Why The Phrase 'Toy Story' Was Removed From Toy Story

Lots of movies have titular lines, where one character or another says the name of the film in dialogue. One movie where you won’t hear this, however, is Pixar’s Toy Story. Magician Penn Jillette, best known as the vocal half of duo Penn & Teller, was one of the first actors cast in Toy Story, in a small part as the announcer in a Buzz Lightyear commercial. He talked about his experience on a recent episode of his Penn’s Sunday School podcast, and one of the stories he revealed was how he is partially responsible for the phrase "toy story" being excised from the movie, though in a roundabout way.

Jillette used to host Movie Nights in Times Square in New York, and one of the traditions at these screenings was for the audience to clap every time the title of a movie is said within a film. This didn’t sit well with writer, director, animator, and overall Pixar bigwig, John Lasseter. He didn’t want the Movie Night crowd to be able to applaud one single time, so he forbid the writers from using the phrase "toy story," and even removed the few instances that managed to sneak in from the script.

Though it doesn’t sound like Jillette is directly liable for the lack of "toy story" in Toy Story, a fact astutely highlighted by his co-host, but in an indirect fashion, you can place the blame, or praise, at his doorstep. And he seems to want the credit, so we’ll give him this one.

It’s probably for the best that no one actually says the title of the movie anywhere onscreen. Sometimes these instances occur organically as part of a scene. Who can forget Vincent D’Onofrio sitting on the can in the barracks, that wicked grin on his face, saying, "seven-six-two millimeter, full metal jacket"? It’s common practice for writers in any field to mine a script or story after the fact looking for a unique, memorable turn of phrase that could be a title.

But for every time this occurs naturally, there are just as many that are shoehorned in, and we’ve all sat in a movie theater and heard the audience groan when this happens. Too often it causes a diversion, and from the sound of Jillette’s story, Lasseter wanted to avoid any distractions or pulling the audience out of the movie at all costs. Working on the likes of Up, WALL-E, and so many more incredible animated movies, he certainly knows what he’s doing, and if you’ve ever seen Toy Story (and if you haven’t, what?), you know there aren’t many times when you’re not fully engaged. So please, hold your applause until after the film!

Brent McKnight