When the credits started to roll in 2010 signaling the end of Toy Story 3 I think most who were watching it assumed this was “good bye.” The toys which had captured the hearts of movie-goers going on two decades were saying good bye to their former owner and playmate, Andy, and so too were we to these characters. It was a somber close to a particularly wonderful film that closed out an improbable trilogy. It took a lot of risk on the part of Pixar and Disney to bring the original Toy Story to theaters in 1995, but it proved to be a colossal success that forever changed the animated film space, for better or worse. Toy Story 2 wasn’t even supposed to happen, and when that film ended, Toy Story 3 wasn’t exactly a foregone conclusion, but it turns out there was still one more story to tell and the film absolutely nailed it. The franchise ended up being the rare one that may have gotten better with each installment in its trilogy.
Of course, Toy Story 3 wasn’t the end for these beloved toys for more was on the way. What seemed like a compromise to keep these characters alive and to line the pockets of Disney and Pixar, the company turned to an old standby – the holiday special, before a new film was eventually released in 2019. First up was Toy Story of Terror!, a Halloween themed special of sorts which premiered on October 16, 2013. Announced at the same time was a Christmas special, but fans would have to wait over a year for that one. Toy Story That Time Forgot premiered on December 2, 2014 and like Toy Story of Terror!, it was not content to be a straight-up holiday special. Toy Story of Terror! may have obviously been timed with Halloween, but the special makes no mention of the holiday. Instead it’s just a thriller with some light horror elements, but it was also rather compelling and entertaining. Toy Story That Time Forgot does at least make mention of Christmas, but it’s in passing as the special actually takes place two days after the holiday. Perhaps that is done because, as we saw in the first film in the series, Christmas is a pretty stressful time to be a toy. While the special avoids recounting that plot, it does go back to that first film for another major piece of the story.
Toy Story That Time Forgot is written and directed by Steve Purcell. This seems especially noteworthy as just a year ago we talked about a Christmas special from the property Purcell is best known for: Sam & Max. Purcell got started in comics before moving onto Lucas Arts and Industrial Light & Magic where he honed his animation chops. He’s been with Pixar since 2000 and has made contributions to films like Cars, Ratatouille, and Brave, where he served as co-director. Toy Story That Time Forgot is his first solo director credit. The short took roughly two years to write and plan with another year in actual production to finish it out. This short also marks the last time Don Rickles was alive for production on a Toy Story project before his passing in 2017. His character of Mr. Potato Head does appear in Toy Story 4, but in a far smaller role than we’re accustomed to seeing.
The special begins at the home of Bonnie (Emily Hahn) as she plays with her toys following another successful Christmas holiday. Surprisingly, Bonnie appears to have received few new toys as the only addition to the cast is Angel Kitty (Emma Hudak), which could be a new toy or could just be a holiday decoration that spends 11 months of the year in an attic or something. Trixie (Kristen Schaal), Bonnie’s toy triceratops, is frustrated that she’s being forced by Bonnie to roleplay as a reindeer, amongst other things, when she just wants to be a dinosaur. She is even momentarily teased when Bonnie declares she needs to find her dinosaur, only to decide that Angel Kitty is to be the dinosaur today. The other toys try to cheer Trixie up while reminding her she’s lucky to be the toy of such an imaginative child, but it does little to please Trixie. Soon the toys are bagged up because Bonnie has a playdate with a boy named Mason (R.C. Cope) over at his house. This is where we say “bye” to most of the toys as only Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), Rex (Wallace Shawn), Angel Kitty, and Trixie are brought along.
When the crew arrives at Mason’s house, Bonnie finds the boy enthralled by a new video game he must have received for Christmas. She tosses her backpack of toys into Mason’s playroom and goes to join him at the television. The toys emerge from the backpack to find Mason’s room absolutely covered with boxes and boxes of new toys. They’re all from a new line of action figures called Battlesaurs, a sort of anthropomorphic dinosaur brand that would have been right at home on store shelves in the 90s. They are soon greeted by a warrior of this brand, Reptillus Maximus (Kevin McKidd), and it becomes clear things are a bit screwy in Dinosaur Land. Reptillus is very serious about his culture and refers to the other toys as being of the “Bonnie Tribe” when they mention their kid. Trixie, seeing what she deems is a more idealized dinosaur, is taken by Reptillus almost immediately and wants to know more about their “race.” Meanwhile, another toy has taken interest in the Bonnie Tribe by the name of The Cleric (Purcell). He’s a robed, Emperor Palpatine-like character that also happens to be a pterodactyl. He’s the unquestioned leader of the Battlesaurs and does not appear to be welcoming to outsiders. As Trixie is lead away by Reptillus, the others grab Woody and Buzz from behind while The Cleric mugs for the camera because that’s what villains do.
