Although Pixar worked on a number of projects prior to 1995, it was the release of their first feature film, Toy Story, that launched the studio onto the path which made Pixar into one of the world’s most recognizable brands. After the incredible success of three feature length Toy Story films, the franchise’s significance to Pixar has only increased. Following the release of several shorts, we have seen Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the toys shift to television. The newest TV special, Toy Story That Time Forgot, is a wonderful addition to the franchise that improves on the special that came before it.
The premise of the 22-minute TV special is that Bonnie gathers up a few of her toys, including Trixie (voiced by Kristen Schaal) and Rex, and heads over to a friend’s house for a playdate after Christmas. While there, the toys encounter a series of dinosaur toys called Battlesaurs who are not aware of the fact that they are toys (think Buzz in the first Toy Story). This leads to a humorous and fast-paced adventure where Trixie must step up, providing her with her biggest role in the franchise yet.
There are a huge number of Battlesaurs that are seen throughout the special, but the best are Reptillus Maximus (voiced by Kevin McKidd) and the Cleric (voiced by the TV special’s director Steve Purcell). The Cleric’s design is great, recalling the memorable Skeksis character from Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal. Also joining the Toy Story world for a few memorable lines is Angel Kitty, who will quickly become a favorite and hopefully make appearances in future films.
Wit and Humor
Pixar is known for its wit and humor and this special is another reminder of that. From inside jokes that will reward viewers of previous Toy Story films, to laugh-out-loud moments, there is enough sophisticated humor to satisfy adults as well as the children that tune in. The wit may not be as sharp as in the original Toy Story (I would argue that Pixar’s first film is one of the wittiest films ever made), but the script is packed with smart writing that will entertain.
Gags and Easter Eggs
The collection of gags is easily one of the greatest things about the Toy Story series. The introduction of the Battlesaurs will definitely remind audiences of toys they have played with. There are even hilarious hints into what era the toys made their debut. Additionally, it is Pixar, so expect to see a number of easter eggs, including A113 and Luxo, Jr.’s famous starred ball which have been spotted in many films (feature and short) from the studio.
Elaborate World Building
The special takes the Toy Story characters into the genre of sci-fi for the first time, and Pixar’s creative team took the task of creating a story and world for the Battlesaurs and ran with it. At Comic Con, we heard just how much work the employees did in making it seem like the line of dinosaur toys were real, and that is apparent on screen. The sets, dialogue, and characters all work together to provide a cohesive world for the battle dinosaurs, making you wish you could get even more backstory.
The heart is what elevates the special over the previous Toy Story OF TERROR! While that Halloween special was a fun parody of classic scary movie tropes, it was mostly missing the heart that we had grown accustomed to in the Toy Story films. Perhaps, given that the Halloween special was Pixar’s first foray into a 20+ minute project, a decision to focus on making the story fast-paced was made. Gags seemed to take the place of building out the story. Toy Story That Time Forgot is proof that the studio has found a balance between heart and humor for a TV project, which has me looking forward to Pixar’s future endeavors into television.
The problem with many franchises that transition into the world of TV is that there is a noticeable drop in quality – essentially, you can quickly tell that there is a decreased budget, and nowhere is that more clear than in the visuals, often distracting viewers from focusing on the actual story. Like with its first special, Pixar’s employees have crafted a gorgeous project, highlighted by the beautiful animation and the stunning lighting. The studio’s heads have always stated that working hard on the animation process provides for a larger chance that the audience will get sucked into the story. It is great to know that that mantra extends to TV as well.
The Not-So Great
The largest criticism I have about the special is that we are returned to a story that has become quite familiar in the Toy Story world. The premise of toys encountering other toys who don’t know that they are toys is something we have seen in most of the franchise’s projects, and although the humor is still there, it is not as original as it was in the first few films. Maybe the creative teams at Pixar are arguing that there are many, many toys in the Toy Story universe who simply do not know that they are toys. Still, we get a boatload of new characters, and I would love to see them again, but the familiarity in which they are dipped in is somewhat disappointing. With the number of films and specials that we have seen in the franchise, Toy Story 4 has its work cut out for it in the originality department. I hope to see big things from that film in 2017!
Toy Story That Time Forgot is a memorable Christmas special that does not have a whole lot to do with the holiday. While I would absolutely love to see Pixar do a true Christmas special, the fact that a holiday theme is mostly missing here does not detract from the special’s greatness. Along with the fun adventure, we get a new score from composer Michael Giacchino, which is always welcome. There is strong replay value here, which will undoubtedly make it a mainstay around this time of year. If you are a Toy Story fan (and how can you not be?), Toy Story That Time Forgot is a must-watch.
Toy Story That Time Forgot premieres Tuesday, December 2nd at 8 pm EST on ABC.