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Toying With Ideas: Is Woody a Gift from Andy’s Father?

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.

Could I be any father from the truth?

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.

Is this idea gone to the dogs?

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?

42 Responses

  1. This is why I read Movie Blog, Darren. Fantastic piece!

    I can certainly see the Woody-being-father’s-gift angle, because even though Woody was casually tossed aside in the first film what child doesn’t react that way with a new toy? It’s Toy Story 2 & 3 that cement the argument for me.

    • Thanks Fitz! Yep, I’m rewatching ’em all in November on DVD and this is going to run through my head. I’ll see if it holds up.

  2. Interesting. I think I saw a father-like person in one of the flashback videos, but I don’t know. Interesting.

  3. I’ve never really thought about this before and I’ve thought about Disney movies for more than anyone really should have (having been employed by Disney for 8 years). Great article!

  4. I just posted this on our facebook fanpage for discussion as well! Utterly brilliant observation. I hadn’t gone as deep as looking at the missing father figure aspect, but it WAS the honesty of Andy keeping Woody and not hesitating with Buzz and the others that gave me a sense of realism about the characters. Buzz would have been important to Andy for years, but the space ranger gig would eventually dissipate whereas Andy had seemingly ALWAYS had Woody. My favorite childhood toy still sits on dresser in my bedroom and I’m nearly 30 years old. My other toys were given away, thrown away, or are boxed up in my attic (my boys aren’t interested in She-ra or Barbie-so there they’ve stayed). The reason the toy on my dresser has stayed was because of the emotional connection I made early on with it, based on something my mom told me. This says to me that Andy had that same connection with Woody that goes beyond just a toy, it’s a piece of memories and your childhood. To attach that connection with an absent father figure would make perfect sense, and it does make you ask, why were these great lengths to avoid putting a Dad in the picture mean? There is something more there, how deep it goes I suppose is up to our interpretation, but a fantastic idea to ponder nonetheless Darren!

  5. This is an excellent piece, Darren. There is definitely a lack of a male role-model in the Toy Story series, and your post has many excellent points. Kudos.

  6. I’ve had this discussion with friends as well, and I certainly think that the reading holds up. If nothing else it explains Andy’s attachment to Woody (and maybe his mother’s attachment to Andy) and why letting go of Woody was so dramatic for him.

    I had a similar reaction to Despicable Me’s Gru; he’s pretty clearly a guy who grew up without a father. I wonder if we can find other protagonists in film who have a conspicuous lack of a father in their lives?

  7. I hadn’t even thought of that, and thanks for writing this! My brain has been so busy trying to figure out “Inception” for four weeks that it could use another movie to think about.

    Fantastic, very introspective post.

  8. Ok, for what it’s worth, here’s what i think, i always had an idea that the father was not present as he wasn’t needed in the film, to me, woody represents andy’s father, who is separated from his mother, but still sees andy. Then buzz arrives, who i interpreted as a representation of his mothers new partner, Woody finds this hard to cope with, they conflict, etc etc, finally, they see through they’re differences, happy ever after, but that was how i saw the woody and buzz characters……You probably all think i’m a complete doofis now, right?

  9. I have a 3 yr old and he’s been watching TS2 incessantly and I HAVE to sit with him. The part where Stinky Pete gets mad at Woody for wanting to go back to Andy after he agreed to go to Japan with the “Round-up Gang” he calls Woody a “old hand-me-down cowboy doll”. So I agree with u that Andy had to be a gift from his dad. Also, Andy has a baby sister in TS1 and they were moving, that leads me to believe that either they were divorced or maybe he did pass.

    • Very good spot with the baby sister and the movie. Like I said, I’ll be watching the trilogy very closely when my blu ray boxset arrives.

  10. I agree with your post, I think that Woody came from Andy’s father because in TS2, Andy’s mom wouldn’t let Al buy him at the garage sale because he was “an old family toy.”

  11. My daughter and I were discussing where Woody came from, and tossed around the idea that he was handed down from his father. The line from Andy’s mom at the garage sale “he is an old family toy” makes you think that Andy is not the first in that family to play with him.

    However, WHY DOESNT WOODY EVER MENTION THIS? With all the discussion about what a toys role is and what will happen to them after Andy is grown, why doesnt Woody himself ever mention who his previous owner is? He would certainly remember being passed from father to son.

    • I think his confidence about going up in the attic and the fact he’s a lot more comfortable with all this suggest he’s been through this before, but I don’t think he mentions it because he a.) doesn’t want to generate false hope, b.) doesn’t want to antagonise the more close-minded toys by asserting his seniority (Mr. Potato Head tends to treat Woody like Woody has some fascination with being superior to the other toys – dismissing him as a “college boy” here and leading the lynch mob against him after “the Buzz incident” in the first film) or c.) might even have mentioned it off screen.

      But I don’t know. i think it’s more fun as a guess – it could be completely wrong, but it’s a clever idea that can be read into the film.

  12. I’m not reading all the comments to see if this has been said..

    But, in the yard sale scene, where chicken man is trying to buy Woody, Andy’s mom says “I’m sorry. It’s an old family toy.” I’m watching it RIGHT now with my toddler, and I just looked up the script.

    I agree with the “gift from father” angle. Everything makes sense.

    • Thanks Megan. I think it makes sense. It’s just a really sweet little bonus which makes it all kinda sweeter.

    • I noticed this very same line while my son was watching Toy Story 2, and thought about the same question which is what lead me here.

      I think it makes perfect sense that Woody was handed down from a parental figure. However, I was thinking why woody doesn’t mention a previous owner. In fact he is surprised to hear about Jessica’s story about being abandoned.

