Toy Story 2

Inciting Event: Minutes away from leaving with his owner Andy for the long-awaited Cowboy Camp, Woody’s arm is ripped. Andy’s mom puts Woody on the shelf, and Andy leaves without him. This is a nice Inciting Event, both from the perspective of starting off the plot (Woody would never have ended up at the yard sale if he hadn’t ripped his arm) and from the perspective of the theme. As she puts Woody on the shelf, Mom tells Andy, “Well, you know, honey, toys don’t last forever.” This is the entire crux of Woody’s personal dilemma over the course of the movie.

First Plot Point: Al the Chicken Man—owner of Al’s Toy Barn—spies Woody at the yard sale (where Woody is trying to rescue Wheezy the asthmatic squeaker penguin) and steals him. This is actually more specifically the Key Event: this is where Woody (physically) and all the other toys (by extension) leave their Normal World. However, this movie presents probably the longest example I’ve ever seen of time elapsed between the Key Event and actual entrance into the adventure world of the Second Act—which closes out the First Plot Point.

This is the result of the story being spread between its two plots: Woody imprisoned in Al’s penthouse and Buzz and the others coming to rescue him. Not until Buzz and his crew jump off the roof to go after Woody does the First Plot Point finally end and launch the Second Act.

First Pinch Point: Woody learns from Jessie, Bullseye, and Stinky Pete (with whom he forms the “complete set” of valuable toys from the antique Roundup Gang) that Al intends to sell them to the Konishi Toy Museum in Japan. This scene is the essence of the pinch point: it emphasizes the antagonistic force, introduces new clues, and turns the plot. But it’s nicely layered with lots of other threats: Woody’s arm completely falling off, Pete and Jessie casting doubt upon Andy’s affections (“sounds like he really loves you”), and finally a nice little scene emphasizing the difficulties Buzz and Co. are undergoing in trying to reach Woody.

Midpoint: The Midpoint comes a little late, finally capping the lengthy segment in which Buzz and Co. explore Al’s Toy Barn. Their arrival at the Barn isn’t, in itself, the Midpoint, since it doesn’t create a major turning point. Even though they’re in a new location, they’re not actually any closer to finding Woody as yet (actually, they’re farther away, since they’re now on the wrong side of the street, which they had to risk their lives to cross). Their Midpoint arrives when they overhear Al talking to Mr. Konishi about selling Woody. They hide in Al’s bag, and he takes them back across the street to his apartment building.

However, the “main attraction” (and please imagine that being said in Al’s voice!) is really Woody’s Moment of Truth. On his way out after having his arm fixed, he finally learns Jessie’s tragic story about being abandoned by her young adult owner. Fearing the same will eventually happen to him, he makes the decision to go with the Roundup Gang to Japan, where he will be preserved behind glass for all time.

Second Pinch Point: Because the Midpoint comes so late, the Second Pinch Point is necessarily crammed quite close to the Third Plot Point. (This makes it a bit tricky to spot, but doesn’t—surprisingly—mess with the pacing much at all.) The Second Pinch Point arrives right alongside Buzz and Co. They attempt to rescue Woody, but he refuses to go with them.

Third Plot Point: Shortly after, Woody realizes that “life is only worth living if you’re being loved by a kid.” He starts to go after Buzz, experiences a moment of jubilation (false victory), and returns to try to convince the rest of the Roundup Gang to go with him. Jessie and Bullseye agree—but Stinky Pete refuses and instead locks Woody inside the room. Bbefore Buzz can intervene, Al arrives and packs them up for shipment to Japan. All seems lost for Woody. How will he escape his fate now?

Climax: Buzz and Co. chase Woody to the airport, where they free him, only to have him get himself locked in the airplane in an attempt to rescue Jessie.

Climatic Moment: Buzz and Bullseye catch Woody and Jessie when they jump from the plane’s landing gear.

Resolution: Everyone returns to Andy’s room, where Andy is delighted by his new toys—and Woody makes peace with the fact that Andy must someday grow up.

Notes: I was really surprised how tough this one was to analyze. Usually, animated pictures—and especially Pixar pictures—are very easy to analyze structurally, since the turning points are always pronounced. But this one was tricky largely because there were so many working parts, thanks to the dual plotlines of Buzz and Woody, but also because the timing isn’t quite spot on. Still, this is my favorite of all the Toy Story movies, so it’s a great example of how structure doesn’t have to be perfect to still create a wonderfully effective story.

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