The Massive Mistake That Nearly Destroyed Toy Story 2

People look to Pixar's films for entertainment, but also for inspiration. If you need something to inspire you to back up your computer work sooner rather than later, look no further than the near-disaster that happened during the production of "Toy Story 2."

According to Rotten Tomatoes, the "Toy Story" series is the best-reviewed film franchise of all time. Over the years, "Toy Story 2" has managed the rare feat of upholding a 100% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, just like the first. Yet neither of them had a smooth production, and in the case of "Toy Story 2," Pixar almost lost the whole movie due to a simple accident that deleted it from the studio's servers.

Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull retired in 2019, the month after "Toy Story 4" hit theaters. He had served as President of both Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. In his book "Creativity, Inc." (via Mental Floss), Catmull recalled the incident whereby "Toy Story 2" almost vanished into the wind.

"First, Woody's hat disappeared..."

It was the winter before the film's release, and animators were hard at work bringing "Toy Story 2" to life. They were already deep into production when an unnamed Pixar employee accidentally input the command code "/bin/rm -r -f*" in the root directory of the computer system where all the "Toy Story 2" files were kept. This code was designed to wipe everything from a specific location in a swift manner, but because the employee had entered it in the root folder, it targeted everything. Everything.

What happens next sounds like a combination between the self-destructing messages in "Mission: Impossible" and the vanishing, dusted heroes of "Avengers: Infinity War." Here's how Catskill remembered it:

"First, Woody's hat disappeared. Then his boots. Then he disappeared entirely. Whole sequences — poof! — were deleted from the drive."

The film was a work in progress, not only in the sense that production was underway but in the sense that people were there at that exact moment working on it. They watched their work disappear right in front of their eyes.

To say that this was a costly mistake would be an understatement. "Toy Story 2" ultimately grossed almost half a billion dollars at the worldwide box office, so take that into consideration when you form a mental picture of this mistake and how costly it really was — or would have been, had not a guardian angel come to the rescue.

"Carried into Pixar like an Egyptian pharaoh."

Thankfully, supervising technical director Galyn Susman had been working from home while taking care of her newborn child, and she had her own backup copy of "Toy Story 2." Another technical director, Oren Jacobs, recalled how Susman's computer was "carried into Pixar like an Egyptian pharaoh." Her copy of the film wasn't completely up-to-date and the production crew still lost a few days' work. But disaster was narrowly averted, and the movie was still able to meet its release date.

This wasn't the only challenge that Pixar faced during the making of "Toy Story 2." If you've ever had to work under a tight deadline, you might be able to relate to the studio's animators, who were struggling to keep up with the high-pressure demands of Disney and the release date it was chasing. In his 2008 book "The Pixar Touch," David Price noted that some animators developed carpal tunnel syndrome while working on "Toy Story 2." Other sources like Den of Geek say that almost a third of the team suffered some form of RSI, or repetitive strain injury. It was such a trial by fire that Pixar vowed never to work the way that it had with that schedule again.

Some say "Toy Story 3" is Pixar's best movie. Others might be partial to the original "Toy Story." Everyone has their favorite. Yet in addition to serving as a cautionary tale on the importance of backing up your work, the production history of "Toy Story 2" serves as a welcome reminder that, in its own way, every movie is a miracle just for being successfully made.