What's the (Toy) Story? by Alan Decker

Alan Decker is back with us for his new Sunday blog feature.  Today he tackles important questions of continuity in Toy Story.   

What’s the (Toy) Story?
by Alan Decker

I’m a Trekkie.  This is a fact that I freely and proudly proclaim.  The reason I bring that up is not to spend this post talking about Star Trek (although, I imagine that’s going to happen at some point), but to give some context for part of my personality: my obsession with continuity.

I can’t say this for certain, but Star Trek may be the first popular property to have a fanbase so obsessed with figuring out the timeline of events and ensuring that every detail fits together (Sherlock Holmes fans, of which I am one, may qualify here as well).  This is difficult considering that the early episodes of the Original Series don’t even…
Wait.   I wasn’t going to talk about Star Trek.  Anyway, my point is that I like the details of a universe to be consistent.  Klinger’s blood type is given in two different episodes of M*A*S*H, and they don’t match.  I noticed that.  I love Doctor Who, and every week I have to turn this part of my brain off.  Sometimes, I can’t, though, which leads me to the much delayed point of this post.

What is Sheriff Woody hiding?

In Toy Story, Woody insists on more than one occasion that they are Andy’s toys.  And, yes, that’s true at that point, but in Toy Story 2, we learn that Woody is actually an exceptionally-rare toy from a 40-year-old TV show called Woody’s Roundup.  This is complete news to Woody because Andy, not surprisingly, has never played Woody’s Round-Up games with him and the other toys.  

We’re okay so far, but why doesn’t Woody know about this?  Is Andy his first owner?  How would that even be possible?

According to the List of Toy Story Characters Wikipedia page, John Lassiter of Pixar said that they imagined Woody was passed down from Andy’s (missing) father to Andy.  There are two problems with this.  First, the timeline is still wonky.  Andy is 8-years-old in 1995, which puts his birth in 1987.  Now it’s possible that Andy’s mom got involved with a much older man, but if she was with someone close to her in age, that man would have been a bit young to have a toy from a 1950s TV show.  

But let’s say he was much older and had a Woody doll that he somehow managed to keep in pristine condition while never mentioning the existence of the Woody’s Roundup TV series.  That still leaves us with the second problem: Why doesn’t Woody ever talk about it?  The other toys are nervous about moving and about Andy leaving for college.  Woody has presumably been through these things with Andy’s father, so why not mention them?  Wouldn’t the other toys feel better knowing that Woody has survived these experiences completely intact?  

Or did he?  Are there dark, terrible reasons that he doesn’t talk about his past?  WHAT IS HE HIDING?

Ahem.  Sorry about that.

Now, there’s another side to the continuity-obsessed personality, and that’s the near-desperate need to find explanations for any and all continuity errors in the things we love.  I do love Toy Story 2.  It’s by far my favorite of the trilogy (please stay a trilogy), so I offer this alternative to the Woody who has been scarred by his experiences with Andy’s father.

Let’s say Andy’s father was 30 when Andy was born, putting his own birth in 1957.  According to Wikipedia, Woody’s Roundup was on the air until 1959, so it’s conceivable that some well-meaning person would have given him a Sheriff Woody doll.  However, he would have been far too young to play with such a doll, particularly one with a pull string.  So Andy’s father’s parents, put the gift in storage intending to take it out for their son to play with when he’s older.  As tends to happen, though, they forgot about it.  Or possibly they just never bothered to give it to him, since the show was long since canceled and most young boys’ attention in the 1960s was focused on the space race or spies.  

Years later, Andy is born, and at some point his grandparents come across Woody, still in his original box.  They pass Woody along to Andy’s father, who gives the cowboy doll to his young son (presumably when Andy is at an appropriate age).  Andy loves Woody, and the rest we know.  

This brings up a disturbing question, though.  Does Woody remember being in storage for decades?  I would say not.  Based on the wall of smiling, inert Buzz dolls in Toy Story 2, it appears that the act of their box being opened is the equivalent of birth for a toy.  When Buzz is strapped back into the box by the other Buzz, he doesn’t slip into stasis with the rest of the Lightyear action figures.  He screams and shakes the box.  On the surface, Stinky Pete would appear to contradict this, but it’s established that he can leave his box.  Obviously, he’s not as mint as people think, so I would guess that his box was actually opened very carefully and resealed at some point in the past.  

So as far as Woody knows, Andy is his first owner.  Unlike Buzz, he knew he was a toy right from the start (When Disney was going to go forward with Toy Story 3 without Pixar, the potential plot for the film involved Buzz being recalled to the factory due to defects.  Since no Buzz Lightyear seems to know it’s a toy, I’d call that a defect), and he’s blissfully unaware that he spent almost 40 years stuck in storage.

Okay.  Continuity issue resolved.  I feel better now.


- Alan Decker (@CmdrAJD on Twitter)