Study Guide

Toy Story Hero's Journey

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Hero's Journey

Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.

About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)

Ordinary World

Sheriff Woody is a cowboy toy that can move and talk when his owner, Andy, isn't around. Woody's obviously Andy's favorite toy, and he's the de facto leader of the other toys the room.

Call To Adventure

When Andy's birthday rolls around, he gets a super-cool new Buzz Lightyear doll—Buzz has a laser and his helmet does this whoosh thing. Andy's psyched.

Refusal Of The Call

Even after Buzz shows off all his cool features and the other toys rally around him, Woody refuses to believe that Buzz can take his place in Andy's heart. He's still Andy's favorite toy, and he's determined to stay on top.

Meeting The Mentor

Toy Story doesn't really give Woody a mentor exactly, but Woody's does gain all kinds of new knowledge as he watches Andy play with Buzz day after day. When Woody finds out that Andy can only take one toy to Pizza Planet he turns to an oracle—the Magic 8-Ball—for an answer he doesn't like one bit.

Crossing The Threshold

In an attempt to make sure that he's the one Andy chooses, Woody accidentally-on-purpose pushes Buzz out of Andy's bedroom window. He tries to explain to the other toys that it was all a misunderstanding, but they rebel against him and call him out on his growing jealousy.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

With Buzz missing, Andy's forced to take Woody on the car ride to Pizza Planet. There, Woody and Buzz fight and end up stranded at a gas station. They hitch a ride to Pizza Planet only to wind up on the inside of a claw machine. Andy's vicious neighbor, Sid (who's apparently really good at claw machine games—we've never won anything), wins them and then heads home to play.

Approach To The Inmost Cave

Woody and Buzz are taken to Sid's house, but only Woody seems to realize how much danger they're in. Young Sid likes to play rough with his toys. Real rough. Gulp.


Woody and Buzz watch Sid torture his toys and both find out more about who they really are. Buzz realizes that he's actually a toy—not a universe-protecting space ranger—and Woody finally admits how envious he is of Buzz and his new status as Andy's favorite.

Reward (Seizing The Sword)

Woody and Buzz reconcile and decide to escape Sid's bedroom together.

The Road Back

But, just then, Sid wakes up and takes Buzz outside to blow him up in the backyard. Wow, this kid is awful.


Woody has a chance to escape on his own, but decides he can't leave Buzz, so he appeals to Sid's maimed toys for help. Together, they free Buzz and scare the snot out of Sid by coming to life and telling him they don't like being blown up.

Yup, that'll land you in therapy right there.

Return With The Elixir

Woody and Buzz escape Sid's backyard just as Andy's leaving to move to a new house. The two toys chase down the moving truck and (after nearly blowing themselves up) are reunited with Andy's other toys. Everyone heads to Andy's new house and all is well again in Toyland.

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