctoring?

      Hang on… I think that’s my phone ringing.

  2. Hey guy, nice breakdown. Big, big fan of the Toy Story movies here, and a big fan of the site too. Toy Story 2 is actually my favourite of the trilogy, so I was happy to see you pour so much praise on it. I’d love for you to talk more in more detail about the beats of the story, like you did for Toy Story 3 (It was very helpful reading about things like the mini climaxes of each Sequence, what constitutes the redemption/reward, etc. I appreciate you flattering our intelligences by not spelling it out for us, but I think you’re giving me personally too much credit).

    Also, on the commentary track for this film, John Lasseter places the start of Act Two at about 27:30 in your breakdown: right after Woody learns about the Toy Museum in Japan, but before he loses his arm. Nearly ten minutes after you’ve placed it! Not pit your authority against his or anything, but any idea why the two of you placed it differently?

    Thanks again, and love the work you’re doing.

  3. Thank you Patrick.

    The additional detail you would like to see would be there if I could justify it. Some day I might have to buy that extra time by offering extras for a premium, like many sites are starting to do. There’s so much more value I could give but it takes time and I need to feed my son!

    About the placing of the end of Act Two: writers don’t always consciously KNOW what they’re doing! (LOL)

    It’s really a matter of perspective. John picks the point where Woody’s visible goal is established (to be in a glass display in a museum) but I picked the moment of separation from his friends and his ‘ordinary world’, which is a more mythologically inspired approach.

    As a writer, it’s academic as you need both. In many movies both moments coincide, which makes an analysis easier. Pixar movies push the boundaries, literally. So I chose the Hero’s Journey approach.

    I hope this makes sense.


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