The Cowgirl Story That Broke Our Hearts

Of all three Toy Story movies, the second one touches me the most emotionally, and it’s mainly because of Jessie. In fact, she and her character arc in Toy Story 2 can almost be described as having a transforming moment for computer animated movies.

No one can bring rich sadness to an animated screen like Pixar, but before Carl and Ellie’s heart-tugging prologue in Up, before Nemo’s childlike wonder and expressions brought tears to our eyes as a pelican told him about his dad’s odyssey to find him, we had an unexpected interlude telling us a cowgirl’s story.

Breaking the Mold

Jessie’s defining moment is unique. Smack in the mid-way point of a three-movie franchise we would expect a sympathetic story about characters we are already sympathetic towards: Woody, Buzz, or even Mr. Potato Head. But Jessie was brand new, appearing to be a little too aggressive for Woody’s liking and ours too.

She’s convinced that the best thing in the world for her is for Woody to abandon Andy and move to Japan in a foam-lined travel case provided by a slimy toy salesman. Add to that the fact that she’s not the quiet, attractive beauty who gracefully floats in and wins the heart of a main character. She is a yodelling cowgirl for Pete’s sake! (No pun intended Stinky Pete.) But when Sarah McLaughlin starts to sing, “When She Loved Me,” and we find out what happened to Jessie, we immediately empathize. We’ve been there. It’s good for us to hear this.

Like me, you may have been torn about the plight of the toys in this movie. Maybe it would be better to go to the museum across the ocean. Being adored forever by children and adults alike? No being stored in darkness nor facing destruction by way of burning or decay in a garbage dump? I’ll take it! But we can relate to the desire for relationship over fame, fortune, or mere existence.

Stories Matter

Several years ago my wife and I had a miscarriage. I was hurt, heartbroken, at times angry. I kept thinking how unfair it was that I didn’t even get to find out the gender of my child. I needed to share my story, but like Jessie, I was guarded. I couldn’t just blurt it out. I also didn’t want to share with someone who would simply explain my hurt away, nor someone who would bawl and say how sad it was. I just wanted to be heard.

I’m not sure what was more inspiring: Jessie’s courage in telling her story or Woody’s compassionate listening ear. What happens later to them in the movie is important, but at this moment the only thing that matters is the sharing of hearts between two toys. The times I’ve shared my story are usually cathartic, and I’m surprised how similarly cleansing it is to listen to the stories of others without judgment.

None of us know what new plot twists will take place in the story of our lives — miscarriages, births, deaths, poverty, wealth, sickness, health — but we can take Jessie’s own words as good advice: “Let’s find out together.”