The world of Toy Story was built on pop culture of the past. The decades-old Pixar franchise—which will launch a new chapter with Toy Story 4 this Friday—is full of subtle (and not-so-subtle) references to old films and TV shows, a tradition that began with the first film (released in 1995), and has carried on through the rest of the franchise. As Toy Story 4 approaches, extending the seriess cinematic universe and deepening its own pool of references, its time to look back at the sly homages viewers might have missed over the years—which you can learn even more about in the video above.
Lets start with Woody, the adventurous cowboy voiced by Tom Hanks. The character was named after Woody Strode, the legendary Spartacus actor who starred in numerous Westerns throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Strode was a prolific performer, starring in his first film in 1941, and working steadily until his death in 1994. His final film was, fittingly, a Western: Sam Raimis The Quick and the Dead, co-starring Sharon Stone, Russell Crowe, and Leonardo DiCaprio, and released in 1995.
Buzz Lightyear, the adventurous astronaut toy voiced by Tim Allen, was also (perhaps, more obviously) likely named after a well-known public figure: astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk the moon. Aldrin himself liked the homage, attending film premieres for all three Toy Story films released so far, and posing alongside Buzz Lightyear toys. But back in 2009, he revealed that he was originally “exasperated” by Disneys decision to honor him in that way. “You dont want to tangle with Disney, the friend of children,” he said, noting that it would have been fruitless to attempt legal action against the studio. “You dont want to challenge their lawyers—for sure, youre going to lose.” Good thing he had a change of heart.
Speaking of Buzz: his space-centric story line in the first Toy Story has given the films endless opportunities to drop numerous sci-fi references, from Star Trek to Star Wars. Buzzs archnemesis, for example, is Emperor Zurg, a villainous toy who first appears in Toy Story 2 and is clearly inspired by Star Wars Darth Vader. Theres also a scene in the first Toy Story in which Buzz travels to Pizza Planet, a Chuck E. Cheese–style play place and restaurant that has Battlestar Galactica–esque décor at the entrance and an Alien-inspired game inside. At one point Buzz gets trapped in a claw machine with a bunch of alien toys, who behave similarly to the extraterrestrials in Steven Spielbergs Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The film is full of these kinds of nods, including Buzz throwing a Vulcan salute at Woody—one of many, many quick hat tips over the years.
More Great Stories from Vanity Fair
— We used to be friends: the ultimate oral history of Veronica Mars — Ellen Pompeo on the “toxic” conditions on the set of Greys Anatomy — Why Chernobyls unique form of dread was so addicting — The Emmys portfolio: Sophie Turner, Bill Hader, and more of TVs biggest stars go poolside with V.F.
Looking for more? Sign up for our daily Hollywood newsletter and never miss a story.
Get Vanity Fairs HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Full ScreenPhotos:Summer Thrillers: The Most Cerebral and Compulsively Readable Books of the Season
The Need, Helen Phillips (Simon & Schuster)
Helen Phillips is best known for her delirious and philosophical short stories, and in her second novel, she combines her impeccable brevity with plot that unfolds like a paper snowflake. It begins when Molly, a paleobotanist and mother of two, is home alone with her children and hears an intruder. At first she suspects that shes being deceived by her scattered mind, but when she comes face-to-face with a man in a deer mask holding a menacing list of demands, its the beginning of a multi-day trip through the looking glass. (Out July 9, Amazon.com)Photo: From Simon & Schuster.
Human Matter, Rodrigo Rey Rosa (University of Texas)
In the first English translation of a book that took Latin America by storm a decade ago, Rey Rosa uses the materials he gathered in a real trip to the Guatemalan National Police Archives as a jumping-off point to tell a story about an academic who sets out to unravel the mysteries of activists and civilians who fell victim to state-sponsored terrorism during the countrys civil wars in the 1980s and 1990s. Its exploration of the history of violence and secrecy in Central America has obvious relevance to todays politics, but the tale of a writer trying to understand the truth behind the things hes seeing gives the novel a resounding, universal echo. (Out June 18, Amazon.com)Photo: From University of Texas.
The Ditch, Herman Koch (Hogarth)
Koch, a Dutch writer, is known for his psychological novels that slowly raise the temperature on a set of middle-class, educated urbanites until their behavior becomes ghastly. His fourth book is told in the voice of Robert Walter, the popular yet secretly miserable mayor of Amsterdam. He is sure his wife is having an affair with a city alderman, so he takes desperate and paranoid measures to surveil her and solve the problem. In a manner befitting a politician, Robert assures the reader that what hes saying is true, right before he doubles back to admit when he was less than honest, making Kochs clever, rollicking, and intense novel an unreliable tale for the ages. (Out June 11, Amazon.com)Photo: From Hogarth.
Bunny, Mona Awad, (Viking)
Though not everyone is familiar with the cutthroat environment of a selective MFA program, this compelling novel about a mysterious grad school clique draws a bit of inspiration from Mean Girls or Heathers. When scholarship student Samantha is asked to join the coy and haughty group of Bunnies who attend class with her, things start to go wrong almost immediately, and before long, the novel takes a turn into the surreal, applying the logic of a horror movie to its incisive exploration of cruelty between young women. (Out June 11, Amazon.com)
Lady in the Lake, Laura Lippman (William Morrow)
Its 1966, and housewife Madeleine Schwartz decides shes unhappy with her life, gets her own apartment, finds a boyfriend—and discovers a body in the woods. Lippmans follow-up to her much-loved 2017 novel Sunburn tells a classic mystery through the prism of many characters, all feeling the reverberations of dawning feminism and racial tension in civil-rights-era Baltimore. With a crime writers sense of tight plotting, and a weighty sense of the power relationships between its characters, Lady in the Lake is aching, thoughtful, and compulsively readable. (Out July 23, Amazon.com)PreviousNext