Why the ‘Toy Story’ Franchise Should Always Have Blue Skies
In a frenzy in the middle of Pizza Planet at Disney-MGM Studios (as the park was called at the time in the mid-’90s), my younger brother had a potty emergency. Not seeing any nearby Cast Members and not knowing what else to do, my grandmother approached the Buzz Lightyear walk-around character. He already had a considerable crowd around him, but all Disney protocol was lost in the heat of the moment. My grandmother, holding my brother with one arm and dragging my hand with the other, hurried up to Buzz, thrust me over to him, said, “Here, Buzz, please watch my grandson!,” and then proceeded to take my brother to the bathroom. And for a solid five minutes, my hero was in charge of me.
Not that I remember any of that. And poor Buzz probably didn’t know what in the world to do. But the look on my face in the home movies from that trip say it all: Toy Story resonated with audiences from the very beginning, right when it was first released.
As a child, Woody and Buzz were my whole world. They adorned my bedsheets. They were mine and my brother’s hands-down first choice as Halloween costumes. They were my must-have requests from Santa, who, I’m told, had to make a special mail order from Florida because all local stores were swiped clean of them. When Barbie says in Toy Story 2 that “Back in 1995, shortsided retailers did not order enough dolls to meet demand,” she’s not joking. This was a film that hit home with a lot of people, both children and adults. At the time the sensation was surprising, yet now that these characters have become such an integral part of animation history and popular culture, we can’t think of their success going any other way.
That same little kid who was awestruck by Buzz Lightyear standing before him in Pizza Planet eventually grew up, and I’m sure I’m not the first college student to tell you how much Toy Story 3 paralleled real life in a striking way. I mean, for crying out loud, I’m writing this in my dorm room right now, where a few feet away from me sits the same Woody I was played with as a child. I brought him with me. To grow up with Andy—to have the same characters I was enamored with at such a young age still continue to be in the forefront of the public eye—is a concept that blows me away. The way Toy Story 3 bridges generations of moviegoers is a rare quality that few films achieve on such a provocative level.
And so, just as Pixar promised, ever since Toy Story 3 the door has never quite closed on this franchise. The Toy Story Toons short films allow the characters to live on in a small capacity without the pressure or magnitude of a full sequel. They allow us to spend more time with these friends we love so much. That quality time continues with tonight’s premiere of Toy Story of Terror, airing at 8 p.m. EST on ABC. It’s Pixar’s first television special, an idea that in itself brings the studio right back to its start, not just in that Toy Story was its first film, but that Toy Story was initially conceived as a TV special.
Toy Story of Terror is sure to be great fun, though a recent shock gives the special an unexpected, bittersweet, extra weight. Last week Pixar Canada announced its immediate closure. The Vancouver-based extension of Pixar existed to create shorts and TV specials for legacy franchises like Toy Story and Cars.
The fact that Toy Story of Terror was made by the Emeryville team and not Canada is beside the point. While it’s true that Pixar could continue to create additional Toy Story material, things are likely to become sporadic and inconsistent without a specific team whose sole purpose is develop that material. Rumors come up every now and then about future Toy Story Toons episodes, but as of right now, nothing in addition to tonight’s special has been confirmed.
That realization brings us to one very startling, very discomforting question: Is Toy Story of Terror the last time we’ll be seeing Woody and Buzz for a while?
It’s a very real possibility that I hope isn’t true, but one that I knew deep down would happen sooner or later. Toy Story 3 was the perfect finale, but we all still wanted more time with these characters. It was inevitable that if Pixar was to grant us that request in the episodic nature of shorts, some day things were bound to be cut off abruptly without a proper goodbye.
And at the end of the day, perhaps that’s the most fitting send-off for this series. Think about it: Do you actually remember the very last time you played with your favorite childhood toy? Probably not. Instead, you gradually played with it less and less until you never played with it at all. I’m afraid that’s how the Toy Story franchise might be shaping up.
The funny thing is, I remember having this same feeling nearly 8 years ago. Disney had just bought Pixar; Circle 7 Animation’s version of Toy Story 3 had just been canceled, but Pixar’s version had not yet been announced. So in my mind, all I knew was that there would be no Toy Story 3 like I thought there would be. I was watching Toy Story 2 for movie night with my family, and in the final scene when Woody and Buzz look out the window at Andy, I remember thinking I would never see them again, and how sad that made me. Low and behold, we all got the best surprise of the century and Toy Story 3 was not only made, but made brilliantly.
So while there’s no definite indication that Toy Story of Terror is Pixar’s last outing with this franchise for the foreseeable future, given the recent shake-ups the studio has had, I don’t think the theory should be dismissed. For that reason, I’m going to enjoy watching Toy Story of Terror tonight for all it is worth, and I’ll be treating it as a swan song for Woody and Buzz, for time being, at least. I hope to be proven wrong and would love to see lots more Toy Story Toons on the way in a jiffy. But just as a precaution… I’m going back to that mindset of the three-year-old in Pizza Planet for one last night. The world is a better place when Woody and Buzz are around to make us laugh, make us cry, and inspire our imagination.