This came up in conversation with the better half about a week ago while we were discussing Toy Story 3. I happened to mention a theory I’d heard some time back that the reason that Woody was so important to Andy (as opposed to say, Rex or Mr. Potato Head) was because Woody had been handed down to the child from his father – giving him extra emotional weight since the father figure is notably absent from all three films (implying he and Andy’s mom could be divorced, he could be dead, or they simply never lived together – although he could just as easily have happened to be absent for every moment we were watching). I quite liked the idea that Woody had been around more than a generation, although my better half was somewhat less fond of the idea. Still, I think it’s a really interesting way to look at the film.
Note: This post contains spoilers for the end of Toy Story 3. But you should have seen it already. If you haven’t, go see it, then come back and share your thoughts.
I think the facts lean towards that idea. After all, Toy Story 2 reveals that Woody is a toy from a black-and-white television show (“Woody’s Roundup”) which aired over forty years before the original movie. That’s a gap of roughly one generation, conveniently enough. There’s also the fact that Woody himself is a collector’s item, so it’s unlikely that he’s part of a recent line of toys. Now, my better half makes the well-observed point that he could have just as easily have been picked up at a yardsale (which would be fitting, since he was lost at a yardsale in that film), without anybody realising how much of a “collector’s item” he was. So the generation gap – as convenient as it might be – doesn’t really swing it for me one way or the other.
What’s far more fascinating is how important Woody is to Andy. Woody is the only toy that Andy even thinks about bringing to college. Seriously, who brings toys to college unless they’ve got a huge emotional attachment – particularly a toy doll? It’s also telling that, despite the fact that Woody and Buzz are “joint” leads of the film (in that Tom Hanks and Tim Allen both get “above title” billing and both characters get equal promenance on the publicity materials), it’s interesting that Woody is the last toy that Andy gives away – rather than handing over Buzz and Woody together. Indeed, he hesitates when handing Woody over to Molly, despite not even batting an eye about giving all of the others put together. And listen to how he describes Woody:
Now Woody, he’s been my pal for as long as I can remember. He’s brave, like a cowboy should be. And kind, and smart. But the thing that makes Woody special, is he’ll never give up on you… ever. He’ll be there for you, no matter what.
Given Woody’s theme song has always been “You Got a Friend In Me”, which plays on the series’ parental themes (what happens when a child outgrows their parents? is the none-too-subtle theme of the movies), I think it’s reasonable to say there’s something deeper and special about Woody.
Of course, my better half replies to this with the observation that Woody is simply “older” that Buzz, so Andy obviously has a deeper emotional attachment to Woody. In fact, the way that Andy temporarily cast Woody aside for his new shiny toy in the original Toy Story suggests that there isn’t even a particularly deep emotional connection – if he was tied to Andy’s absent father, it’s unlikely the young child would have so willingly let the Space Ranger replace him.
My final reason for believing that Woody is a gift from Andy’s father is perhaps the most tenuous. Note the way that Woody handles Andy’s transition to college. He’s just as lost and lonely (he clearly had a big hand to play in the “lost phone” bit), but somehow more confident and assured. Maybe he’s just trying to play the “leader” role that everyone has cast him in, but there’s something more “big picture” about his perspective than the rest of the toys. When he explains how going to the attic isn’t necessarily a bad thing, notice how he points out that one day Andy might have children and they’ll be played with again. That’s going to be a good few years at least, but he’s strangely comforted by the thought – perhaps because he’s been through this before.
Or maybe he’s just trying to control the crowd. It’s entirely possible he’s bluffing.
I don’t know. I can see where my better half is coming from – she observed that the theory has the side effect of making Andy’s father an important part of the narrative despite his absence. Maybe it does – but I don’t think that comes at the cost of recognising that his mother appears to have raised him singlehanded. I certainly don’t think that the idea that Woody was a gift from someone who isn’t there anymore diminishes the family unit we’ve seen on screen, or distorts it in anyway. I just think it adds a new perspective to Woody.
But then, what do I know? What do you guys think? Am I looking for connections where there are none? Am I going crazy? Have you guys thought of this yourselves and I’m a good few years behind the internet conspiracy bandwagon? Does any of this matter or affect the way you look at the film in anyway?