It’s been nine long years since the last of Sheriff Woody's adventures premiered, and it’s okay if you’ve forgotten about what happened in Toy Story 3 (or you simply chose not to rewatch the movie for fear of bawling your eyes out again). But, as Toy Story 4 hits theaters you’ve got to remember how the toys got to where they are right now, who is and isn’t still being played with, and why they’ve got a brand new adorable owner, or the first 20 minutes of the new movie might be a little confusing.
The first two Toy Story movies covered Andy’s time with Sheriff Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen). The first movie covered Buzz learning that he wasn’t a space ranger; the second movie focused on Woody choosing not to go off and become a collectible. By the time we make it to Toy Story 3, the toys have settled into a routine in Andy’s room but their kid (Toy Story-speak for owner) is growing up. The movie opens with 17-year-old Andy on the very of heading off to college and like most college-aged kids, he’s not going to bring his toys along to his dorm room.
Since Woody has always been Andy’s favorite toy, he decides to bring him with him and packs the other toys up to be stored away in the attic. This crew includes Buzz, Jessie (Joan Cusack), Bullseye, the Potato Heads (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris), Slinky (Blake Clark), Rex (Wallace Shawn), Hamm (John Ratzenberger), and three-eyed aliens; in passing it’s mentioned that Andy’s sister, Molly, no longer has her Bo Peep lamp housing Bo Peep (Annie Potts), Woody’s toy love. The toys are less than pleased to be thrown into a trash bag and believe that they’re actually being thrown out as trash. Though Woody tries to reassure them that they’re just going up to the attic, it’s no use. When Andy’s mom then mistakenly takes the trash bag as a bag of donations, complete panic sets in for the toys.
Thankfully, Andy’s mom is just bringing them to a nearby daycare, Sunnyside, which is a beacon of hope for the toys. They meet the overly friendly Lots-O'-Huggin' Bear (Ned Beatty) who show them around. That’s when Barbie (voice of Ariel in The Little Mermaid, Jodi Benson) meets her counterpart Ken (Michael Keaton), and well, the rest is history.
Woody’s distraught about being left behind (typical Woody) and is then accidentally taken home by one of the preschoolers there, Bonnie. Bonnie’s room is a new safe haven for Woody, as her toys explain that she loves playtime. While there, Woody also meets a clown named Chuckles (Pixar animation legend Bud Luckey) who explains that once upon a time, he was living with Lotso and Big Baby with a kid named Daisy. After the toys were accidentally lost on a trip, Daisy replaced Lotso. When Lotso finally made it home to Daisy he learned he had been replaced, telling Big Baby they had all been replaced.
Back at Sunnyside, the toys are slowly growing to hate their new home because the preschools are playing really rough with them. Buzz tries to get Lotso to move them to another room but Lotso resets the space ranger, returning him to his factory settings and wiping his memory. Trying to undo this, the rest of the toys accidentally reset Buzz to “Spanish mode.”
After Bonnie brings Woody back to Sunnyside, he tries to rally the rest of the toys and get them out of there. He learns that the only way out is through the trash, but Lotso foils this plan. Even though Big Baby intervenes and tries to save the toys, throwing Lotso into the trash, he’s able to get out. He sends Woody, Buzz and everyone else down a trash chute to an incinerator and they all brace for the worst.
The toys, realizing their fate, head towards the fire holding hands. This is maybe where you completely blacked out in the movie because you were crying so hard, thinking about the possibility of having to watch these childhood toys perish before your eyes. Thankfully, a few little green aliens find a claw (GET IT?) and are able to rescue the toys before they’re destroyed. Lotso, meanwhile, is found by a garbage man and strapped to the front of his truck.
Free from the trash, the toys catch a ride on a different dumpster and make their way back to Andy’s house. Woody then writes a note to Andy (uh, can he do that?) which convinces him to give his toys to Bonnie. He goes along with this plan and brings a big box over to her, introducing Bonnie to each toy, one by one.
As a reminder, this is Bonnie:
Woody is also in this box, and Andy appears reluctant to hand the Sheriff to her. But Bonnie calls him “My cowboy!” and with that Andy realizes it’s time for him to go off to a new home, too. After spending the afternoon playing with Bonnie, Andy heads off to college as Woody and Buzz watch him drive away.
Yes, this does seem like a pretty clear cut ending to the Toy Story saga, but what about the toys' new life with Bonnie? That’s where Toy Story 4 comes into play because clearly, the toys have a little bit more juice in their batteries for another adventure.