Since Toy Story first hit screens in 1995, many fan favourites have come and gone. From the humble beginnings of Andy’s room, we’ve met a plethora of toys — from a yodelling cowgirl and a squeaky penguin to a strawberry-scented bear and Shakespeare-loving hedgehog. And with the arrival of Toy Story 4, the world of sentient toys just got a whole lot bigger.
But one iconic pair has stuck together through thick and thin, to take the top spot in the toy chest, and our hearts. Of course, we’re talking about Woody and Buzz. As they embark on their fourth epic adventure together, we’re taking a trip down memory lane – with the help of the Toy Story 4 director, producers, and our dedicated Disney community – to revisit the most important moments that defined Buzz and Woody’s relationship and elevated their friendship to one of cinema’s most iconic.
A Galactic Alliance is Born
Picture this. You’ve spent your entire life as the number one toy in the box, beloved by your owner and accepted as top dog by your fellow toys – whether they like it or not (looking at you, Mr. Potato Head). You’re the first to get picked for school trips, bedtime snuggles, and as the protagonist of your owner’s wildest fantasies. But one day, your confident, comfortable world gets turned upside down. Enter the space ranger.
When we asked Toy Story 4 director Josh Cooley which moments define Buzz and Woody’s relationship, he was quick to rewind to the very beginning: “When they meet. That’s huge.”
While the two become firm friends, it’s Buzz and Woody’s initial rivalry that catapults them – and us – out of the safety of Andy’s room and on to an epic adventure. Suddenly, Woody has a reason to jump into action. Buzz is newer, shinier — and frustratingly deluded about his own abilities. But, most importantly, he has the potential to take over the top spot in Andy’s affections, and he doesn’t even care who he supplants. Let’s just say, Woody’s wound up.
To say things escalate quickly from there would be an understatement. When Woody’s jealousy of Buzz’s popularity results in him ‘accidentally’ pushing him out of the second-storey window, things get progressively uglier. Between physical fights and exasperated miscommunications, the pair will never truly be aligned until Buzz gets it into his head: “You. Are. A. Toy.”
It’s this eventual realisation that triggers the turning point in the pair’s relationship. Trapped in devil-child Sid‘s house, Buzz’s entire existence unravels when he sees his own toy commercial on TV. In a crushing realisation, he suddenly understands what Woody’s been trying to tell him since he first crash-landed in Andy’s room: he is a child’s plaything. What follows is a touchingly conveyed identity crisis, starting with Buzz’s tragic failed attempt to fly, and escalating to the infamous Mrs Nesbitt scene. As well as seeing Buzz’s vulnerability for the first time, we also witness Woody finally showing real concern for his reluctant accomplice, slapping him back into reality. He needs Buzz Lightyear on his side, whether he likes it or not.
After going through some serious trauma together at the hands of Sid, Buzz is at his lowest ebb. His whole belief system has collapsed now that he knows he’s not a real space ranger, not to mention the fact that he’s got an explosive tied to his back. Meanwhile, Woody’s being held prisoner and they’re steeling themselves for another Sid attack in the morning. Things are looking pretty bleak. But, this is a crucial moment in the Toy Story saga, because it gives Woody the opportunity to let go of his ego and step up as both a hero and friend.
Toy Story 4 producer Jonas Rivera explains: “That moment of realisation under the milk crate… Woody realises he has to face this. That’s kind of the first crack in Woody, that he faces the reality that he might not always be number one. I think that’s an important thing between them.”
In Woody’s pep talk to Buzz, he not only concedes that the he is a “cool toy” and that he could even usurp his place as Andy’s favourite, but he finally gets it into Buzz’s head that being a toy is even more important than being a space ranger. As community member GabuTheWolf54 points out, this is the moment where Woody “[learns] the lesson of how valuable both of them are to Andy.”
When Woody and Buzz team up with the same intention – to get back to their kid – they can achieve the impossible, escape from the toy torturer and soar through the air to rejoin their fellow toys, no longer as rivals but as partners.
No Toy Gets Left Behind
By the time Toy Story 2 rolls around, Buzz and Woody are firm friends, and the gang – that is, Andy’s toys – seem to accept them as joint leaders of the room. So, when Woody gets stolen at a yard sale by the greedy collector Al, of Toy Barn fame, it goes without saying that Buzz will lead the rescue mission to return him home.
