“Toy Story” vs. “The Christmas Toy” (1986)

Toy Story Poster
The Christmas Toy Poster

Since the new trailer for Pixar’s Toy Story 4 is already released, it is perhaps time to talk again about the trilogy and its dubious origin and inventiveness. Since the release of the first Toy Story animation in 1995, there have been comparisons made between it and The Jim Henson Company’s television puppet film for children of 1986 – The Christmas Toy. I will again revisit and comment on this comparison, taking into account the ideas presented in the new Toy Story 4 trailer. The point is that Toy Story is The Christmas Toy in a nutshell – creators of Toy Story surely must have thought about The Christmas Toy when they were creating Toy Story. 

**SPOILER ALERT** for both the Toy Story trilogy and The Christmas Toy; the main similarities are: 

  • Main Themes:

– In both animations, toys become alive when people are not observing them, pretending to be mere objects or hiding when people are present; 

A child has a very special relationship with one toy – his/her favourite. A situation emerges whereby the favourite toy is replaced by one new and cooler toy;

– Both animations emphasise the tense relationship between the “old” toy (one that got replaced) and the new, cooler toy; the “old” toy becomes jealous of the new toy, and does not want to let go of its status as the child’s favourite toy;

– The Toy Story trilogy and The Christmas Toy focus on the theme of an “insecure” toy: it is not only Woody and Rugby respectively that feel insecure and unwanted when new toys take their places, the subsequent Toy Story films and the new Toy Story 4 trailer also emphasise this message. In Toy Story 2, these insecure toys are Jessie, a cowgirl, and Wheezy, a little penguin, and, in Toy Story 3, such role of a dejected toy is played by Big Baby, among others. These toys feel like they are not wanted anymore and are made believe again that they are when the story ends. In the Toy Story 4 trailer, this insecure toy is Forky, though he does not maybe admit to it. In The Christmas Toy, this insecure toy is also Mew, a cat’s toy mouse. In that film, other toys tease Mew, saying that he is not people’s toy, but a cat’s toy – having a lesser status as a result. He proves his capabilities.

Friendship conquers all: in both Toy Story and The Christmas Toy, toys realise the importance of friendship and cooperation – they let their self-interest and self-absorption go.

  • Plot Points:

Toy Story (1995) and The Christmas Toy start with excitement about a certain important event coming to the household. In Toy Story, that is Andy’s birthday party, and in The Christmas Toy – that event is Christmas. That means new toys are coming and toys make important announcements to others to let them know that this event will require some thought, and, possibly, preparation and action. 

– The important event makes it essential that toy(s) go downstairs in the house and investigate. In The Christmas Toy and Toy Story, toys (Rugby and toy soldiers respectively) risk being seen and go downstairs to see what new present(s) have arrived. While going downstairs, toys in both films use “professionals” to help them achieve that goal. Toys in The Christmas Toy “hire” the services of a toy taxi driver to get them downstairs, and toys in Toy Story “hire” the services of toy soldiers who are considered to be “professionals” in these type of operations. 

– Toys in both movies discover that the new toy gifted to the child is absolutely amazing and is also full of character. At this point, there is the theme of (the fear) a replacement of the “old” toy by the new one; there are also hurt and jealousy experienced by the “old” toys since they are not favourite anymore (see above). Rugby in The Christmas Toy has fear of such replacement, but, in that movie, Apple, a doll, already experienced that replacement and hurt. In Toy Story, it is Woody that went through the horrid experience of being sidelined by his owner.

– “Old” toys reminisce about their past relationship with their owners – think about good times they had with them. Woody and Jessie in Toy Story 1, 2 do just that, and both Rugby and Apple in The Christmas Toy go back in their imagination to happier times when they were loved by their owner.

–  The toy that got replaced (or about to) takes some action to vent his jealousy and “punish” the new toy. In Toy Story, Woody has “evil” intentions regarding Buzz and wishes that Buzz is forgotten by Andy. Woody tries to get Buzz stuck between the window and the table. In The Christmas Toy, Rugby forcefully removes Meteora from her Christmas box and takes her place.

The “old” toy convinces the new toy that he or she is, in fact, a toy and not only a toy, but a very special toy that is the object of admiration and friendly jealousy. Rugby and Woody convince Meteora and Buzz respectively that they are toys and that they are special to their child owners, saying how they desire to be in their place.

– At some point both The Christmas Toy and Toy Story feature toys that are presumed dead (Buzz and Mew), but turn out to be alive

– “Rescue” missions”; both movies feature “rescue” operations devised by toys to rescue other toys that are in trouble. In The Christmas Toy, toys in the playroom organise a “rescue” mission after they find out that Rugby is in danger – he went downstairs to look for Christmas presents. In Toy Story films, there are many such missions, for example, when Woody is looking for Buzz (original Toy Story), when toys look for disappeared Woody (Toy Story 2), and  when toys are trying to get back to Andy (Toy Story 3). It appears that this theme continues since Toy Story 4 seems to be about toys looking for Forky to get him back to Bonnie.

