The Main Theories and Interpretations of ‘Toy Story’

Toy Story was one of my most beloved films as a child and, to this day, still stands as my all time favourite Disney movie. As an adult I’ve come to learn that there is more to the movie than I initially recognised. Perhaps as a child I immersed myself in films without taking note of hidden details, undertones, or the subtext, and therefore made it easy to miss clues as to what a film is really trying to tell you. Toy Story’s ever present fan base, along with the invention of the internet, has made it impossible to escape the multitude of fan theories; from the surprisingly convincing, to the down right ridiculous. I have selected 3 – one for each film from the trilogy – of the most talked about and most convincing of the theories which I feel are something more than the rambling speculations of a die-hard fan – those that seem the most likely and actually hold some credibility.

Firstly, the more commonly accepted interpretation…

Toy Story is about Old Vs. New, or more specifically, old Hollywood and new Hollywood. Even more specifically, it’s about old animation and new digital animation. Here are the basics.

It has been commonly accepted that Woody represents the classic, old Hollywood. He is a cowboy and therefore a physical representation of the classic Western genre – the genre that kick-started Hollywood and paved the way for legendary actors such as Clint Eastwood, John Wayne and Henry Fonda. Buzz on the other hand represents the more contemporary, or ‘futuristic’ Hollywood which is symbolised by an astronaut embarking on the final frontier. There are, however, elements to Toy Story’s inception that suggests there’s more to this theory than that. The film’s director, John Lasseter, was responsible for pushing the new digital video animation used in Pixar’s debut film, as opposed to the standard hand-drawn animation that Disney had used for all of its animated films prior to their partnership with the studio. Buzz represents this new form of animation and Woody represents the traditional technique. Despite not getting along and being too different, the two forms of animation ultimately come together and form Disney Pixar for the children, just like Woody and Buzz do for Andy.

With that being said, here are some of the alternate theories that have been suggested by fans and audiences that could actually hold some ground:

Toy Story 1: Andy’s Parents Are Divorced, or His Father Is Dead.

This idea has never been particularly subtle. The absence of a father figure in Andy’s life is never kept a secret and there are subtle signs throughout the film that seem to support this. For example, around the house there are no signs of a father in family photos, and there is no talk or mention of him in the entire film. Whether this means Andy’s parents are going through a divorce or whether it means he is actually dead is still up for debate. The idea of moving house seems to tie in with the idea of a parent split, but this would this mean Andy wouldn’t see his father on his birthday? Regardless of which theory you prefer, it’s obvious that Andy’s attachment to two tough male role models in the form of dolls expresses the lack of a male figure in his life and perhaps, his desire for it. He clings onto the dolls and they serve as a substitute for a male, father-like figure.

Toy Story 2: Andy’s Mother Previously Owned Jessie

Could Jessie have been previously owned by Andy’s mother? The main source to this theory lies in the hat Andy wears throughout the first movie, which seems to be the exact same hat that Jessie wears in Toy Story 2. In Jessie’s flashback we see the room of her previous owner, Emily, in a distinctly 60/70s style room. In the flashback we see what appears to be the same hat that Andy has. Could it be a coincidence? Possibly. But It’s hard to suggest that particular images such as these are accidental as there’s really no such thing as accidental images in animation because everything is purposefully drawn or created and therefore intentionally put into a scene. So why does Andy’s hat look exactly the same as Jessie’s? If the creators didn’t want to provoke such thoughts and theories they could have easily changed the look of the hat. After all, Woody’s hat is distinctively different. What this whole theory then suggests is that Andy inherited the hat from his mother, linking to the previous theory regarding Andy’s father, with some people suggesting if his mother owned Jessie, perhaps his father owned Woody, and he inherited him from his father. This would also give credence to the idea that his father is deceased, also explaining the reason why Andy cherishes Woody so much.

Toy Story 3: Holocaust

Probably the darkest but definitely the most interesting theory on this list – Toy Story 3 re-tells the story of the Holocaust. There are several key points in the film that are strikingly similar to the Holocaust. To begin with, the toys begin to feel increasingly threatened with where they live, fearing that they will be thrown out, which leads Buzz to suggest that they should hide in the attic, much like the story of Anne Frank. Afterwards, when the toys end up in the day-care, which according to the theory is the equivalent of a Jewish concentration camp, they find themselves trying to escape to get back home. And finally, the giant fire incinerator towards the end of the film is a representation of a gas chamber.

Whether you accept these theories or not, they’re certainly interesting to look into and, more often than not, they actually make sense. Whether they are actually true or not doesn’t really matter either, as it can all come down to the viewers interpretation and it’s not the role of filmmakers to tell a viewer their interpretation of a film is wrong, which is why directors will rarely openly quell fan theories such as these. This, of course, adds further ambiguity to a film’s meaning which makes them all the more fascinating.

Jack Gooding

Jack Gooding

25 year old Film and Media graduate with a passion for films, even bad ones. Animal lover, gym goer and rum connoisseur.
Jack Gooding
  • The first two theories are quite genius, but I think the third one is a tad far fetched as it cuts out quite a bit of the film in order for the theory to fit.