I think their defining moment, despite Woody not actually being on-screen, is when Buzz encourages his friends to keep trudging to Al’s Toy Barn as they assume he’s there. Buzz reflects on how Woody didn’t give up on him… that he couldn’t call himself a friend of Woody’s if he were too cowardly to repay his debt.” – Beethoven4ever
But little does Buzz know that Woody’s priorities are about to change in a big way, when he discovers ‘Woody’s Roundup.’ Just as when Buzz realised he was a toy in the first movie, Woody now realises he’s so much more. He was once famous, special, and beloved by thousands of kids. In other words, everything he’s always dreamed of. When Woody sees the possibility of becoming a ready-made leader of his own gang – Jessie, Bullseye and… Stinky Pete (the less about him, the better), his head is turned. He seriously considers going along with Al’s plan to sell the set of Woody’s Roundup toys to a museum in Japan, leaving Buzz, the gang, and even Andy behind.
While Woody is contemplating his own choices, for Buzz reality bites again. Having come to terms with being a toy and definitely NOT a space ranger, the rows and rows of brand new Buzz Lightyears in Al’s Toy Barn – complete with fancy utility belts – have other ideas. Toy Story 2 goes on to play with the conceit of Utility-Belt Buzz swapping in for the real Buzz for a large portion of the rescue mission, the joke being that none of the other toys notices. When the real Buzz eventually uncovers the imposter by removing Utility Belt Buzz’s helmet and watching him ‘gasp for air,’ we realise just how far our Buzz Lightyear has come.
Buzz has become such an integral part of the gang at this point, that now it’s time for him to give the pep talk. Woody is all ready to get packed off to Japan and permanently join his Roundup gang, persuaded by Jessie and Stinky Pete that it’s his only chance to be “adored by children for generations.” Just when all hope seems lost, it’s Buzz that reminds Woody what his motivation has always been – to be there for Andy. Echoing the first movie, Buzz gets Woody to look under his foot. When he sees Andy’s name there, it’s just a matter of time before he follows his best pal back home.
Toy Story 4 producer Mark Nielson agrees this is an iconic moment in their friendship: “When Woody’s… deciding that he’s maybe going to step away from Andy and all that he’s loved and known, and Buzz coming there and reminding him who of he is and reminding him of the value of him loving a child and being loved by Andy. That was a significant [moment] for the two of them.”
Indeed, it takes both Woody and Buzz to beat the odds and pull off a grand finale ‘Woody’s Roundup’ would be proud of – rescuing Jessie from a life behind glass and recruiting her to their own gang.
We Belong Together
Flash forward 11 years to Toy Story 3, and Buzz and Woody are still going strong. Despite the toys that have gone missing-in-action over the years, an 18-year-old Andy still kept his favourites, and Woody has managed to cling on to his role as sheriff of the room. However, despite valuing his relationship with his fellow toys, it soon becomes clear that Woody still places Andy above everything else. He’s prepared to go off to college with his ‘kid,’ even if it means leaving his friends behind.
When the rest of Andy’s toys think they’re being thrown away and Buzz makes the executive decision that they should be donated to the – seemingly utopian – Sunnyside Daycare, Woody sees this as a betrayal. Not only of Andy, but also of his own authority. When Woody tries to talk the gang into leaving Sunnyside to go back to Andy, who actually meant to put them in the attic, he’s met with resistance. The only ally he thinks he can count on is Buzz, but even he won’t follow him now. After all this time, their core values remain: Woody is fiercely loyal to Andy above anything, and Buzz is looking out for “what’s best for everyone.” (The fact that Sunnyside essentially becomes a prison and Woody is right all along is beside the point).
I like the moment in Toy Story 3 where Woody is leaving Sunnyside and refuses to shake Buzz’s hand. It’s the opposite of a friendship moment, but I think it helped their relationship even more when he came back again.” – Mooselion
Whilst Woody is unwittingly scouting out the gang’s next owner, Bonnie, Buzz undergoes an ordeal of his own. After getting switched to demo mode by evil strawberry-scented bear Lotso and his cronies, Woody returns to help switch him back to his old self, but it doesn’t quite go to plan. For a significant portion of Toy Story 3, Buzz is stuck in Spanish mode, eliciting some of the biggest laughs of the movie. Between the giggles, Spanish Buzz’s sense of abandonment makes his romantic feelings for Jessie clear –she is his señorita, whom he plans to whisk off her feet. Suddenly we can picture a situation where Buzz can exist outside of Woody’s shadow, perhaps sowing some seeds for Toy Story 4.
Which brings us to one of the most poignant moments in the entire Toy Story series. Andy’s toys, whom we’ve come to know and love over 15 years, face the burning flames of the trash incinerator. Even the series’ villains have never faced such a bleak ending, so the idea that our heroes could be destroyed in such a horrific way is genuinely traumatising. But what’s even more tear-inducing is their reaction to their impending doom. Recognising that there’s no escaping from this one, the gang clings to each other, and when Buzz reaches out his hand to Woody and he takes it, nothing else matters apart from being together. Josh Cooley agrees: “[In Toy Story 3], the grabbing hands in the furnace. That’s powerful.”
