Beloved characters Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), and friends are coming back to screens for new adventures. Disney CEO Bob Iger recently announced that a fifth installment of the incredibly successful Toy Story franchise is in the works at the company. While plot details are still a mystery, this new installment will surely bring a fun new story in plastic for the whole family in the same level of quality animation that Pixar has always delivered.
With 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.
‘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 and have to grapple with what it means to be a toy. As they go with her on a road trip, newly introduced Forky, 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 installment 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 Tony 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. Although it wasn’t received with the same unanimous acclaim as its predecessors, it is still considered a worthy entrance to the franchise, continuing its uninterrupted streak of Certified Fresh ratings.
‘Toy Story 3’ (2010)
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Toy Story 3surprised 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 kid, learning about letting go and facing fluffy and sinister Lotso 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. 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. With 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, and although it didn’t reach the same rating as the previous entries by two points, it is still regarded as one of the best-animated movies of the 2010s.
‘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.
This sequel 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, receiving the same perfect score in the Tomatometer. 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 hype of its predecessor and bring back the same magic that made the first one a classic for all ages.
‘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. It was 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 made history by being the first 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. Toy Story opened the doors, showing off the 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.