Jessie the cowgirl was first introduced to us in Pixar’s 1999 film, Toy Story 2, where it’s discovered that Woody is actually part of an old tv show- Woody’s Roundup. Jessie and Bullseye, a horse, are introduced as his co-stars on the show and part of his ‘Roundup Gang’.
One thing that I think Toy Story (and Pixar in general) does really well, is not shying away from making complex characters and storylines. Buzz and Woody may be the heroes of the franchise, but there’s no way you could watch the films and say that Woody is 100% a good guy- he’s selfish, endangers his friends, and really struggles to adapt to changes.
Jessie is similarly complex. She’s understandably angry at being abandoned by Emily, her previous owner, and doesn’t trust kids. I think it would also make sense that Stinky Pete (who turns out to be the villain of the film, why his name didn’t give that away, I don’t know) has probably been manipulating her in the time before Woody arrives so that she wants to give up and go to the museum. She clearly has panic attacks with the thought of being left behind or going into storage, and as in real life, this isn’t magically suddenly fixed. Even though she goes to live with Andy, and Bonnie after him, she still struggles with claustrophobia.
When Woody first meets Jessie, she is so excited to see him, as now they will be able to go to the museum, but when he doesn’t want to go, she is immediately upset and angry with him. For a first viewer, she appears to be overreacting, as obviously living with Andy and all the other toys is better than being stuck in a glass case forever. The montage scene that shows her friendship with Emily and her eventual abandonment, not only explains why she feels the way she does, but is JUST SO SAD!
There is an interesting part of the Pixar Story documentary where they are talking about the scene and how they didn’t think that kids would sit and watch it. I still remember watching it for the first time, and it was definitely a part of why Jessie is one of my favourite characters. Of course, the Jessie montage isn’t the only montage that brings Pixar fans to tears, the beginning of Up, released 10 years after Toy Story 2, is impossible to watch with a dry eye.
One of the (few) things that I like about Toy Story 4 is Jessie’s character growth. Bonnie starts making her the sheriff of her imaginary world instead of Woody, and he eventually hands over the title officially at the end of the film. Not only that, she plays an integral part of ensuring that Forky is returned to Bonnie, by taking matters into her own hands.
At no point in any of her films is she really seen as a damsel in distress like Bo Peep, for example. You see her vulnerable, yes, but she is considered equal to Buzz and Woody when it comes to saving the toys and helping her friends out. I think this makes her a great role model for kids, and it makes sense that Bonnie wants her as a sheriff- what little girl doesn’t want a badass cowgirl protecting her imaginary hat shop?
Her relationships with Buzz and Woody are great. Woody is her buddy, as much as he is Buzz’s. They care about each other and look out for each other. Even though the show isn’t real, Woody, Jessie and Bullseye are the Roundup gang. Ultimately he trusts her to look after the other toys, a role that he was so protective of for so long.
I love that Buzz isn’t intimidated by her courage and passion for adventure- he loves her because of it. They don’t have a big romantic thing like Woody and Bo Peep in Toy Story 4, just little moments here and there, like his Spanish mode-prompted dancing. Also the fact that even if he’s re-set (both to factory mode and Spanish mode) and doesn’t know who she is, he still loves her!
Jessie actually reminds me a lot of Anna from Frozen, and not just because of her hair! They’re both not afraid to speak up when they believe something is wrong, they care deeply about the people/toys they protect, they both have partners who trust them even in crazy adventures, and in their most recent films, both were handed full responsibility for their people from the main character (Woody and Elsa).
I think Jessie is a great character, so much fun and full of energy, but with more complex emotions and depth than you would expect from an animated toy. She’s passionate and fights for what she thinks is right, even if that means going against Woody. Essentially, she’s the rootinest, tootinest cowgirl in the Wild Wild West.