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“Toy Story” (1995): Andy’s Father and Woody’s Past

Updated on January 24, 2020
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Ash has a bachelor's in English Lit. She loves analyzing fiction and obsessing over books, film, and television.

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The Toy Story franchise is a series of children’s films produced by Disney and Pixar from 1995 to 2019. It is Pixar’s most beloved franchise and has gathered at least two generations of fans over the years.

The Toy Story franchise is, in my opinion, the best thing Pixar ever did. And there are obviously many fans who agree, which is why fan theories keep popping up.

Movies and shows and video games are always going to leave plot holes in their stories because there’s always something they can’t afford to add in, always a deadline they can’t meet, and this leaves awkward bumps in the storyline. Fan theories are popular because fans enjoy expanding the lore on their own and – most importantly – making things make sense.

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During my last Christmas vacation, I actually binge-watched the entire Toy Story franchise, which is what led me to re-watch Toy Story 4, then write my “second look” article. Binge watching the series also made me question . . . everything. Such as:

Why doesn’t Woody know about his own TV show and that he’s a famous toy?

Why doesn’t Woody remember his owner before Andy when he’s clearly an old toy? If he’s a 50’s ragdoll, there had to have been kids before Andy! Andy was a hated 90’s Millennial!

And where the heck is Andy’s dad? Did he die? Is he just a deadbeat? What?

This pondering led to my exploring various fan theories on the net and even making up a few of my own. Yes, we all know the real reason Andy’s father is absent: animating humans in CGI was really hard back in the 90’s. But fans care about the story, so fans are always going to crave in-universe lore reasons.

Here are mine.

Mike Mozart: The Story of Andy's Dad

There’s been this whacky story floating around for a couple years now. Mike Mozart, a guy who was close friends with one of the (now deceased) writers for Toy Story claims that Woody, Slinky, and Mr. Potato Head were originally the toys of Andy’s father in the 50’s.

According to Mozart, Andy’s father (also named Andy) came down with polio as a child. To save his toys from being burned, he locked them in the attic for years, until he was an adult (why he didn’t just get them out once he recovered, who knows?). His polio apparently kicked back in after he married Andy’s mom, and he died, leaving Andy with the key to the trunk in the attic.

Andy Jr. goes to get his father’s toys, and when Woody, Slinky, and Mr. Potato Head awake, they think it’s Andy Sr. who’s returned for them, not Andy Jr., since the two look so much alike. So the toys have no idea that the original Andy is gone or how much time has even passed.

Um. This makes no sense.

"Okay. Cowboy."
"Okay. Cowboy." | Source

And Jessie is the biggest reason why it makes no sense.

Mozart’s entire “Andy’s dad” story is based on the evidence presented in the second film (Andy’s mom calls Woody an old family toy, and Prospector Pete refers to him as a “hand-me-down” cowboy doll). In said film, we meet Jessie.

Jessie is as old as Woody, since she is from the same set. She talks about Emily, her one and only owner (apparently), who – according to the flashbacks – owned Jessie during the 50’s, around the era when the Woody’s Roundup toys were originally released.

The reason why Mike Mozart’s story makes no sense can be found smack-dab in Jessie’s backstory: after Emily donated her, Jessie was locked away in storage for years (just like Woody), and she didn’t fall into a coma or go to sleep in all that time. She slept and woke up and slept again, sat in the dark awake for long hours, and was understandably traumatized by the entire thing.

So it stands to reason that if Woody, Slinky, and Mr. Potato Head were left in a box in the attic for ten or fifteen years, they would not peacefully sleep in all that time. Instead, they would emerge out of their effing minds. Or at least very traumatized by the event.

Also, they would have a clear understanding of the passage of time. They might mistake Andy for his father at first, but they would quickly realize he was a different Andy altogether once they met his mother, and once they realized Andy wasn’t wearing 50’s saddle shoes and that we had gone to the moon and all that other great stuff . . .

The toys of Toy Story are not Winnie-the-Pooh and this isn’t the Hundred Acre Forest. The toys in Toy Story are intelligent and very mature. They would eventually realize they weren’t dealing with the same Andy.

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Also, another writer for the films, Stanton, said Mozart’s story was complete baloney and that we should all ignore him.

I agree.

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So if I don’t believe Mozart, what, then, is my theory?

While I don’t buy into the polio story, I do believe Woody was locked away in storage for a time, possibly alongside Slinky, who also looks like a vintage toy, and who appears to have a close friendship and loyalty to Woody from the first film onward.

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The basis for my theory comes from Woody’s speech in the very first film.

During the first Toy Story, Andy is having a birthday party, and the other toys are panicking because they don’t want to be thrown away, placed in storage, or else replaced altogether.

Woody tries to calm everyone down, but no one takes him seriously because he’s Andy’s favorite toy: why would Woody have to worry about being replaced? How could he possibly understand?

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What none of the other toys realize (except, perhaps, Slinky) is that Woody is speaking from personal experience. It’s my belief that Woody was the toy of Andy’s father. When Andy’s father grew up, he placed Woody in storage for many years. Then one day, he passed him on to Andy, and sometime after that, he died. Mourning the loss of Andy’s father, Woody vows to look after his son.

This would explain why Andy and Woody are so attached to each other: Andy is all Woody has left of his old owner, and Woody is all Andy has left of his father. So Woody is extremely loyal, and anytime he goes missing, Andy panics because it’s like losing his father all over again.

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So according to my theory, Woody was left in storage for years while waiting to be played with again. It’s possible that he wasn’t trapped inside a box, and that’s why he – unlike Jessie – didn’t become traumatized from the event. Woody was probably able to pass the time with other toys in the attic, or perhaps looking out the window and watching the world go by. He wasn’t locked away in the dark, which explains why he seems to have no problem with Andy storing him away.