As Trixie is taken around the room we see loads of other action figures. This kid Mason is quite the spoiled little kid as not only does he appear to have every figure and playset in this line, he even has loads of multiples (in the toy-collecting community, we refer to these figures as army builders). He’s like every kid in a toy commercial who improbably had an entire army of Foot Soldiers to battle against his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Trixie is soon outfitted with special armor to make her feel as if she is apart of this tribe. Rex also gets to play along and receives some mechanical arms and leg attachments. As she is lead around by Reptillus, he shares details of his world which even includes a righteous theme song. It’s clear he and the others are not aware of their existence as toys, and whenever Trixie makes mention of their reality it’s met with confusion by Reptillus, and anger by The Cleric who continues to lurk in the shadows.
A battle is organized and Trixie has it sold to her that this is a major part of the culture of Battlesaurs. They thrive in combat, and a gladiator-styled ring is erected for the toys to engage in combat. Trixie joins Reptillus, but soon she realizes that this activity is rather barbaric. Toys she used to play with at Mason’s house are brought into the ring against their will and are systematically dismantled by Reptillus. She does not like this ferocious side of Reptillus, and she likes it even less when her friends are brought in to fight. Woody and Buzz are forced to face the duo in combat, and it’s Woody who reveals to Trixie that these toys have never been played with. The two put up a good fight against Reptillus, but he eventually gains the upper-hand. As he prepares to finish the duo, Trixie makes the save and smashes into Reptillus declaring him a bully. Frustrated, The Cleric summons a new dinosaur; a giant, Rancor-like beast. Woody and Buzz are soon swallowed by soon swallowed by it much to Trixie’s horror.
Trixie makes an attempt to free her friends recognizing the button on the beast that works its jaw. She is unable to do so though, and when knocked over the other toys see her mark. The “Bonnie” written on her foot is declared the mark of obedience, something which the Battlesaurs have been conditioned to shun. Trixie tries to play it off as no big deal, since it truly is not to her, but The Cleric orders her seized. He’s brought a controller and it’s revealed that it controls the arms and leg attachments that have been placed on Rex. He forces Rex to go after Trixie, and she in turn is forced to run with Reptillus ordered to give chase. As Trixie runs through the maze of boxes and playsets, Reptillus is close behind. He eventually comes face to face with his own packaging. Seeing himself, he has a crisis of faith, but is still unwilling to admit to himself he is in fact a toy.
Woody and Buzz are taken to The Cleric’s apparent lair. There The Cleric has Rex remove the pair from the bowels of the other toy, and Angel Kitty is also regurgitated. Woody and Buzz then learn that The Cleric is able to spy on Mason using a periscope-like feature on one of the playsets. He wants Mason to remain occupied by his new gaming console so that he may rule the play room with the other Battlesaurs ignorant of their station (one onlooker even remarks “What’s ignorant mean?). This is his master plan, and he intends to dispose of the nuisance toys.
Trixie makes a break for the TV room where Bonnie and Mason are still playing. She’s able to get under the television and as she treks through the tangle of wires all of her new armor is dislodged. She eventually reaches her destination: the surge protector. Waiting for her is Reptillus, but she shoves past him. She tries reasoning with him, explaining that part of the joy of being a toy is being played with by an imaginative child. And as she attempts to convince Reptillus of this, it’s clear she’s also convincing herself. Reptillus doesn’t know what to believe, but Trixie presses further. Reptillus acknowledges what she speaks of as “surrender,” but the look in his eyes suggests that maybe he’s ready to surrender. He then takes up his default pose, and it’s Reptillus that turns off the surge protector. With the game turned off, Mason reaches under the television and finds Reptillus. He gives the figure a look, before Bonnie runs over and declares it’s cool. She starts playing with Reptillus as Mason turns his game back on, but as he goes to sit down he gives Bonnie a look. She’s already crafting a backstory for Reptillus and Mason is intrigued. He puts down his controller and goes over to Bonnie to learn more.
