5 Ways the Toy Story Movies Proved They Weren’t Just for Kids

Drew Dietsch
Movies Disney
Movies Disney
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The Toy Story franchise has been captivating audiences of all ages for nearly three decades. The adventures of Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and their many playtime compatriots continue to spark imagination and tap into the most emotional elements of ourselves. However, some might think that this series is only intended for younger viewers. While Disney and Pixar always ensure these movies can be watched by anyone, that doesn’t mean the films haven’t explored some deeper and difficult ideas.

Let’s take a look at some of the more intense and insightful moments throughout the Toy Story franchise.

Toybox Terrors

Sid from Toy Story

In the original Toy Story, next door neighbor Sid Phillips is portrayed as a sadistic torturer of toys. When Woody and Buzz end up trapped in Sid’s house, they discover that Sid hasn’t just spent his twisted childhood destroying toys. He’s also been maniacally disassembling dolls and stitching them together with disparate parts from other playthings. When Woody and Buzz first discover these misshapen monstrosities, Toy Story plays the moment for genuine terror.

But, what makes this plot point transcend simple scares (admittedly effective ones) is that Woody and Buzz soon realize that these malformed toys aren’t nearly as frightening as they seem. In fact, they want nothing more than to help Woody and Buzz escape. In return, Woody and Buzz enact some psychological revenge on Sid for all his years of maliciousness. It’s a fantastic turn that demonstrates a smart sense of storytelling. It also reinforces a valuable lesson that many adults still need to be reminded about: don’t judge others by their appearance and be kind to those that are weaker than you. Or, as Woody puts it so perfectly, “Play nice.”

Abandonment Issues

Jessie from Toy Story

Most of the Toy Story movies deal very directly with feelings of abandonment since the plots always involve the toys getting lost and trying to find their way back to their owner. However, no other moment dealt with this theme like Toy Story 2. In the sequel, we meet the rambunctious Jessie, a high-energy cowgirl toy who reveals her past in one of the most heartbreaking scenes in Disney and Pixar history.

Jessie was once the beloved toy of a young girl, but as time went on, she was forgotten and eventually discarded. This back story is delivered via a devastating music video set to Sarah McLachlan’s melancholy song “When She Loved Me.” This simple sequence has brought legions of kids and adults to tears, and it continues to be a powerful understanding of the pain of loss. Thankfully, Jessie finds a new home and we’re reminded that there is always someone out there who loves you.


Incinerator Scene From Toy Story 3

Who would have thought that Toy Story 3 would tackle the most universal fear in human existence? In this entry, Andy’s toys have been donated to a daycare facility and they once again try to escape back to him. In the course of their journey, they end up at a landfill and find themselves stuck on a conveyor belt heading towards an incinerator. And at this moment, the movie lets things play out as if the toys are actually going to die.

It’s a harrowing scenario in which the toys each begin to realize their fate and slowly come to accept it. Holding hands and looking towards the fire with resigned determination, this is the kind of fearless storytelling that has kept the Toy Story films feeling so impactful. Yes, the toys do get saved, but the possibility of their demise is completely believable. It’s a bold choice that will have any viewer on the edge of their seat, regardless of their age. Anyone who watches this scene will certainly be heaving a big sigh of relief once it’s over!

Letting Go

Bonnie from Toy Story 3

Though the toys do get saved in Toy Story 3, there is yet another difficult and mature ending for audiences to grapple with: Andy’s decision to give his toys away to a young girl named Bonnie. Throughout the movie, Andy has been frantically searching for Woody in order to bring him along to college. All the other toys will be put in the attic for storage. But, by the end of the movie, Andy decides to give the toys to Bonnie.

Except, when he sees Woody in the box of toys, Andy initially hesitates to give him away. It’s an all-too-real feeling that every adult experiences: can I let go of something from my childhood that used to mean so much to me? Eventually, Andy does give Woody to Bonnie and it’s just as poignant for the audience as it is for him. Still, the movie ends on a happy note with Woody telling Andy, “You’ll be fine, partner.” He’s also saying that to us.

The Meaning of Life

“Why do we exist?” “Why was I born the way I am?” “What am I supposed to do with my life?” These kinds of enigmas make up the foundations of what it means to be. They are questions that we each have to find our own answers to, and some of them may be unanswerable. So, leave it to the people at Disney and Pixar to make that existential conundrum the focal point of Toy Story 4.

In the newest Toy Story installment, Bonnie creates a brand-new toy out of a spork. His name is Forky and he is shoved into the world with no warning and a palpable sense of dread and confusion. Forky keeps being told that he is a toy but he only understands how to function as a utensil. Talk about an inciting piece of commentary! Forky is a character that challenges concepts of societally imposed identity. With this kind of complexity and sympathetic origin, it’s likely that Forky will end up as one of the Toy Story franchise’s most endearing characters.

It’s pretty clear that the Toy Story movies have proven that they are able to please younger and older audiences alike. They are filled with a lot more nuance and maturity than their packaging might lead you to believe. And we’re sure the same will be true of Toy Story 4 when it opens in theaters on June 21.

Drew Dietsch
Drew Dietsch has been professionally writing about entertainment for over a decade. His bylines include FANDOM - where he was a founding contributor and Entertainment Editor - Bloody Disgusting, SYFY WIRE, and more. He created and hosts GenreVision, a weekly film discussion show at genrevision.com.