  • Characters:

Rugby and Woody


Rugby, a cuddly tiger, and Woody, a toy cowboy, share characteristics. Both are favourite toys of their owners and both feel they deserve to have special privileges. Rugby is quite self-centred and arrogant, and Woody also seems to be egocentric and a toy that others should listen to. Woody even goes so far as to try “to get rid” of Buzz intentionally. Initially, Woody as a character was envisaged to be even more of a bully than the final version (see interesting trivia here). Incidentally, both characters are similarly coloured: orange and white with black stripes or spots.

Meteora and Buzz Light Year


There are staggering similarities between these two characters. Both are toys that are self-important space travellers that come from another galaxy. Buzz Lightyear and Meteora, Queen of the Asteroids, both allegedly have “special powers” that they believe in and are seen flying. They both impress other toys who deem them amazing. They are also eccentric and think they are not toys but real space travellers on the mission to save others. They both have their respective nemeses (some robot and Emperor Zurg respectively). Upon being presented for the first time, both also share similar lines: Meteora and Buzz are amazed by the new surroundings in their respective films, thinking they have landed on a bizarre new planet, commenting on its strangeness. Buzz says of Andy’s bed that it is “unstable terrain“, and Meteora says that the Christmas tree is “strange vegetation“. Meteora also asks to be shown to the leader of a tribe she has just encountered, and Buzz is relieved to have found in Woody law enforcement, with Woody being a sheriff. 

Mew and Slinky


Mew, a cat’s toy mouse and Slinky, a helical spring toy dog, play similar roles in their films: they are loyal friends to Rugby/Woody respectively. Even when other toys are against the main characters, Mew and Slinky stand by their friends. They do argue or fall apart (for example, Woody with Slinky when Slinky sees the hand of Buzz), but, eventually, make-up and get back to being close friends.  

Bo Peep and Bo Peep 

Bo Peep

Both dolls are sweet-natured, blond, dressed in pink and carry their traditional shepherd’s crooks. They both play passive roles in the stories and stay largely in the background of all the action, not getting involved. What we know so far about Toy Story 4 is that Bo Peep will play a more active “warrior” role there, which is interesting because this was exactly the intention of Bo Peep in The Christmas Toy (1986). Bo Beep in The Christmas Toy wanted to participate in the “rescue” mission with other toys and even prepared and dressed in military-style clothing to realise that goal.  Another interesting thing is that Ken in Toy Story 3 is obsessed with his looks and clothes and that is exactly the behaviour of Bo Peep in The Christmas ToyBo Peep in that film cannot decide what to wear to any occasion because she has so much clothing to choose from.

Balthazar and Lotso

the old bear
Lotso the bear

These two worn and cane-holding toy bears may have different looks and personalities, but there are still characteristics they share: they are both old and experienced toys that have seen better days. They are supposed to be “wise” and in charge of other toys. “Friendly” Lotso is in charge of the kindergarten rooms in Toy Story 3, and friendly Balthazar is in charge of the child’s playroom in the Christmas Toy. They are both so important that they make important official announcements to other toys, for example, Lotso explains the ways of Sunnyside to new toys, and Balthazar explains the meaning of Christmas to others.

Belmont and Rex 

belmont the rocking horse
Rex toy story

These toys are different types of animals – Belmont being a horse (rocking horse) and Rex being a toy dinosaur, but they also have similar characteristics – both are insecure, nervous and always sceptical of the future – “what if”? they ask, fearing a bad outcome. Other toys have to tell them that everything is going to be alright.

Ding-a-ling in The Christmas Toy and Chatter telephone in Toy Story 3 are toy telephones on wheels.

  • “Ending” similarities: 

Both Toy Story and The Christmas Toy end on Christmas Day, and both films end on one of the male toys getting his female counterpart. By the end of Toy Story, Mr Potato Head gets Mrs Potato Head as Andy’s Christmas present, and in The Christmas Toy it seems that Mew gets a girl mouse to make a pair.

I love Toy Story – all three films, and The Christmas Toy cannot even dream about competing with the Toy Story movies which are so much more than the plot outlined above. However, it is also fair to say that there are some evident and worrying similarities between the two films, especially in the basic concepts on which everything else is then built.

What do you think about the above similarities? Are you looking forward to Toy Story 4?


