Movies Reviews

Toy Story: How Woody Almost Became a Villain, Explained

By now, everybody is well aware of the influence that Toy Story has had on the history of world cinema. Its premiere in 1995 not only managed to solidify computer-animated cinema as never before, but also laid the foundations for Pixar, one of cinema’s biggest powerhouses that is still excelling to this day. This production, which marked John Lasseter’s directorial debut, is the first fully computer-animated film, set in a world where toys come to life when humans are not watching. Toy Story follows cowboy Woody and all the other toys of a boy named Andy as they deal with the sudden arrival of Buzz Lightyear, a brand new toy that threatens to become his owner’s new favorite.

The overwhelming popularity of this film kicked off a franchise comprising three sequels, released in 1999, 2010, and 2019 respectively, and a spin-off entitled Lightyear that expands on the life of the man who inspired the space toy’s creation. Even as years have gone by, the franchise is still highly active, and recently announced that a fourth sequel to the film is in production, although this has not been well-received by fans.

Of the many characters featured in the Toy Story films, Woody is unquestionably the most important one and a fan favorite. The main character of the story holds a key role in his owner Andy’s life, and he is one of the characters with the greatest evolution throughout the films. However, this character’s backstory could have been quite different, as Pixar’s original idea was for the cowboy to be a villain rather than a hero.

Woody: A Fearsome Leader

Walt Disney Pictures

From the very beginning of Toy Story, it is clear what role Woody plays in Andy’s life and in the lives of all the other toys. This pull-string cowboy doll, who has been his owner’s favorite for years, is presented to the audience as the obvious protagonist of the movie, and the group’s leader. Woody fulfills his role with great responsibility and commitment, looking out for the well-being of each of the toys, and being very loyal to his owner. Like all the characters in this production, this hero is also flawed, and exhibits many questionable behaviors throughout the film, but he has a big heart, and he constantly tries to make amends for his mistakes.

However, in Toy Story‘s first draft, Woody’s personality was quite different: he was to be the villain of the story. While he was intended as the leader of Andy’s toys, he did not serve as an empathetic and compassionate leader, but rather as a tyrant and misuser of power. Furthermore, he was a bully who frequently insulted the rest of the toys, which ultimately resulted in them rising up in rebellion against Woody in order to dethrone him. Woody’s appearance also changed quite a bit from the first sketches to the final version: he was supposed to be a dummy ventriloquist with a very hostile look.

Related: Toy Story 5: What We Want to See in the New Movie

Why Did They Scrap the Idea?

Walt Disney Pictures

The concept behind Woody’s original design had to do exclusively with Disney Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg’s need for Toy Story to be a film with bold, adult overtones. However, when Lasseter introduced the first scene of the film to Roy Disney and a few company heads, they were all highly disappointed and decided to cancel the project for good. Lasseter, who had blind faith in this production, begged for two more weeks in order to tweak the project and present it again with some changes, among them, a new take on Woody’s character to fit in with the comments he had been given. After the deadline expired, he met again with the authorities to pitch a second version, got their approval to continue with the film, and the rest is history.

Related: Toy Story: 6 Actors Almost Cast as Woody and Buzz Lightyear

Additional Ideas Discarded Along the Way

Woody and Buzz Lightyear
Walt Disney Pictures

Undoubtedly, the most significant changes made during the development of Toy Story were related to Woody’s personality and role, moving him from antagonist to protagonist between versions. However, as with the vast majority of productions, its filmmakers came up with many ideas that, ultimately, did not make it into the film. Among the most noteworthy are those related to Buzz Lightyear. This toy, well-known for his iconic white astronaut suit featuring green and purple details, was close to being quite different: in the initial drafts of the film, his suit was red and, later on, blue. In addition, he was initially named Lunar Larry, although they later changed the name as they felt it did not reflect the character’s personality. The film’s title was also brainstormed: some of the suggested titles were Hand-Me-Down Hero, The Cowboy & the Spaceman and Toys in the Hood.

One other idea discarded along the way that would have greatly modified the story had to do with Jessie, a character introduced in Toy Story 2. Originally, Jessie was not meant to be a cowgirl rag doll, but rather a cactus-shaped doll named Señorita Cactus, who would serve as the film’s antagonist. Ultimately, Lasseter discarded this idea, influenced by his wife, who suggested adding a strong female character who could have a positive influence on the story.

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