Warning: Mild spoilers ahead for Toy Story 4
How does the Toy Story timeline work? Toy Story was first released in 1996, and for 23 years, the characters of Buzz, Woody, Mr. Potato Head, Rex, and their friends have been a mainstay of popular culture. The toys belonged to Andy, a small child in the first and second Toy Story movies.
But as time moved on, and the gap between sequels grew longer (10 years between Toy Story 2 and 3), which means Andy aged and grew out of his toys. Who can forget the bittersweet moment in Toy Story 3 when Andy handed his toys over to young Bonnie before he headed off to college?
In Toy Story 4, the toys are still with Bonnie, but she doesn't seem to have aged all that much, considering the 9-year gap between sequels. The ages of both Bonnie and Andy are confusing, and make pinpointing a timeline for Toy Story quite tricky, but here's how it all fits in:
- 1995: Toy Story
- 1997: Toy Story 2
- 2007: Toy Story 3
- 2007: Toy Story 4
Before Toy Story
Toy Story was Pixar's first feature-length release, in November 1995, introducing audiences to Woody, Buzz, and friends. Their owner, Andy, is a young boy, while his sister Molly is a baby. Not a lot is mentioned of their life before we meet them in Toy Story, but there are a few points worth noting. First of all, in Toy Story, when Molly and Andy are in the car, "Hakuna Matata" is playing. That means The Lion King had already been released in Andy's world, as it had in the real world, so Toy Story must take place after June 1994.
Another point worth noting of the toys life before Toy Story is that they have all (apart from Buzz) been together for some time. In particular, Woody has been by Andy's side for many years. Not only are we shown this in a montage, but Mr. Potato Head also makes a point of saying that Woody has been Andy's favorite toy "since Kindergarten."
The Andy Years (Toy Story 1-3)
There's a lot of differing opinions over how old Andy is in each of the Toy Story installments, but it's confirmed that he turns six years old at the start of Toy Story. The movie opens with his birthday party, which is when he receives Buzz Lightyear, and the Toy Story script clearly states he is six. While some fans would argue that he seems older, given the way he talks and acts, it's difficult to dispute what's written in the script. Toy Story 2 released 4 years after the original, in 1999.
If the movies had followed the same time frame, that would make Andy 10 years old. However, it's apparent that Toy Story does not follow our timeline, since that would also make Andy 21 years old in Toy Story 3, but he has to be 17 or 18, since it's the summer before he goes to college (his birthday takes place over summer). Therefore, in order to work out Andy's age correctly, it's necessary to figure out when each movie is set.
As previously stated, Toy Story takes place after 1994. Tour Guide Barbie actually gives a good way to pinpoint it in Toy Story 2. When showing Mr. Potato Head, Hamm, and Slinky around Al's Toy Barn, she comes to an aisle full of Buzz Lightyears. She cheerfully explains that "back 1995, shortsighted retailers did not order enough dolls to meet demand." In Toy Story, recall that Andy and his friends are astounded that his mom managed to get him a Buzz. Therefore, Toy Story taking place in 1995 seems accurate. That would also mean Andy was born in 1989.
With that in mind, it seems reasonable to assume that Toy Story 2 takes place 2 years later, when Andy is turning 8, since he's still a small kid and still into playing with toys. His sister, Molly, is walking but not able to talk properly, which would also be correct given that she's 1 in Toy Story, and acts like a kid of about 3 in Toy Story 2. In 1995, Andy was turning 6. If Toy Story 2 takes place in 1997, Andy is about to turn 8. That would, therefore, mean that Toy Story 3 takes place in 2007, when Andy is about to turn 18, even though the movie itself didn't release until 2010.
The Toy Story Shorts
There are several Toy Story shorts which also need to fit into the timeline. However, while we can get quite specific about when the Toy Story movies are set, it's harder to pinpoint a timeline for many of the shorts. Toy Story Treats were shorts that aired on ABC around the time of Toy Story's release on VHS. They mostly focused on Woody, Buzz, Rex, Hamm, and the Aliens, though Tom Hanks and Tim Allen didn't voice their characters.
Other regular Toy Story characters, such as Slinky and Mr. Potato Head, also didn't appear. These shorts have no significant time frame, though the toys are in Andy's room. More Toy Story shorts, known as Toy Story Toons, were released to play in front of other Disney theatrical releases, from 2011. These follow on from Toy Story 3 very nicely, with the toys adjusting to life with Bonnie and her toys.
Toy Story of Terror aired on ABC in 2013. A 20-minute special, it featured Buzz, Woody, Jessie, Mr Potato Head, and Rex, but it also featured Mr Pricklepants and Trixie as well. Therefore, while an exact year can't be pinpointed, the toys now belong to Bonnie (since Mr. Pricklepants and Trixie were already hers), so Toy Story of Terror must take place after 2007. The same goes for Toy Story That Time Forgot, which was released in 2014, and featured the same characters.
When Toy Story 4 Takes Place
With the Toy Story timeline now set, the question arises of when Toy Story 4 takes place. Again, if we followed our timeline, then Toy Story 4 would take place 9 years after Toy Story 3, around 2016. However, it's easy to see this is not the case, because of Bonnie. In Toy Story 3, she is not yet in kindergarten. Toy Story 4 picks up more or less straight after Toy Story 3, and at that stage, she is about to start kindergarten. Kids usually start age 5, so we can assume she is 4 or 5 in Toy Story 3, and 5 for Toy Story 4. That also means that both Toy Story 3 and Toy Story 4 take place in 2007. Another point worth noting is that Toy Story 4 references an incident that takes place 9 years prior, after the events of Toy Story 2, making our timeline accurate.
- Toy Story 4 (2019) release date: Jun 21, 2019