It is impossible to find another franchise that is both beloved and revolutionary, such as Toy Story. Released in 1995, Toy Story was not only one of the biggest hits of the year, but also one that broke new ground in how animated movies were made. While using computer animation wasn’t a new thing back in the mid-90s, Toy Story broke down the door to a new and innovative way of creating timeless classics that both kids and adults can enjoy; and gave rise to a crop of films and studios who were trying to copy the “Toy Story model” to various success. Without Toy Story leading the way, the world may never have such beloved classics as Shrek and Ice Age to enjoy. Toy Story also pumped new life into Disney, which was stagnant at the time, and made the studio that created it, Pixar, into a household name.
While new characters have been introduced over its (current) four-movie run, the main plot of the story centers around a toy cowboy, Woody (Tom Hanks), and a toy astronaut, Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), and their various adventures, which will continue as the beloved toys are coming back to screens for a brand new adventure. Disney CEO Bob Iger recently announced that a fifth installment of the incredibly successful Toy Story franchise is officially in the works, and should be reaching movie screens by 2028. While plot details surrounding the movie are still a mystery, one thing for certain is that it will surely bring a fun, fresh new story in plastic for the whole family with the same level of quality animation that Pixar has always delivered.
In more than 20 years since the first movie’s release, the franchise’s legacy has continued to grow thanks to its sequels and related media, such as the Lightyear spinoff and the nostalgic Buzz Lightyear of Star Command series. Whatever tale the Pixar team has in store for the upcoming sequel, the past installments have all been solid regarding their story, character development, and animation, garnering plenty of acclaim from critics and audiences alike, making this franchise one of the studio’s best.
4 ‘Toy Story’ (1995)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
This is where audiences first meet the pull-string doll Woody who has to teach Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear what it means to be a toy as they go on an adventure that includes tiny three-eyed aliens, a pizza-delivering van, and an explosive rocket to get back home to their kid Andy. Not only was Toy Story a massive success, spawning the iconic franchise fans know and love today, making every kid who watched the film want a Woody doll for themselves, receiving three Academy Award nominations and even a Special Achievement award for being the first of its kind.
This movie was not only a massive hit, but was also groundbreaking, becoming the first animated feature film to be entirely computer-animated, ushering in a new age of animation for Pixar and plenty of other studios that soon followed in their footsteps. Before Toy Story was released, animated films followed the “Disney Template”, largely composed of hand-drawn, 2-D animation to make characters come to life. Animation by computers wasn’t entirely new pre-1995, but Toy Story opened the door to a new wave of possibilities when it came to animation, showing off the enormous potential computer animation had as a medium for storytelling beyond what it could do for special effects. With its technical achievements, lovable characters, heartwarming story, and creative world-building, this movie was positioned as one of the best-animated films of all time, and it largely succeeded in its mission, and so much more.
A cowboy doll is profoundly threatened and jealous when a new spaceman action figure supplants him as top toy in a boy’s bedroom.
- Release Date
- October 30, 1995
- John Lasseter
- John Lasseter , Pete Docter , Andrew Stanton , Joe Ranft , Joss Whedon , Joel Cohen
- The Toys Are Back In Town.
3 ‘Toy Story 2’ (1999)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
In the second installment, Toy Story 2, the beloved toy gang has a brand-new adventure after a rescue gone wrong sees Woody stolen by a toy collector to ship him to a museum in Japan. Here is where viewers meet the excitable and energetic cowgirl Jessie voiced by Joan Cusack, who imbued the franchise with a breath of new energy and had tears flowing with the heartbreaking song “When She Loved Me.” Other memorable characters introduced were Prospector Stinky Pete and Emperor Zurg, whose villainous plans are unsuccessful. Andy’s toys can make it back home with new friends, ready for their next adventure.
Normally, sequels that have to live up to the massive hype of their predecessors are a tall order that is rarely successful. So, one wasn’t at fault for thinking, at the time, that Toy Story 2 wouldn’t match up to the enormous success of the original. Thankfully, that was not the case for Toy Story 2, as it was met with similar critical acclaim to the first movie, with reviewers claiming it equaled the original in quality, some even going as far as saying it surpassed it, and receiving the same perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes. How many sequels can claim this achievement? Not many.