This makes Woody one lucky toy to have been so loved and cared for by two generations of children. Meanwhile, Jessie wasn’t lovingly passed down from generation to generation. She was tossed in a donation box and abandoned.

It makes the scene between her and Woody in Toy Story 2 all the more poignant, with Woody likely feeling terrible guilt that he was loved while Jessie was locked in the dark.

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There is more evidence of this in Toy Story 3.

In the opening of the film, the toys are so desperate for Andy’s attention that they call him on his cell phone. When this doesn’t work, Woody gives the other toys a pep talk, encouraging them that life in the attic isn’t so bad, reminding them that what’s important is being there for Andy. He even goes so far as to say that one day Andy will have children of his own, and those children will play with them.

Woody is confident that they toys will be handed down because such tradition has been the pattern of his entire existence. He knows nothing else. In his mind, life is loyalty to one family, and that family is his family.

Of course – once again – the other toys don’t realize that Woody is speaking from experience. They think he’s just talking out of his butt again because he’s Andy’s favorite toy, and they don’t understand why Woody is so dead-convinced that Andy is going to put them in attic.

It’s because Andy’s father did the same thing.

It’s also my belief that Woody was desperate to convince the toys to wait in the attic because he didn’t want to be alone up there (this was before he knew Andy was taking him to college). Maybe he was alone the last time (with the “guys from the Christmas decorations”) and wanted the other toys to live up there with him.

That said, you’re probably wondering what my theory is regarding Woody’s complete obliviousness about his TV show and merchandise.

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According to Mozart’s story, Woody was a cereal box prize and a prototype. The actual dolls were never produced because the show was canceled, making Woody the only Woody doll in existence.

First off, Woody was not the only Woody doll in existence. We never see another one because Woody is vintage and incredibly rare. When’s the last time you stumbled across a Howdy Doody doll? My mother used to collect vintage dolls and never found one!

My evidence comes (once again) from Toy Story 2 itself.

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In Toy Story 2, Al has been trying to complete his Woody’s Roundup collection for a long time. All he needs is a Woody doll. So why would he going looking for something that doesn’t exist???

When he finds Woody at the yard sale, he mutters in excitement to himself about how Woody has his hat and is made of all the proper materials, making him the real thing.

Once again, if Woody were really the only Woody doll in existence, why would Al mutter a checklist to himself to see if Woody is authentic? It’s possible that Woody could have been a handmade knock off, but we’re clearly supposed to think that Al has been looking for a vintage Woody doll, the implication being that there’s more than one out there.

Al can’t get the museum in Japan to buy his collection without a Woody doll. If there were only one Woody doll in existence, why on Earth would the museum expect anyone to find it?

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As for Woody being oblivious, there are various reasons Woody may not have known about his TV show. Buzz didn’t know about his – though, to be fair, Buzz also came out of his box thinking he was a real spaceman. Woody, presumably, always knew he was a toy.

My theory is that Woody was one of the last Woody dolls produced. It could be that he was made after the show was already canceled. Prospector Pete says that the show was canceled when space toys became popular, and one can only assume that production of the Roundup Gang was also brought to a halt.

So Woody would have been one of the last Woody dolls, created probably the same year the show was canceled.

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Sometimes shows are created from toys. For example, the Cabbage Patch Kids were toys first, cartoons later.

I believe that this was backwards for Woody.

Because Woody’s Roundup is an obvious nod to Howdy Doody, it would only follow that the show existed first and the toys second. Also, it just wouldn’t make sense for Woody to exist in the world, being played with by a kid, and not know about his own TV show while it was still on the air. It only makes sense that he was created after the show was canceled. (We can’t make this comparison to Buzz, who would have seen his show on the TV and thought it little more than “historical documents.”)

There is no longer a Cabbage Patch Kids TV show, but they still make and sell Cabbage Patch Kids. If those Cabbage Patch Kids were alive like Woody, they wouldn’t have a clue how popular they used to be or that they used to have a show. Not unless they could use the internet. And they couldn’t. Cabbage Patch Kids have all got their fingers sewn together.

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I believe Woody could have been one of many surplus dolls that remained unsold during the cancellation, thanks to the sudden demand for space toys. He probably sat on the shelf for a while, not knowing about his own television show, and watched space toys getting sold, the same way Prospector Pete did.

When Prospector Pete complains about space toys, Woody slumps as he says, “I know how that feels.”

We are supposed to think he’s referring to Andy’s excitement about Buzz in the first film, but Woody’s an old toy. He was there when space toys started becoming popular. Even if he didn’t know about his own show, he had to notice space toys getting sold more. Prospector Pete isn’t telling him anything he doesn’t know in that regard. In fact, the prospector is trying to commiserate with Woody, bond with him about disappointments and resentments they both share, so that he’ll come to the museum in Japan.

Toy Story 2 is about Woody’s insecurities, after all. Woody felt worthless in many ways: he felt inferior to Buzz because he wasn’t a flashy space toy, and he was frightened Andy would throw him away because his arm was ripped.

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He even had nightmares about it.

Toy Story 2 had Woody realize his own worth, while also coming to the realization that he was actually a very fortunate, very loved toy. Listening to the stories of Jessie and Prospector Pete would have awakened him to this. And so, by the end of the film, he goes home to Andy, having decided to ride it out for as long as it lasts, because it’s worth it to be loved by a child.

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So that’s why I believe Woody doesn’t know about his own TV show: it was cancelled around the same time he was placed on the shelf.

Woody is a very old toy who’s lived a very long life, caring for two generations of children in one family. Knowing this makes the ending of Toy Story 4 all the more meaningful, because the story ends with Woody finally deciding to live for himself.

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