19 Comments Add yours

  1. Great article!! The similarities are fascinating. I wondered if they unoffiicially bought the rights to the story. I mean, is there a credit in Toy Story buried somewhere stating it was “inspired by”? I guess maybe Pixar took a chance as the concept of talking toys have been around for decades. Interestingly, both Pixar and Henson would later be swallowed up by Disney, so they own rights to both now anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. dbmoviesblog says:

      Thank you! As far as I know, I do not think there is any credit given to The Christmas Toy in Toy Story. I do not think Pixar thought such credit was necessary since there are, apparently, “different stories” here and The Christmas Toy is a puppet show. The credit is to Pixar’s “Tin Toy” short animation of 1988, which was actually released after The Christmas Toy (1986). I would even go as far as to say that this short was there to camouflage any similarities with The Christmas Toy.

      I do not mind animations taking the idea of “talking toys”. The Nutcracker, Pinocchio, etc. had that to some extent, but when there are so many similarities in details, personalities of characters, their relationship, and big and minor plot points, then it is just amazing, isn’t it? I have the feeling that Pixar wanted everyone to forget The Christmas Toy. It does not matter now of course after 30 years, but still.

      Of course, I am not shouting “plagiarism!”. I think Toy Story is great and it is just interesting to draw the comparison 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think you’re right as it’s such an interesting subject too!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow! Interesting read! I’m going to have to look more into this!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. dbmoviesblog says:

      Thank you for reading! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Sam Simon says:

    Great article! When you put it like that, it cannot be denied that there are similarities, but as you said Toy story is a better movie overall. This reminds me of the whole Stairway to Heaven (by Led Zeppelin) vs Taurus (by Spirit): there is an influence, it cannot be denied, but the former is a much better song and it’s not just plagiarism. Inspiration exists. :–)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. dbmoviesblog says:

      Thank you! Well, that is the issue, isn’t – to determine when something goes beyond mere inspiration. We all love great films and I am not trying to discredit them, but I also believe “bad” originals must be known, acknowledged and respected and that means giving some credit to them.

      Actually, I do not like the way the word “inspiration” has been twisted in the last decade or so by film media, etc. Everything copied now is immediately “inspiration” and that is misleading and morally wrong, actually. When I wake up in the morning and see a beautiful sunrise, it may “inspire” me to write a verse about it, but blatant and detailed copying of basic concepts from one source to another without giving credit to the original should not immediately be classified as “inspiration” or “influence” as it is now. In some case, it is just NOT these words, but something else. Bad movies who were copied are still movies that deserve acknowledgement and respect – some people worked creatively hard on them.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Sam Simon says:

        I fully agree with you. Actually I thought a lot about this when I went to see Life at the cinema and during the movie I was only thinking “Alien, Alien, Alien, Alien…”. Was Life inspired by Alien or was it simply a bad carbon copy of it?
        Same with the first part of Us, I was thinking “Funny games, Funny games, Funny games…”… inspiration or plagiarism? Or, and here’s another word, homage?

        It’s not easy to understand these issues!

        Liked by 2 people

  4. 18cinemalane says:

    Fantastic article! I’ve never even heard of “The Christmas Toy”, so reading about these similarities was very interesting. I’d like to point out that Apple, the doll that had already experienced hurt and resentment about being replaced, is similar to Jessie in the “Toy Story” series. In “Toy Story 2”, Jessie is shown feeling sad and neglected after watching her owner grow up. She also expresses her worry about going to another owner in “Toy Story 3”. You should definitely write an article about the similarities between “The Lion King” and “Kimba the White Lion”. I’ve heard there are several things those films have in common.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. dbmoviesblog says:

      Sorry for the late reply, and thank you very much for your comment! That is a good observation about Apple – you are right, it is yet another similarity with the Toy Story films.

      Actually, I have a draft of my article on The Lion King and Kimba the White Lion! – I started it over a year ago! would you believe that! I never seem to have the time to finish it and post it. I promise to do that in the coming months. The topic of this “subtle plagiarism” interests me, immensely.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. ospreyshire says:

    Oh my goodness! I have never realized the Toy Story series would have that much in common to an older movie. I had never seen The Christmas Toy, but I’m tempted to watch it soon to see how similar it is to Toy Story. This makes me shake my head because I thought Pixar was better than this even though I never considered myself a hardcore fan of that studio. I bet you if Toy Story came out BEFORE The Christmas Toy, you know everyone would put a stake in Henson’s movie much like how others would react if certain other anime projects I can name came out after certain Hollywood movies. Yes, I noticed one of those examples in the comments. Haha! Great post, by the way!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. dbmoviesblog says:

      Thank you for reading and commenting, and I completely agree with everything you said.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. ospreyshire says:

        You’re certainly welcome. Thanks for exposing me to this issue. It is such a bummer since I liked the first two movies and saw them in theaters when I was a child.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. Rebecca says:

    I was just looking at a close up of the antique store window in Toy Story 4 and realized it says “est. 1986”. I feel like that might be a nod to the Christmas Toy. When I googled to see if anyone else noticed it, I came upon your post here.

    Liked by 3 people

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