In the playroom, Rex has been forced to carry Woody and Buzz towards a heating vent where a whirling fan awaits. Angel Kitty plays a mournful tune on his/her horn as the toy is being carried hanging from an axe. Another Battlesaur grabs the horn and tosses it into the fan where it breaks into pieces. As Woody and Buzz dangle precariously over the opening, Mason and Bonnie rush in. The two come in like a whirlwind and start grabbing all of the toys in sight. Bonnie is happy to see her “baby reindeer” with Trixie having returned the little pipe cleaner attachments to her horns (quite the achievement for a toy with no hands) to play the role Bonnie seems to prefer for her. Even The Cleric gets scooped up into the action as the kids decide to have a dance party.
Mason and Bonnie are shown enjoying the vast amount of toys in the playroom via montage, and the frozen, plastic, faces of Reptillus and Trixie somehow convey a sense of contentment. Eventually, all play dates must come to an end and Bonnie heads home. Trixie and the others fill in the toys left behind when they get home on what happened while Trixie declares she’s found a new appreciation for Bonnie and how she’s utilized in play. Angel Kitty appears to reaffirm the message of the special, and then vanishes confusing the onlooking toys. We then see Mason, once again, only now he’s fast asleep clutching his Reptillus Maximus. The toy wriggles free from Mason’s grasp and we see he’s been “branded” on his hand. The Cleric is also shown apparently happy to be utilized like a nightlight as he possesses illuminated wings on his back. Reptillus goes to the window and forlornly looks out with anticipation of seeing Trixie of the Bonnie Tribe once again – Tuesday around 3:30.
Toy Story That Time Forgot is a Christmas special that is exceptionally light on the holiday. The opening scene contains a Christmas tree and some décor, but following that our only holiday expression is essentially Angel Kitty, a surprisingly secular choice. Anyone who has ever seen a home occupied by a child after Christmas is certainly familiar with the boxes and general chaos the holiday leaves behind. Though in the case of Mason, that is taken to another level. Even on my best holiday, I probably didn’t come close to getting half the stuff Mason apparently received. I suppose it’s possible he didn’t get all of those toys for Christmas, but considering pretty much every toy in the room also has a corresponding box it sure makes it seem like this all just arrived.
The general plot for this one relies heavily on the familiar topic of a toy not realizing it’s a toy. We saw this with Buzz in the first film and this special can’t shake that familiar feeling. It makes Toy Story That Time Forgot feel like a truncated version of that story only with the focus being on Trixie and Reptillus instead of Woody and Buzz. It also turns it on its head a bit with Trixie being captivated by Reptillus, rather than annoyed and jealous. There’s also the nefarious motivations of The Cleric who’s actually utilizing the ignorance of his tribe to further his own goals where as Buzz wasn’t really hurting anyone with his delusions. It may be a bit of retread, but it’s at least tidy and there’s plenty of humor and charm to go around. We all know where the story is going basically from the moment the plot is established and we know it’s all just a means for Trixie to have a better appreciation for her lot in life, but predictable doesn’t automatically mean bad.
What keeps this special interesting and entertaining is the design of the Battlesaurs. It’s obvious a lot of thought when into the creation of this fictitious toyline. I get a real Masters of the Universe vibe from some of the playsets we see, and I love how the animators kept everything grounded. It’s obvious these are toys and they move and function like toys, so while it’s a bit horrifying to see Woody and Buzz devoured by a dinosaur, we also know it’s a plastic toy that is supposed to “eat” other toys with no actual harm coming to the ingested toy. The remote-controlled dinosaur arms are a bit weird and convenient for the plot of this one, but I suppose for a toyline consisting entirely of dinosaurs it wouldn’t be out of the question for something like that to actually exist for the T-Rex characters. The Battlesaurs are so convincing as an actual toy property that I wish Disney had gone ahead and had a bunch of these things made. Maybe if the special had done some crazy viewership numbers Disney would have, but alas these beings exist only in this fantasy world.
Toy Story That Time Forgot is a fine piece of entertainment. No, it doesn’t come close to matching the heart of the films, and I do enjoy Toy Story of Terror! more, but it’s still worth an annual viewing. It’s not going to bring the Christmas cheer though, so I don’t blame anyone who doesn’t feel like this is required Christmas viewing. It’s at least extremely accessible as ABC and Freeform will air this special this year. ABC usually devotes Thursday nights to Christmas programming, and in particular, Disney specials and often pairs this one with the Frozen special. Freeform will show it multiple times as the month goes along so if you miss the network broadcast, you have cable to fallback on. And the special is also available to stream on Disney+, and if you really enjoy it, you can purchase it on physical media as well.
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