Back in 1995, Pixar was a little-known computer animation company with nearly nonexistent track record in the movie industry.
Founded by Alvy Ray Smith, Edwin Catmull, and Steve Jobs, it was at this time that Pixar (in co-production with Disney) was due to release their debut feature-length movie: Toy Story.
That animated story would grip children and adults for decades afterwards, all built on a single but most compelling premise: What if toys came to life when we weren’t looking?
The concept has long been the subject of debate amongst children, who—ever since the invention of the first toy—have always wondered if their toys could come to life. Pixar showed us what that truly meant.
The Toy Story franchise is one of the most critically acclaimed film series ever made. All four films have commercially and critically redefined what success means for animated movies, with Toy Story 3 becoming the first animated film to gross $1 billion at the box office.
Not to mention that the Toy Story films helped a whole generation grow up without losing the fun and innocence of childhood. Much of that can be attributed to the amazing characters throughout the series.
Here are our picks for the best Toy Story characters of all time and how they played such an integral role in the franchise.
10. Duke Caboom
Given a voice by the universally adored Keanu Reeves, Duke Caboom appeared in Toy Story 4 and nearly stole the show. He’s a toy that performs stunts on his motorcycle—a clear parody of Evel Knievel.
His faux confidence, which is all an act for the broken personality beneath, is a joy to behold along with his admission that he believes he let down his former owner, Rejean. However, he recovers to help Woody and Bo in their rescue of Forky.
Pairing Caboom with Reeves’ voice gave the character an instant likability and made him a great new addition to the Toy Story world.
9. Stinky Pete
He may have been the villain of the second installment of the franchise, but Stinky Pete was right about a lot of things.
Stinky Pete tells Woody of what will happen when Andy grows up, and the life that awaits afterwards. He almost convinces Woody to leave Andy and move to a toy museum in Japan with him, Bullseye, and Jessie—but Woody’s love for Andy proves too strong in the end.
Voiced by Kelsey Grammar, Stinky Pete was compelling. He wasn’t a bad toy deep down; he’d simply been discarded too many times.
Hamm is the best piggy bank any child could ask for. He’s a sharp toy who loves scathing comments and playing games with Mr. Potato Head. He has appeared in every Toy Story movie and is core to the main gang.
Often characterized by Andy as “Evil Dr. Pork Chop,” Hamm is one of Andy’s favorite toys to play with. And the opening of Toy Story 3 sees him go up against Woody and Buzz hilariously.
7. Mr. Potato Head
“Toss him overboard!”
Mr. Potato Head yells this at the toys as they throw Woody off the moving truck at the climax of the first movie. He’s quick to make judgment on the actions of other toys—who, weirdly, seem to listen to him.
But, on the good side, Potato Head is loyal and will do his best to protect the group from harm when needed. Just look at his angry eyes! Potato Head is brilliantly funny, and when he’s paired with Mrs. Potato Head, they form a comedic duo that’s essential to the franchise.
Nobody hates Rex, the Tyrannosaurus toy that’s nervous the entire time and panics at the first sight of danger. He’s the antithesis of the T-Rex from Jurassic Park—he isn’t scary or vicious, but caring and soft.
He also has many special moments, such as when the other toys use his head as a ramming device to open a vent.
Or when he “defeats” Zurg in the elevator fight by turning and running away, knocking Zurg down the elevator shaft with his tail (making him happy to beat the character he struggled against in Buzz’s video game).
Jessie is the female counterpart to Woody. She starred in Woody’s Roundup alongside the titular character, and despite a difficult first encounter with Woody, she becomes one of Woody’s best friends (and later on, Buzz’s romantic interest).
Her song “When She Loved Me” is one of the Toy Story franchise’s most devastating moments, as she tells Woody the tale of her former owner Emily and how she eventually discarded her.
The mystery surrounding Jessie—one that many fans have speculated upon—is that Emily could be Andy’s mother, with Jessie ending up as one of her son’s favorite toys. Which would be incredible if true.
Andy, the owner of Woody and the entire toy gang, is the bedrock of the Toy Story franchise.
Andy is why Woody and Buzz fight as hard as they do for the other toys: he loves them and they love him back. Even when Andy grows up and stops playing with his toys, he wants to keep them in the attic—except for Woody, who he wants to take to college.
The ending of Toy Story 3 is a heartbreaking reminder of the pains of growing up. After Andy passes his toys on to Bonnie, Bonnie reaches for Woody—and Andy recoils, not ready to give up his best friend so easily. However, knowing he can’t split Woody from the gang, he does.
3. Bo Peep
Bo was a supporting character in the first two Toy Story movies and didn’t even appear in the third. However, her role in the fourth film made everybody fall back in love with Bo Peep.
She has always been Woody’s love interest—so when Woody finds her again at a carnival and sees her living the life of a lost toy, they reconnect and fall back in love.
In Toy Story 4, she becomes a renegade with no owner and no need for one, who helps Woody and Buzz get back to Bonnie but declines to go with them. If that isn’t a strong character, I don’t know what is.
2. Buzz Lightyear
“To infinity and beyond!”
Buzz Lightyear is the coolest toy ever made: a spaceman, an adventurer, and (at first) a deluded lunatic who believes he can really fly.
Woody and Buzz’s relationship defines the Toy Story saga. Initially, they get off to a bad start when Woody tries to throw Buzz out of a window, successfully ridding himself of Buzz out of jealousy.
However, after they survive Sid’s rocket and fly down to Andy’s moving car together, they become friends. It’s a friendship that lasts until the end of the fourth movie, when they part ways as best friends, knowing they might never see one another again.
1 . Woody
There’s no substitute for Woody. He’s the best toy a person could ever want: loyal, brave, and determined. Though he has his flaws—jealousy being one of them—Woody always makes the right decision in the end.
Voiced by Tom Hanks, who imbues Woody with a charm that few other animated characters have ever had, Woody is the toy we all wanted as children. As Andy says during the climax of the third movie, “He’ll never give up on you.” That sums Woody up perfectly.
When his time comes to move on and allow Bonnie to move forward without him—stuck between choosing Bonnie or his love for Bo Peep—Buzz helps him make his decision by telling him to stay with Bo.
That moment when he says goodbye to the gang is utterly devastating, but the audience knows that Woody had finally found what he wanted, and nobody could blame him for that.