Were it not for this mom and her newborn baby, ‘Toy Story’ might have ended after the first movie

If you’re a work-from-home Mom (or Dad), we know you have a vitally important, routinely challenging and significantly rewarding job, and we tip our hats to you! (We’re work-from-home parents, too!)

This is perhaps the best “the dog ate my homework” story ever, and–spoiler–it even has a solution/happy ending!

Toy Story had its theatrical debut in 1995. The lovable computer-animated tale of a little boy and his pull-string “pardner” that and a new space ranger toy that threatened all Sheriff Woody loved about his life drew millions at the box office. But PIXAR walked away with very little since all had been sunk into the production of the film.

Four years later, the world’s most creative animation house would add a sequel–Toy Story 2, which has been hailed by many critics as one of the few sequels that was actually better than its predecessor. Though PIXAR usually spends years in the development and production of a film, it was met with a firm, unmovable release date, so the entire project–from start to finish–spanned only 9 months.

How’s that for working well under pressure?

But something happened during those nine months that threatened to shelve the entire project. Production was underway on Toy Story 2, and had been for some time when an employee with PIXAR was doing some housekeeping with files that were no longer needed in the project. It’s a common practice, not unlike deleted photos from your phone that you no longer need.

But the near-tragedy happened when the employee working in the deletion of data accidentally purged the wrong files–in fact, he accidentally applied a “remove” command to the root files that were used in every part of the film. Right before his eyes, things that had been synonymous with Toy Story began to disappear for the designers and animators: things like Woody’s hat and his boots too.

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And then, Sheriff Woody disappeared, and these files were not duplicates; they were root files.

Toy Story 2 and everything that went with it was gone. Even the catchy “Woody’s Round-Up” song!

One of PIXAR’s associate technical directors, Oren Jacob, saw Woody’s disappearing act, and out of sheer panic, he rushed to tell the systems crew to stop everything, in the hopes that the deletions would stop, but when the dust settled, 90% of the film had been deleted.

And PIXAR, of course, had backup systems, but there had been no checks and balances to see that backups were, well, backing up. What a day to discover that the backup program had glitched out as well–and it had been doing so for almost a month.

No Woody. No Buzz. No backup. The story of Woody being stolen from Andy by a crooked toy collector and sold to a man thousands of miles across the ocean would never be told.

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Jacob had the esteemed honor of calling the film’s supervising technical director, Galyn Susman, to deliver the awful news. He probably would have traded places with anyone in the world that day–what a job to have! But calling Susman was exactly what turned everything around!

She was home on maternity leave, having just given birth to her new baby boy, Eli. But it wasn’t all bottles and burping for Ms. Susman, who was directing one of PIXAR’s most popular and successful films from home on maternity leave. Because she was going to be on leave, she had backed up the files for the entire film on her personal computer.

“As a mother who wanted to see her children, I needed to have a computer at home,” Susman says of the mishap, “And so I would copy the entire film onto my computer.”

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Woody and the gang were saved–boots and all–as long as they could get the files back to the studio and upload everything in working order. Keep in mind, this was the late 1990s, so it didn’t seem strange to anyone that a team of people came to Susman’s home, wrapped her computer in blankets, and seatbelted the mammoth PC into the backseat of her Volvo so nothing would be damaged or destroyed in the event of an accident.

When they arrived back at the studios, more 1990s-era stuff took place.

“Eight people met us with a plywood sheet out in the parking lot and, like a sedan carrying the Pharaoh, walked it into the machine room,” Oren Jacob recalls of the day they saved Woody.

And because this is PIXAR, there’s even an animated short about the whole catastrophe-turned-victory.

The film was saved! Not instantly, mind you–there were thousands of files that had to be processed by employees one at a time. But ultimately, Ms. Susman and her new baby Eli were the reason the film was saved, and why we have the franchise we have today.

So, if you’re a work-from-home parent and wonder if what you do matters, the short answer is yes! (And you might just end up being a hero in other ways as well!)





About Becky Burkett

Becky's from the Lone Star State and has been writing since she was 10 and encountered her first Disney Park when she was 11. It was love at first Main Street Electrical Parade. Joy is blank lined journals, 0.7 mm pens, and all things Walt, Woody and Buzz, PIXAR, Imagineering, Sleeping Beauty (make it blue!), Disney Parks history and EPCOT. At Disney World, you'll find her croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. If you can dream, you really can do it!