With improved technology allowing for better, more detailed animation and a cast of exciting new characters to add to the already rich Toy Story world, this was one of the rare instances where a sequel was able to live up to the massive hype of its predecessor and bring back the same magic that made the first one a classic for all ages.
Toy Story 2
- Release Date
- November 24, 1999
- John Lasseter , Ash Brannon , Lee Unkrich
- 92 minutes
- John Lasseter , Pete Docter , Ash Brannon , Andrew Stanton , Rita Hsiao , Doug Chamberlin
- The toys are back!
Fans on Reddit are trying to anticipate the franchise’s next move.
2 ‘Toy Story 3’ (2010)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Toy Story 3 surprised audiences and critics with a teenage Andy heading to college, leaving his toys with an uncertain future as they are donated to Sunnyside Daycare, where they meet new toys and adjust to life without their owner. Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the gang had to learn the tough lesson of letting go; and, if that wasn’t enough, the toys had to face a fluffy and sinister toy, Lotso (Ned Beatty), who runs Sunnyside like a prison. After nearly reaching their demise in a garbage incinerator in a deeply emotional and nail-biting sequence, they find their way back to Andy. Now that he is ready for a new chapter in his life, he donates his toys to Bonnie, a sweet child who welcomes the cabal of toys with open arms and has found their new home.
This poignant and emotive entry to the franchise brought the toys to territory never explored in the series, growing up, entering new chapters in life, and letting go. In a lot of ways, these themes resonated with the audience who had watched the first in theaters and had been that child that let toys go to grow up. It is a hard experience, and it was even more emotional to watch this play from the toy’s perspective. How does a toy feel when it’s time to let them go? Toy Story 3 answered this question with a tug on the heartstrings, and was made even worse when watching Lotso treat Andy’s toys like the totalitarian he is, no matter how cute and cuddly he was.
In more than 10 years since fans had last seen the characters, innovation in technology allowed them to be rendered with beautiful lighting and textures that added a sense of realism and depth, perfect for the story they wanted to tell. It was a hit with audiences and critics, who praised the direction the storyline had taken. Although it didn’t reach the same rating as the previous entries (only by a mere two points), it is still regarded as one of the best-animated movies of the 2010s.
Toy Story 3
The toys are mistakenly delivered to a day-care center instead of the attic right before Andy leaves for college, and it’s up to Woody to convince the other toys that they weren’t abandoned and to return home.
- Release Date
- June 16, 2010
- Lee Unkrich
- Michael Arndt , John Lasseter , Andrew Stanton , Lee Unkrich
- No toy gets left behind.
1 ‘Toy Story 4’ (2019)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
In the latest installment in the franchise, Toy Story 4 has Andy’s toys adjust to life with their new kid Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) and having to grapple with what it means to be a toy. As they go with her on a road trip, newly introduced Forky (Tony Hale), the existential crisis-prone toy made with trash, tries to run away and has to be rescued by Woody, which leads to unexpected adventures and plenty of new characters. The movie ends with Buzz saying goodbye to Woody as he goes off to become a “Lost Toy” helping other toys find kids to play with.
This last (as of now) installment, while a bit less regarded than its predecessors, Toy Story 4 was a hit, garnering plenty of praise from critics, who lauded the beautiful animation, the poignant existential questions it asked, and the strong voice acting. Joining the star-studded cast were plenty of newcomers such as Hale, Keegan Michael-Key, and Jordan Peele, who brought life to characters that are now as popular with kids as Woody and Buzz when the first film came out. While some may have found the addition of Forky to be a bit controversial, his additonal sparked new life into the franchise, and it will be interesting to see how his character is more fleshed out in the new installment. Although, by this time, the overally story was showing some signs of a re-fresh, Toy Story 4 still considered a worthy entry to the franchise, continuing its uninterrupted streak of Certified Fresh ratings.
Toy Story 4
- Release Date
- June 19, 2019
- Josh Cooley
- John Lasseter , Andrew Stanton , Pete Docter , Lee Unkrich , Will McCormack , Stephany Folsom
- Disney Pixar
- Toy Story IV: The Quest for Peace