Just when you think your emotions can’t handle any more (we are eternally grateful, aliens), Toy Story 3 hits you with that final sucker-punch, and one of the biggest moments in Buzz and Woody’s relationship. Woody has the opportunity to go to college with Andy and leave the other toys together in Bonnie’s safe hands, but at the last minute, he actively chooses to stay with them. For the first time, Woody values his friendship with Buzz and the gang over his allegiance to his beloved owner, and accepts that it’s time to move on. When Andy looks back at his toys, all together again, and chokes up? We feel that.
To Infinity and Beyond
WARNING: THIS SECTION CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR ‘TOY STORY 4’
When the news broke that Toy Story 4 was on the way, the question on many fans’ lips was: “Where do we go from here?” The third movie gave a seemingly satisfying ending to the (then) trilogy. Under the new ownership of the adorable Bonnie, Buzz, Woody, and the gang seem set for at least another few years. Woody and Buzz’s relationship is stronger than it’s ever been, with Jonas Rivera pointing out that “in this film, they’ve got this professional shorthand where they can almost communicate without speaking.” But in the world of Toy Story, nothing stays the same for long.
Set soon after being donated to Bonnie, Woody is struggling to adjust to his life, post-Andy. Low on the list of Bonnie’s favourite toys, and gathering dust bunnies in the closet, he plays along but he’s lost his purpose. So, in true cowboy style, he goes out to find a new one. When he helps Bonnie create Forky, her new favourite toy, he’s taking a noble path on some level. Toy Story 4 director Josh Cooley sees this moment as a marker of progression for Woody: “When Buzz came into the room he was jealous and wanted to push him out of the window but with Forky, he’s evolved enough that he cares about this character because he knows what it means for Bonnie.”
Woody tells the others that “Forky is the most important toy to Bonnie right now.” So when the spork does a runner, he puts it on himself to find and return him to his rightful owner. This desperation to serve his self-appointed purpose alone ultimately drives him away, physically and emotionally, from the other toys – including Buzz.
In lieu of Buzz, Woody reunites with his first love – the now solo adventurer, Bo Peep. In contrast to Buzz’s unquestioning loyalty, Bo isn’t afraid to call Woody out on his motivations and insecurities, namely his insistence on “clinging on” to one kid. She opens Woody’s eyes to the possibility of living a happy life, independent of an owner – a concept entirely alien to him until this point. The groundwork for Bo’s impression on Woody is laid in a flashback at the beginning of the movie – when Andy is still a child, his sister gives Bo away. As she’s about to be driven to a new owner, Woody nearly goes with her, a surprising moment which highlights just how important she is to him, perhaps even more so than Buzz. It’s only when Woody hears Andy calling for him that he can’t go through with it. But guess what? Andy ain’t here anymore.
When Buzz eventually catches up with Woody, we start to see how much their priorities have drifted apart. Woody is still hell-bent on getting Forky back to Bonnie in one piece, but after a particularly grizzly rescue attempt that leaves the toys in tatters, Buzz and Bo agree that it’s time to give up for the good of the group. Woody’s personal crisis comes to a head when he admits that saving Forky is “all I have left to do.” While Bo finally loses her patience with Woody, leaving him to his own devices, he and Buzz have the opportunity to regroup. However, despite Buzz trying to get Woody to come “home” with him, Woody chooses instead to complete his mission alone, leaving them more separated than ever.
Open your eyes Woody, there’s plenty of kids out there. It can’t be just about the one you’re still clinging to.” – Bo Peep
It’s no accident that Woody and Buzz spend a large portion of Toy Story 4 apart. Whilst Buzz’s place is still firmly with Bonnie’s toys, Woody is lost and in dire need of a new lease of life. So, when Bo returns for Woody and their rescue mission is complete, our sheriff has a big decision to make. Does he stick with Buzz and return to Bonnie, to pass more dutiful but unsatisfying years for the sake of one kid, or does he join Bo, the love of his life, and open himself up to scary new adventures?
In a pivotal moment for his character, he chooses the latter, and Woody and Buzz part ways after two decades of companionship. The most heartwarming part of their final exchange is Buzz’s quiet, respectful acceptance. He fully understands Woody’s decision and probably predicted it all along. As they embrace for possibly the final time, it’s the end of an era. Will they see each other again? We hope so.
Toy Story 4 producer Jonas Rivera somewhat soothes our worries in that regard: “It’s one of those things in life when you have really great friends … you move, or you have different jobs and things change but you still hold onto those friends. Those friends are still important to you … I think that’s how Buzz and Woody are.”
Director Josh Cooley agrees, calling Buzz and Woody’s relationship a “lifetime friendship.” Whether we get a Toy Story 5 or not, it’s been a hell of a ride for the cowboy and the space ranger, and we can be certain that their friendship — of course — goes to infinity and beyond.