This question never really occurred to me until I was an adult more than a decade after I had first seen the movie and it dawned on me, why would he bother to freeze if he doesn’t know he’s a toy? So today let’s look a little deeper and see if we can’t find the answer to this. For this I will mostly just be looking at the three main films in the series. So in the movie when Buzz Lightyear is introduced to Woody and the rest of Andy’s toys he believes that he is a Space Ranger and not a toy. This seems to be an innate quality of all the Buzz Lightyear toys as shown in Toy Story 2 when a new Buzz from Al’s Toy Barn breaks loose. It also believes he is a Space Ranger and again this is shown in Toy Story 3 when he gets reset to factory settings by Lotso, he returns to thinking he’s a Space Ranger. Yet they all know to freeze in the presence of humans. It is never explicitly said in any of the films why this is but let’s make some educated guesses shall we!?
The Culture Assimilation Theory
My first theory is that because he was trying to fit in with the culture of Andy’s Room he just observed the custom of all the other toys freezing he had started to adopt them. From Buzz’s point of view he just woke up from hyper sleep on what he thinks is an alien planet. If you remember the montage of Woody getting slowly phased out but Andy in Toy Story you see him talking to and assimilating himself into the group like an anthropologist trying to fit in with indigenous tribes’ people. So you could argue that he developed that habit out of a desire to be accepted by all the other toys in Andy’s Room.
The Toy Instinct Theory
My other theory is that there is some instilled quality in all toys that make them freeze around humans. They instinctually have something in them that makes them freeze around humans whether they know to or not. Then that begs the question how does Woody and the other toys allow themselves to reveal that they are alive to Sid in Toy Story? My guess on that is once toys have been out enough and gained enough experience they are aware enough to control when they need to freeze and it becomes more of a conscious decision as opposed to an automatic response.
Like I said there is no definitive answer provided by Pixar or Disney but I tend to lean towards that there is a toy instinct that every toy has that tells them to freeze in front of humans. After all, all toys’ number one goal in life is to have kids play with them and bring them joy, whether they know there are toys or not they must have something instinctual in them to preserve that relationship with their kids. Do you agree or disagree? What are your theories? Let me know in the comments. Until next time!