      I have a theory. My theory is that the toy’s identity is tied to the owner somehow. You can see that the personality of the toys tends to align with the role that the owner assigns them during playtime. Also, unowned toys become ambivalent, even resentful. I think playtime changes the toys. And being with an owner makes the toy forget about the past. It’s like they go through a rebirth.

  13. My toddler loves TS2, and we\’ve watched it lots of times, including right this second. I wondered too whether Woody\’s a handmedown from the parents, hence my searching for and finding this post. But I hadn\’t spent two seconds thinking about the absent father. I figured Woody had been the mom\’s, partly because of her immediate concern at seeing Woody at the yard sale added to her pretty heartless shelving and yardsaling of the squeaky toy, which she had said she\’d get fixed. Though thinking of this as a mom, if my son went to cowboy camp, I\’d be alarmed too if his cowboy toy suddenly showed up at the yard sale. The idea that Woody came from the absent father is brilliant actually. What does it say about me that I never noticed the absence of a father in that house? We DO know that Andy is old though because when he sees a kid\’s record player, he says he hasn\’t seen a record player in years. (Okay, maybe Andy had a kid\’s record player when he was a young child and that was years ago, but in the context of the longterm storage of the other toys and all that, it seemed much more a comment on Woody being an old handmedown toy.

    • I don’t think missing the fact Andy doesn’t have a father is a big deal. He could, literally, just be at work for all the time we spend in the house. I do think, however, it adds a whole other layer to the film if you factor the absence in, though.

  14. I think your theory is solid. There’s even a quote from Toy Story 2 that supports that. When Al is trying to buy Woody at the garage sale – Mom says “I’m sorry it’s an old family toy.” Which I think implies that he’s been in the family for a generation.

    I was wondering the same thing about Andy myself, and saw this post 🙂

  15. Well Finally someone who thinks like me over pretty much things that wont affect your life at all. As a former toy collector,Toy Story 2 (TS2) dropped a whole new perspective on who Woody was not to only Andy but to the rest of the world. I truly believe that Woody WAS passed down from a family member,coulve been dad,uncle or grandfather again because of that gap of the 50’s to now.. “Two words: Sputnik” i dont think That had any direct correlation with Woody, But Neil Armstrong definetly did. The way Woody has that very special connection with Andy says it all. Espicially when you see it in TS3 as he is giving them up to Molly and retracts Woody from her- he was even in shock he was in the box! Oh and wrap your mind around this..remember in TS3 when Woody tells the rest of the gang that they will be safe in the attic and how much fun it is?…how did he know? Was he there before? I think that is a Yes. Thanx for this post and for your perspective. UR

    • Thanks! Always good to know I’m not the only one who over thinks things, although I worry sometimes!

      Some good points there, actually. Some I missed.

  16. I was searching the Internet for theories about Toy Story 2 and 3 when I came across this blog. I definitely agree with your theory, and I had some extra comments.

    One thing that kept bothering me about the overall storyline of Toy Story 2 is that it is inexplicable WHY Woody has absolutely no memory of Woody’s Roundup. (In response to some of the above comments: it is very possible Woody does not remember being passed from father to son. In fact, with respect to some of the logic in the movie, it would only make sense, because how could he remember his previous owner when Woody’s Roundup was still on, but not Woody’s Roundup itself?)

    This amnesia was really hard for me to figure out; the only theory I could come up with was rather dark: the emotional trauma from his previous owner’s abandonment caused him to erase all such things selectively from his memory. BUT that’s incredibly bleak. What are your thoughts on this?

    • Never actually thought about that.

      I guess I figured that he was originally like Buzz, who didn’t even figure out he was a toy. By the time he figured out he was a toy (and I presume, at least, it was an easier (and maybe slightly longer) transition than it was for Buzz, if only because there hopefully wasn’t another toy he was replacing), I would presume the show had ended and he never really worried too much. Maybe he thought he was just a generic cowboy, like the plastic soldiers are generic plastic soldiers.

      But your argument is interesting… if a little bleak, as you concede.

  17. when introducing the 2009 set of Toy Story collectibles, John Lasseter said “We always imagined he was a hand-me-down to Andy from his father

  18. I’m currently reading this while watching Toy Story 2 on ABC Family. During the yard sale scene in the beginning when Al is trying to take Woody, Andy’s mom takes it away and throws in “It’s a family toy.” I completely agree that Andy received Woody from his father and has a deep, emotional attachment to him because of this.

  19. I have had the same thoughts. There is a missing peice in the Andy and woody story and the father makes perfect sence. Thank you of bringing up the subject

  20. I like this idea because the cowgirl is from Andy’s mom

  21. You are not alone! I’m pretty sure Woody was given to Andy by at least someone in his family b/c in the 2nd movie when Al tried to buy Woody Andy’s mom said no and told him Woody was a family toy. I’ve always been curious about Woody’s past. I really enjoyed your post about it.

    • Thanks momo. That’s what really got me thinking about it too.

      • I’m about 4 years late I know, but still that was an interesting read. It is indeed good to know there are others out there who over think and obsess over their favourite movies. Thank you.

  22. Has anyone noticed that in toy story 2, Andy’s mom tells Al that woody isn’t for sale, because he is “an old family toy”? Doesn’t that say enough about woody being handed down to Andy? And the exasperation in her voice as she says it tells me there is hurt or pain associated with that so i agree with the theory that Andy’s dad gave him the doll, and that they were recently seperated wether it be from divorce or death.

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