Monday, December 15, 2008

When She Loved Me (from Toy Story 2) by Sarah McLachlan


I didn't cry when Bambi's mom died. I didn't cry when Simba walked off into the dust believe that he had killed his father, but I did cry when Jessie told us her story about the love she once shared with her Emily.

Pixar continues the grand Disney tradition of animated films that feature incredible technical innovations but more importantly powerful character-driven stories that examine the human conditions. One of the central themes in Disney animated features is love. In Sleeping Beauty, it was the kiss of a her true love that woke her but like in many early Disney films this love was more based on destiny rather then human interaction. Later Disney film took a deeper more realistic examination into love like in Beauty And the Beast. Belle and the Beast both learned to love from a relationship that started in conflict and evolved into friendship. This was not love at first sight but rather love that born out of struggle and true caring.

In Pixar's first film Toy Story, romantic love took a back seat to the love between friends. Woody and Buzz, two toys learned to care about each other like a family and enjoyed a mutual love for their owner Andy. In Toy Story 2, released four years later in 1999 we found out just how powerful and beautiful love between friends could be when Jessie another toy told Woody about the owner she had lost.

Randy Newman the composers of “When She Loved Me,” is a master orchestrated who has composed soundtracks for over twenty films and is a skilled song writer as well. Great orchestra composers show their skill not by using as many instruments as possible but by using particular instruments at specific times like a painter with a palette of colors. For example, in the last verse, the word loved of “like she loved me, ” is colored with the high strings, the woodwinds, the French horns, and accentuated by plucked notes in the lower string. These instruments warm up the song like a gentle ray of sunlight and are made effective by the fact that this is the first time this particular group of instruments appear in the song.

“When She Loved Me” feels like a simple song and one of the reasons that it speaks so clearly to us is the way the lyrics and the rhythm in the melody work together. If you were to say “when somebody loved me,” you would probably have a slight emphases on “loved.” It would come out as “when somebody loved me,” as opposed to “when somebody loved me.” Newman also emphases “when,” which doesn’t necessarily feel natural but it changes the meaning of the line to be more reflective.

Later Newman sets “So the years went by, I stayed the same” working so closely to the rhythm of the words that he disregards the meter and drops beats. This doesn’t seem awkward because people don’t speak in perfectly organized meters. Working from the natural rhythm in our language makes the melody an organic extension of the words that helps the melody be more accessible while allows the composer to add layers of meaning within the text.


“When She Loved Me” is a perfect marriage between the song and the singer and Sarah McLachlan performs this song as only she can. Sarah McLachlan is an accomplished songwriter and singer with a unique and powerful artistic voice. She has a dynamic singing voice that can start at a whisper and grow to an incredible full glorious sound flowing between different colors in her voice effortlessly. Sara McLachlan often will slide up to notes in an almost like yodel way but slower and with more grace. She does this at the beginning on the word “was” in “everything was beautiful.” The best example of the power in her voice is when she sings “I will always love you” at the climax of the song, the clarity of the tone, the way she colors the pitch by pulling each note flat and the shape in each word creates sublime and emotionally draining moment.

At it's core "When She Loved Me" is about a break-up. Jessie was Emily's toy. While Emily drifted away, Jessie stayed the same and Emily eventually gave Jessie away. The love that they shared has never left Jessie and this not a selfish love. Jessie reminisces about making her happy when she was sad and comforting Emily when she was lonely. As beautiful as the descriptions of love are, each verse reminds us of the heartbreaking truth that this love is gone. The first line “when somebody loved me,” sets the mood for the whole song and does not only imply that Jessie has lost love but also that she does not feel like anyone currently loves her. This song describes love so well that the thought of life without love almost too much to bear.

Jessie gets a second taste of love in the last verse and it is wonderful but Jessie knows that it’s not real as Emily holds her “like she loved me.” Most people I know after a break-up would rather not have that person give them the same feeling of love if they knew that it wasn’t true. The reason that Jessie accepts it and speaks so warmly about it isn’t that because is ignorant of the way that Emily truly feels but because she is so sad that even illusion of Emily’s love makes her feel alive.

“When She Loved Me,” is one of the saddest songs I know, but I love listening to it. We listen to sad music not because we like being sad but because the experience of feeling makes us feel alive. In “When She Loved Me” we experience great sadness, it touches our hearts and we may cry but when it’s over we appreciate the love we have in our lives even more.

If you have never watched Toy Story 2,please do. It’s a beautiful film. After seeing it I promise that you will never forget “When She Loved Me” the same way that Jessie never forgot her Emily. . . with love in her heart.

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