The Miyazaki Easter Egg In Toy Story 3 You Might Not Have Noticed

"Toy Story 3" is arguably Pixar's best film, and together with "Up," it's one of only two that has earned the studio an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. True to its title, the computer-animated world of Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and other "Toy Story" characters is indeed populated with many toys. Some of those toys are based on real-life products like Barbie dolls, the Etch A Sketch, and the Slinky (the latter of which forms the body of a dog, who now has his own slinking roller coaster in Toy Story Land at Walt Disney World).

However, "Toy Story 3" also incorporates a pretty big Easter egg related to the hand-drawn anime films of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. It's even somewhat shaped like an egg, albeit one with whiskers and fluffy grey ears.

In the movie, when Woody escapes Sunnyside Daycare, he lands in the toy collection of a girl named Bonnie. One of Bonnie's stuffed animals is Totoro, Ghibli's mascot and the star of the Miyazaki film, "My Neighbor Totoro."

"My Neighbor Totoro" tells the story of two girls, Satsuki and Mei, who encounter an overgrown forest creature near their house. Totoro, as he's known, has since become one of the most beloved and recognizable characters in the history of anime. Not to be outdone by Toy Story Land at Disney World, Totoro even has his own forest area coming to the Studio Ghibli theme park in 2022.

Ghibli and Disney/Pixar Have History Beyond Totoro

In "Toy Story 3," you can see Totoro leaning up against Bonnie's basket of toys, before she reaches out of the basket (where she's hiding) and pulls him in with her and the other toys. He's also there at the computer and in the floor huddle when Woody is plotting his return to Sunnyside. At one point, Woody even hugs Totoro, as if to show how cuddly this imported mascot truly is.

The connection between Ghibli and Disney/Pixar goes well beyond Totoro's cameo in "Toy Story 3." In fact, until 2017, when GKIDS acquired the rights (via Kotaku), Disney had long acted as the U.S. distributor for Ghibli's films. It was responsible for the English dubs that many stateside Ghibli fans know.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, "Princess Mononoke" and "Spirited Away" brought Miyazaki and Ghibli's films into the international mainstream. At home in Japan, both movies set a new domestic box office record, and it was not until 2020 that "Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – The Movie," finally unseated "Spirited Away" as Japan's highest-grossing film.

There's a difference, however, between the movie that put the most butts in theater seats and the most-watched Ghibli movie overall. In Japan, Miyazaki's films were popular well before "Princess Mononoke," and a 2020 survey (per Statista) showed that the most-watched Ghibli movie in Japan, by a wide margin, was "My Neighbor Totoro."

My Neighbor Totoro Is a Favorite in Japan

About 28.8% of respondents to the survey said that they had seen and revisited "My Neighbor Totoro" — known in Japanese as Tonari no Totoro — more often than any other Ghibli film. The next most popular homegrown Ghibli titles in Japan were "Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind" and "Castle in the Sky," at 15.4% and 14%, respectively. "Spirited Away" came in fourth place with 13.9% of the vote.

"Nausicaä" and "Castle in the Sky," came out in 1984 and 1986, while "Totoro" came out in 1988, two months to the day before Katsuhiro Otomo's "Akira," another film that was instrumental in popularizing anime in the West. So in Japan, there's a clear preference for early Miyazaki/Ghibli films. It's worth noting that "Nausicaä," was made before the founding of Studio Ghibli in 1985, so technically, it's a pre-Ghibli film. Because Miyazaki directed it, though, and because it came so close to the studio's formation, it often gets lumped together with the rest of the Ghibli catalog.

As mentioned, Totoro is now Ghibli's mascot, the Japanese equivalent of Mickey Mouse, so next time you see him as a background character in "Toy Story 3," just remember: there's a rich history behind this character and he's representative of a whole trove of animated films beyond the Disney/Pixar sandbox.