I received confirmation a couple days ago that Jessie is in fact slated to be cut from meet and greets at Walt Disney World, and needless to say it hit me like a punch in the gut. But since Jessie never gives up, and I’m going to continue to fight to keep her as a meetable character in the parks, I thought this would be as good a time as any to write something more personal, and share just why this character and her fictional world mean so much to me. Although I’ve written before about why Jessie is important as a character in the Toy Story series of films, these are my own reasons why she matters, to me…
I’ve always been a fangirl, even before I knew that word existed. There has always been something, at any given time, that has captured my imagination. It all started with the Muppets as a kid, when I desperately wanted to become a Muppeteer (and which makes it extremely ironic that a new attraction featuring them is what’s causing the eviction of Jessie and Woody from Frontierland). Over the years, though, there’s one quality that most of my favorite fictional characters have had in common, and that’s a sense of being an individual, someone who’s willing to go against the crowd and often doesn’t quite fit in. My past interests have included Disney Renaissance classics like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, as well as Lilo and Stitch and the musical Wicked. And I can’t discuss my favorite fictional characters without mentioning Anne Shirley from the Anne of Green Gables series. Anne will forever be my favorite literary character. When I read those books – and I’ve read them many times – it’s like I’m reading about myself. And it’s fitting, too, because I see a lot of similarities between Jessie and Anne.
My current obsession started with Toy Story 3. For as much of a fan as I am now, it might come as a surprise that I wasn’t all that familiar with the first two Toy Story films before the third one came out. I remember seeing the original Toy Story in the theater in 1995; I thought the aliens were cute. But Toy Story 2 was released almost to the day of when my husband and I got engaged, so between planning a wedding and being a full-time college student, we had no time to go see it. In the months leading up the release of Toy Story 3, we broke out the DVDs of the previous movies, to introduce them to our then-three-year-old son. I enjoyed getting reacquainted with Andy’s toys alongside my little man, in preparation for him to go see Toy Story 3, which would be his first movie in a theater.
I wasn’t expecting to get hooked. I was just expecting to take my kid to a fun movie about talking toys. But Disney movies – especially Pixar ones – can have that effect. One night, shortly before the film’s release, we were watching Dancing with the Stars when a feature came on about two of the professionals choreographing a routine for Buzz Lightyear and Jessie. Clips were shown. The dance (a fiery paso doble) was performed. Wait a minute… this movie was going to have a romantic storyline? I didn’t know that before. That was all it took. I couldn’t wait to see it.
Seeing Toy Story 3, at the first theater showing on opening day, is something I’ll never forget. My son was enthralled. He sat on the edge of his seat, and at the beginning sang along to “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” with all his cute little heart. He laughed, booed Lotso – in fact, the whole theater reacted enthusiastically to what was happening on screen, and I don’t think I’ve ever been to a movie before or since where the audience was so engaged with the story. We stayed through the credits so I could see the animated paso doble, the “happily ever after” finale to the film.
Over the next three months, I saw Toy Story 3 five times in the theater. (I used to be hesitant to admit that, for fear of the mockery I’d receive; but that doesn’t worry me anymore.) And with each time I saw it, I became even more captivated with Jessie. Sure, I thought she was cute, but it was more than that. I could see so much of my own personality in this little animated cowgirl doll. That’s the genius of Pixar: they have the skill to make an animated character more real and relatable than most human characters in live-action films. And when Toy Story of TERROR! aired on television in 2013, I came to love her even more.
Why Jessie? Well, for starters, she’s not perfect. She isn’t the poised, elegant princess ideal that there’s no way I’ll ever live up to (or want to live up to). She’s her own person – well, toy. She’s loud and excitable. She has a temper to match her hair, and she stands up for what she believes in. She’s ruled by her emotions, and they often get the better of her. She’s been discarded and betrayed, and as a result she’s plagued by anxiety and panic attacks, but she doesn’t let those struggles destroy her fun-loving spirit. And she wears jeans, not some frilly ballgown – much more relatable to a girl who buys shirts and shoes based on how well they’ll go with denim. Even the cowgirl aspect – I’ve been into the whole country thing ever since I lived out west and loved going line dancing, although for years I put that aside in the futile attempt to conform with the trendier crowd where we live (lesson learned: not worth it. Be yourself). Those who know me as only a casual acquaintance might not understand why I see so much of myself in Jessie, since in unfamiliar or unsure situations, I tend to be more introverted and shy. But those friends who know the real me, who I feel free to be myself around, and who have seen me get riled up over some injustice or hyper over something exciting, hopefully can see how much I share with the rowdy cowgirl doll.
And then there’s Buzz. As I was noticing all the ways I related to Jessie, I started to see my husband’s personality in her man, too. Sure, my husband isn’t a heroic Space Ranger, but he does have a career in corrections/law enforcement. He’s athletic. He’s calmer and more reserved than his spazzy wife, and he keeps me sane. He’s my best friend, the first one I turn to, and always there for me when my own anxiety flares up. Most importantly, he loves me as I am, even though I can be little crazy. I have yet to discover a Spanish Mode influence to get him to dance with me – but I’m okay with that, since I figure without Spanish Mode, Buzz wouldn’t dance either. Round it all out with the fact that our son is a Woody fan (and can sure act like him sometimes), and the main trio of Toy Story represents my little family to me. Our closets are full of clothes to Disneybound the characters in the Disney parks, and sometimes even at home. Our house is full of Toy Story toys and collectibles. We can carry on whole conversations in Toy Story quotes. We even have a dachshund dog named Slinky. We have embraced the Toy Story gang, and they have become a part of us.
Jessie’s acceptance speech she gave for the Patsy Montana Entertainer Award, which she received from the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in 2000, pretty much sums up the kind of person I try to be, and why she speaks to me as a character…
“Carry yourself with grit and grace. Find your own trail, and follow it with faith and courage.
And always saddle your own horse.”
Why am I a Toy Story fangirl? Because it makes me happy. Because I see reflections of my own life in the lives of these toys. Because Jessie’s strength, perseverance, and spunk give me something to aspire to. Because I respect and admire the brilliant filmmakers who created the characters and their world. And because it brings my family together, through something we all enjoy. We have cherished the tradition of meeting these beloved characters – Jessie especially – at Walt Disney World for the past six years, and the thought that our tradition may have come to an end truly breaks my heart. My love for the Toy Story films has given me the freedom to be true to myself, and I’m better for it. And that’s precisely why Jessie matters, and why she deserves a presence not only on screen, but in the parks as well. If she can mean this much to me, she can undoubtedly be a positive influence for others, too.
Please help me fight the decision to cut Jessie from meet and greets at Walt Disney World!
- Sign the petition to bring her back at Change.org.
- Like my Facebook page dedicated to bringing back Jessie to Walt Disney World.
- Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org (WDW President) or email@example.com and tell them Jessie needs to be reinstated!
Toy Story of TERROR! screen shot © Disney/Pixar. Photos taken in the Disney Parks are mine.