Entertainment

'Toy Story' Movies Love Making Subtle References to 'The Shining'

toy story 4
Pixar

All work and no play makes Woody a dull toy.

If you're like us, you'd probably find any reference to Stanley Kubrick's The Shining showing up in a Toy Story movie to be a bit odd. Looking back on the three past films that helped make Pixar the studio for animated entertainment, it's clear that the people behind some of the best children's movies of the past two decades have an unrequited love for the Stephen King adaptation -- even if King himself detested Kubrick's film.

The Shining references that have made it into the cartoon cut over the years have included homages to Tony, the man that lived in Danny's mouth; Room 237, the infamous hotel room at The Overlook that Danny really shouldn't have entered; and even the iconic hotel carpet design shows up in the original 1995 Toy Story.

All these past nods to the best horror film ever made -- this is definitely a hill I am prepared to die on -- are nothing compared to the one that shows up in Toy Story 4. In the latest installment, Woody faces down the first realization that his role among the rest of the toys may not span all of time -- Andy lost interest in him just like Bonnie, Andy's younger sister, will eventually grow out of playing make-believe as well. It's a reality Woody further struggles with when his would-be girlfriend, Bo Peep, is sent away to a new home. Just for a second, he's surprised by his own temptation to join her. 

But he doesn't. Every toy's purpose in life is to serve their kid. And Bonnie is Woody's kid, now. It's in his DNA to please his owner, so much so, that he finds himself hiding in her backpack as she heads off to her first day of kindergarten orientation. And while Bonnie initially has a hard time fitting in, our hero cowboy works some sly magic of his own to assist in an arts and crafts project that will, unbeknownst to him, create a whole new complicated element to the mix: Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to Forky.

toy story 4
Pixar

Upon Forky's introduction to the world, Bonnie's love is redirected to her new creation. Playing second fiddle, Woody immediately makes it his mission to guard the trash-toy -- and trust us, this makeshift spork boy wants nothing more than to go and live in a trash can. As the toys head out on a road trip with Bonnie and her family, it doesn't take long before Forky makes a run for it, feeding his need to be one with each and every dumpster in town, leaving Woody to bail from the rest of the group in an effort to keep the new toy safe. And it's during this solitary adventure when the two find themselves trapped in The Second Chance Antique Shop -- a peculiar-looking, slightly gawdy, Overlook Hotel-inspired retail establishment.

Blame it on Woody, who believes that Bo Peep, the toy that got away, is living behind these ominous doors. It's his decision to take a look inside, bringing Forky along on this detour as the rest of the toy gang awaits their return in the family RV parked at the carnival right across the street. It's here, as Woody and Forky slowly explore the store's cluttered shelves with an assortment of trinkets, furniture pieces, and forgotten toys lining the walls, where Pixar drops the biggest Shining reference to date.

It starts with a needle drop. As they venture further into the bowels of the building, the haunting classic, "Midnight, The Stars and You," as performed by Ray Noble and his Orchestra with Al Bowlly on vocals, begins to play. Why is this important? If you'll recall, the same exact song can be heard during The Shining's end credits as a slow dolly pan reveals Jack Torrance smiling wide, along with a large group of Overlook Hotel party guests, in a snapshot captioned, "Overlook Hotel, July 4th Ball 1924."

This song reference suggests this antique shop will be the wasteland Woody and Forky could spend the duration of their lives in, as many other of these forgotten toys have. Like Jack, who became trapped within the Overlook's walls as the building's true caretaker, this cue brings to mind a whole assortment of insidious outcomes for the two toys.

Sure enough, right as Al Bowlly's eerie vocals begin, Woody and Forky are stopped by one of the creepiest visuals we've ever seen in a Toy Story movie: A marionette, dressed in a tuxedo, sporting an aesthetic similar to that of the Billy doll from James Wan's underappreciated horror film Dead Silence, pushing the type of carriage you'd expect to see in Rosemary's Baby. This is the introduction of Gabby Gabby to the story, an old-timey baby doll who, if we're being honest, gave us huge Talking Tina from the Twilight Zone vibes.

toy story 4
Pixar

Gabby, who we later learn is just yearning for her own relevance in this modern day world and for a kid of her own, adds a whole other layer of horror to the movie. After offering Woody and Forky a trip in her stroller to find Bo Peep, the perspective moves overhead and we're shown the store's own carpeted pathway -- it's not the iconic Overlook carpet we're seeing, but the style is reminiscent enough to be a clear homage. And as Woody and Forky realize they may be in over their heads, "Midnight, The Stars and You" continues to play as another marionette enters the fold to push the carriage from the other side. 

For all intents and purposes, Gabby Gabby here is the caretaker of The Second Chance Antique Shop and, once a third marionette henchman reveals himself, the visual nod to the Grady Twins from The Shining takes on a whole new meaning. Remember how we mentioned Tony, the boy that lives in Danny's mouth? There's another element of Gabby revealed in the story that furthers that motif, as well as the forgotten toy that pursues Woody for nothing more than his working voice box that would make her a more desirable toy. For a toy in crisis, nothing spells more trouble than the notion that, in order to keep his kid safe, he must give away the thing that matters to him most: his voice.

In the end, Woody and Forky do indeed make their escape from the confines of the antique shop, each of them finding their own redemption. After all the work Woody puts in to keep Forky safe, to reunite with Bo Peep, to make sure Bonnie is the happiest girl she can ever be, he finds it in him to say goodbye to the rest of the gang and, basically, retire -- pursuing a life of no work, and all fun with Bo Peep by his side. Yes, even Gabby gets a happy ending, one the likes of which Jack Torrance never achieved in The Shining. And when you think about how the Torrance family headed to the Overlook Hotel with the goal of finding their own second chance, one in which Jack doesn't abuse alcohol, his wife or his child, the resonance of the antique store's name, itself, is one that holds some surprisingly thought-provoking weight.

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Aaron Pruner is a contributor to Thrillist.