At this point in time, the Toy Story movies have become so entrenched in pop culture and audiences’ collective memories that they can be considered to be nostalgic properties. The series’ epilogue Toy Story 4 knows this very well, and uses a good amount of its running time to homage and pay tribute to the legacy of its beloved predecessors.
Eagle-eyed fans and Pixar completionists will be able to spot familiar names and faces over the course of the movie, and more will surely come out of hiding when the movie hits video and streaming services later this year. But in the meantime, here are 10 nostalgia-inducing callbacks to the previous Toy Story movies that can be found in Toy Story 4.
Toy Story 4 begins where its immediate predecessor ended: Andy giving his toys to Bonnie. Given that Bonnie attends her kindergarten orientation in the movie’s opening, it’s safe to say that Toy Story 4 occurs a few months after the events of the third entry.
The passage of time also shows that things have significantly changed for Woody, since he’s no longer his new kid’s favorite toy. This change is what convinces Woody to embark on a new path in life by the end of the movie.
9 Combat Carl
Combat Carl, Pixar’s answer to G.I. Joe, first appeared in the Toy Story TV specials and he finally makes his cinematic debut in Toy Story 4. However, he’s not alone as the classic Combat Carl shows up with a pair of Carls who don their own specialized combat uniforms.
In a way, the Combat Carls are the fourth movie’s version of the green Army Men who were reduced to three pieces in Toy Story 3. They don’t do much outside of give and deny high-fives, but their presence is a nice shout-out to the televised Toy Story material.
Pixar is known for connecting its movies to one another with the use of tiny details such as faux product placement, and a familiar brand name shows up in Toy Story 4. The brand in question is Dinoco, the Pixar universe’s most recognized gas station.
Dinoco actually plays an important part in the original Toy Story, since it’s the gas station where Woody and Buzz Lightyear are stranded in. The gas label also appears prominently in the Cars series, where its logo can be spotted on the hoods of certain racers and the racing track’s billboards.
7 You’ve Got A Friend In Me
The theme song of the Toy Story movies is heard once again in the opening credits of the fourth movie. Sung by Randy Newman and released in 1996, the song has become a staple of the franchise and is bound to make older fans tear up every time they hear it.
Just like in Toy Story, the song is played while Andy is shown playing with beloved toys before eventually passing them on to Bonnie by the tune’s end. Its opening notes even play against a familiar backdrop, specifically a blue sky with a bunch of clouds.
6 The Original Toys
Some of the original toys from the previous movies make a quick return in Toy Story 4, and they play important roles in this sequel’s prologue. Nine years before the events of the fourth movie, Woody and the gang rescue RC from a flood. Helping Woody are the red monkeys from the classic Barrel of Monkeys and Barbie from Toy Story 3.
The most important comeback is, of course, Bo Peep, and it’s finally revealed why she was missing in Toy Story 3 and what she’s been up to in the years since.
5 Andy’s Playtime
Toy Story wouldn’t be complete without the kid who started it all: Andy. Now that he’s all grown-up and studying in college, it would only make sense for the franchise to focus on the new kid, Bonnie, who inherited Andy’s toys.
Toy Story 4 opens with a montage of a young Andy playing with his beloved toys, which fittingly ends with him giving them to Bonnie – whose name now appears at the bottom of the toys’ feet. This sequence serves as a quick flashback for newcomers and a nice tribute to the series’ past for older fans.
4 Woody and Andy
Woody, Andy’s favorite childhood toy, remains loyal to his kid and is still struggling with the fact that Andy grew up. To help himself get over this and to bring Forky up to speed, Woody enthusiastically tells the “toy” made from trash about the adventures he had in the previous movies.
The story itself is only heard in pieces, but older viewers will remember specific events such as Buzz mistaking Andy’s bedroom for an alien planet. He may not be in Toy Story 4 for very long, but Andy’s presence is felt throughout the entire movie.
3 Toys From The 50s
Woody is a remnant of the past not only because he’s a cowboy but because he was made in the 50s. In Toy Story 4, the sheriff shares his backstory to another toy from the same decade: Gabby Gabby, a talking doll meant for kids’ tea parties.
For most of the series, Woody had to accept that he’s basically an antique who was luckily owned by a loving kid. Gabby Gabby – and possibly her dummies – is the first major toy since Woody’s Roundup gang to be from his time period who also fears an inevitable obsolesce.
2 Break-In/Rescue Mission
At their core, all of the Toy Story movies center around a break-in or rescue mission to save other toys from an unsavory location. Toy Story 4 continues this tradition, this time having Woody and friends get Forky out of an antique store.
Like the previous installments – especially Toy Story 3 – the fourth movie features comically intricate and daring rescue plans being carried out by a bunch of children’s toys. Their latest operation may be the most action-packed to date, since it involves many moving parts and groups of toys with specific objectives.
As emotional as it may be, the saddest moments in Toy Story 4 are the dedications to Don Rickles and Adam Burke. Rickles, who passed in 2017, is the voice of Mr. Potato Head. Pixar used archived clips, outtakes, and anything with Rickles’ voice to bring Mr. Potato Head back in Toy Story 4. Burke, who passed in 2018, was a long-time Pixar animator who worked on Cars, The Incredibles, Wall-E and most notably, the Toy Story sequels. They played important roles in the creation of Toy Story, and their contributions will never be forgotten.