1999’s Highest-Grossing Animated Movie Was Almost Deleted Forever


Summary

  • An accidental deletion almost erased Toy Story 2 forever. A maternity leave saved the film from being lost permanently.
  • Despite a rush to rework the film, Toy Story 2 was a box office success and still holds a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
  • Galyn Susman, the hero who saved Toy Story 2, faced a tragic end at Pixar, reflecting a company’s loyalty to the bottom line.



1999 was an incredible year for movies. While the most anticipated movie event of the year, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, might have been a letdown for some fans, the rest of the year was filled with future all-time classics. The Blair Witch Project, The Sixth Sense, The Matrix, Fight Club, The Iron Giant, Office Space, Magnolia, Eyes Wide Shut, Dogma, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Big Daddy, and American Beauty are just a few of the eclectic mix of films released in the final year of the 20th century. Easily one of the best and most beloved films released that year was Toy Story 2.

The sequel to the popular Pixar film Toy Story was released on Thanksgiving weekend of 1999 and became one of the highest-grossing films of the year. It received rave reviews from critics, and today, it is often regarded as one of the best sequels of all time. However, in another reality, Toy Story 2, as audiences know it, never happened and also might have been lost forever. This is the story of how Toy Story 2 was almost lost forever, saved by an employee, and the tragic future that would befall that hero.



How One Employee Saved Toy Story 2

Toy Story 2 was originally conceived as a direct-to-video sequel, as Disney had found great success in the 1990s with films like The Return of Jafar and The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride. Production began in a smaller studio while Pixar was working on A Bug’s Life, and Disney decided to upgrade Toy Story 2 to a theatrical release. Yet in 1998, before Pixar drastically reworked Toy Story 2, the original assets for the film were almost lost forever.


While routinely clearing some files, one of the animators accidentally entered the deletion command code in the root folder of the Toy Story 2 assets on Pixar’s internal servers, which caused character models to disappear from the film’s works in progress. While Pixar shut down the file servers, 90% of the film was lost, meaning almost two years of work was almost gone. Meanwhile, they discovered the backups had not been working for well over a month.

Pixar

Thankfully, the team had one saving grace: technical director Galyn Susman had a baby and, while on maternity leave, had brought her homework with her, which saved it from the purge. Galyn Susman had been working remotely at home taking care of her newborn baby when the original files for Toy Story 2 were deleted. Since she had been working from home, she had a backup of the movie files on her computer. Oren Jacob, the associate technical director of Toy Story 2 drove with Susman to her house to grab the computer. They loaded the computer safely in the back of her car, cushioning it with blankets and tightening the seatbelt as the future of the movie hung in the safety of this computer.


When they got to the Pixar offices, eight people met them in the parking lot to carefully carry the computer into the offices. Thankfully, a two-week-old backup was found on Susman’s computer, and they were able to save nearly all of what was lost, except for a few days’ worth of work, and the film was saved…at least for a time.

Toy Story 2 Goes Back To The Drawing Board

Despite the work to save Toy Story 2, much of the animation would be thrown out and reworked from scratch. After the release of A Bug’s Life, the creative heads at Pixar were able to get a better look at how Toy Story 2 was shaping up. The team did not think the film was shaping up to be a worthy follow-up and wanted to rework the movie, but Disney would not allow the film’s release date to be pushed back.


The team at Pixar would only have nine months to rework Toy Story 2 if they wanted to completely, so they did. The creative team took the weekend to rework the entire movie’s script, and then animators began working on the new film. Toy Story and A Bug’s Lifedirector John Lasseter would return to help direct the film, with Lee Unkrich (who would later direct Toy Story 3) joining as the co-director alongside Ash Brannon as the team split up their duties.

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The film had long hours and compressed production schedules, with many employees suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome or repetitive strain injuries. While Pixar did not encourage overtime and did put limits on the animators, reportedly, it was the animators who chose to work long hours due to their own need for perfection. While certainly admirable, later decisions would show that while it certainly helped Toy Story 2, the movie, and Disney, it would not save many of the animators, for their hard work would be sadly forgotten years later.

Toy Story 2 managed to make its Thanksgiving 1999 release date, and Pixar’s decision to rework the movie paid off. The film received rave reviews from critics and, to this date, still has a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film was a box office smash hit, grossing $245.9 million at the domestic box office and $511.4 million worldwide, becoming the third highest-grossing movie of the year worldwide, behind only The Phantom Menace and The Sixth Sense.


This Story Has A New Tragic Ending

After saving Toy Story 2, Galyn Susman would go on to lead studio tools research and development on Finding Nemo before getting an associate producer credit on Ratatouille. Her story about saving Toy Story 2 became the stuff of legend, a piece of trivia known by fans and would even be told in a bonus feature for the Toy Story 3 Blu-Ray. She would later return to the Toy Story universe, first producing the short film Toy Story Toons: Hawaiian Vacation before producing the two television specials, 2013’s Toy Story of Terror and 2014’s Toy Story That Time Forgot. In 2019, she was the producer of Toy Story 4 and then for 2022’s Lightyear. That would soon mark the end of her time with Pixar.


On June 4, 2023, just two weeks before the release of Pixar’s Elemental, Disney announced they were laying off 75 Pixar employees. These ranged from animators to longtime senior personnel within the company. All those hours of working on Toy Story 2, in the end, meant nothing to Disney. It was a matter of ‘what have you done for me lately’, as it appeared Susman was let go from Pixar due to her most recent film, Lightyear.

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The story of Susman saving Toy Story 2 is a legendary one about the resilient nature of Pixar and also a lesson to back up hard drives and save one’s work. Yet it is often not reported how half the work ended up getting tossed anyway when the film was reworked (a lot of retellings of the story didn’t mention when this happened, and many think it was during the late last-minute dash of the finished film). Now with the firing of Susman and many other employees at Pixar, it can serve as a reminder that no matter how much one loves work, a company’s loyalty is to the bottom line and not the employees. Disney’s treatment of Gayle Susman was a tragic end to one of their most enduring stories. Stream Toy Story 2 on Disney+.



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