Reach For the Sky With These Secrets About the Toy Story Franchise

Woody as the villain? Billy Crystal as Buzz Lightyear? We're celebrating Toy Story's anniversary by revealing these secrets about the iconic animated franchise.

By Tierney Bricker Nov 23, 2023 11:00 AMTags
Watch: Disney Announces Toy Story, Frozen & Zootopia Sequels

More than 30 years later, fans still have a friend in Sheriff Woody.

Yes, Toy Story premiered on Nov. 22, 1995, introducing moviegoers to a troop of toys lead by Tom Hanks' classic cowboy and Buzz Lightyear, the modern spaceman voiced by Tim Allen. But no one expected the film, which was the first full-length movie to be made entirely using computer-generated imagery, to become as successful as it did: The Pixar feature was the second highest-grossing film of the year, making $373 million worldwide.

Four years later, Toy Story 2 grossed $500 million worldwide before Toy Story 3, released in 2010, and Toy Story 4, released in 2019, each made over $1 billion worldwide. And the third film in the franchise won Oscars for Best Animated Film, Best Original Film and earned a Best Picture nomination, a rarity for an animated movie.

And, after the release of the Lightyear spin-off in 2022 (with Chris Evans providing the astronaut's voice), Disney's out to prove there's still a lot of play left in these toys as it was confirmed that a fifth Toy Story movie is in the works.

Celebrities Who Voiced Animated Film Characters

Allow these 15 secrets about the Toy Story franchise to take you to infinity and beyond!

1. Toy Story was initially based on the Oscar-winning animated short Tin Toy, which was about a toy named Tinny who reluctantly allowed a baby to play with him so he won't cry. 

2. While Tinny was initially supposed to be the protagonist, the filmmakers thought the toy was "too antiquated," eventually making the character a military action figure before adding the astronaut element as well. The character's name also evolved, going from Tinny to Lunar Larry to Tempus From Morph before the team eventually landed on Buzz Lightyear, inspired by famed astronaut Buzz Aldrin, according to The Pixar Touch, a 2008 book by David A. Price.

3. It might be hard to believe, but in the initial script Woody was actually the villain of the story, a ventriloquist dummy that abused the other toys. As screenwriter Joss Whedon put it to EW, "The original Woody was a thundering a--hole."

4. Tom Hanks was the first (and really only) choice to serve as Woody's voice. (His brother Jim Hanks voiced the character for video games and Woody-themed merchandise.)

5. For Buzz Lightyear, Billy Crystal was the first actor the filmmakers had in mind, but the comedy star passed, a decision he later said was "the only regret I have in the business of something I passed on."

6. After Crystal, stars like Bill MurrayChevy Chase and Jim Carrey were also considered before Tim Allen, famous for his hit TV series Home Improvement, took on the role, partially because Chase was one of his inspirations. 

7. Because it was each of the stars' first time doing voice work, Hanks and Allen chose to record Woody and Buzz's scenes together. 

8. Brought in to punch up the underwhelming script, The Avengers director Whedon ended up adding essential elements, including the creation of Rex and changing Buzz's entire personality, making the previously self-aware and cheerful toy unaware he was actually a toy.

9. Known for his strong female characters (He did create Buffy the Vampire Slayer after all), Whedon tried to get Barbie in the movie as a savior for the two male lead toys, but Mattel ultimately did not give permission, according to Entertainment Weekly.

10. Oh, and Pixar debated whether or not to make the animated feature a musical. "It would have been a really bad musical, because it's a buddy movie," the writer explained. "It's about people who won't admit what they want, much less sing about it. Woody can't do an 'I want' number. He's cynical and selfish, he doesn't know himself. Buddy movies are about sublimating, punching an arm, 'I hate you.' It's not about open emotion."

11. When the studio initially started planning for a sequel, they envisioned a direct-to-DVD follow-up for Toy Story 2, as a majority of the animators were working on A Bug's Life. It would go on to score a rare 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

12. During production of the sequel, the entire film was nearly destroyed in 1998 when a staffer accidentally hit a button that would erase all the files. When another employee noticed it in the nick of time, 90 percent of the film was still erased and the back-up files were nowhere to be found. Fortunately, Galyn Susman, supervising technical director, had back-up files at her home as she had recently given birth and had been working from home more often. 

13. The making of Toy Story 2, especially due to a late overhaul of almost the entire film, was so intense that many animators developed carpal tunnel syndrome, suffered strains and "by the time the film was complete, a full third of the staff would have some kind of repetitive stress injury," Ed Catmull, the president of Pixar, revealed to the Los Angeles Times.

14. Before Disney acquired Pixar, an animation studio, Circle 7, had come up with a drastically different storyline for Toy Story 3. After Buzz began malfunctioning, Andy's mom was set to send the toy back to Taiwan so he could be repaired. After learning it was actually a recall, Woody and the gang travel to Taiwan to save Buzz, who would be interacting with other recalled toys from around the world. But after Disney bought Pixar in 2006 and disbanded Circle 7, the movie completely changed. 

15. After Jim Varney died shortly after the release of Toy Story 2Blake Clark took over the voice role of Slinky Dog in Toy Story 3, with producers later saying they were "really excited" when they learned the two actors were close friends. "They knew each other from way back,' director Lee Unkrich said in a statement. "When I'm in recording sessions with Blake, [he] just channels the spirit of his friend, Jim Varney, and he's done a really awesome job keeping that character alive."