My love to the Toy Story movies knows few, if any, bounds, but last year’s Halloween special, Toy Story of TERROR!, left me unimpressed.
It’s not that it was bad, exactly—there were plenty of moments to smile at, the animation was as lovely as we’ve come to expect from any Pixar product, and, at half an hour, it didn’t wear out its welcome like some holiday specials. (Looking at you, Grumpy Cat.)
Maybe it was because TERROR! lacked the emotional impact of the three Toy Story movies (all of which left me a hot sobbing mess). It was cute and charming, but not much more. Perhaps my expectations were just too high.
One thing I will say for Terror, though, is that writer/director Angus MacLane had the good sense to turn the focus away from the main characters of the franchise—cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks) and space ranger Buzz (Tim Allen)—and concentrate instead on Jessie (Joan Cusack), one to the many supporting characters, instead.
This year’s holiday special, Toy Story That Time Forgot, employs the same strategy toward its cast—Woody, Buzz and the rest of the gang are on hand, but the spotlight is on Trixie (Kristen Schaal), the toy triceratops who joined the gang when they were given to Bonnie (Emily Hahn) at the end of Toy Story 3.
In this special, which begins just as Christmas is ending (thus just barely qualifying it as a holiday event), Trixie is frustrated: She’s happy to have a kid to play with her, but she’s upset that she’s never used as what she is—a dinosaur. (For much of the special, Bonnie pretends that Trixie is a reindeer.)
When Bonnie brings Woody, Buzz, Trixie, Rex (Wallace Shawn) and a kitty/bear ornament from the Christmas tree (Emma Hudak) along for a playdate with her friend Mason (R.C. Cope), the toys get quickly tossed aside for video games and wind up in a playset for Battlesaurs—humanoid dinosaurs in armor who, um, battle and stuff.
Trixie is immediately smitten with Reptillus Maximus, the Battlesaurs’ best warrior, and Rex finally gets the larger arms he’s always wanted. (T-Rexes had itty-bitty arms that weren’t good for anything.) But the Cleric (Steve Purcell, who also wrote and directed this special) is not exactly welcoming to these strange new toys and has sinister plans afoot—plans that could be downright lethal to our heroes.
With Woody and Buzz pushed to the background (literally—they’re yanked off-screen and stay gone for several minutes), it’s up to Trixie to impart life lessons to Reptillicus, Bonnie, Mason and (as it turns out) herself, all while saving everybody from the Cleric’s evil schemes.
Toy Story That Time Forgot improves on its predecessor with a faster pace, more action and, most importantly, more and better character development. (Jessie was already pretty well fleshed out before Toy Story of TERROR!, and a rehash of her abandonment issues didn’t break any new ground.)
Trixie, arguably the least fleshed-out of all the Toy Story gang, really shines at center stage, and Schaal seems to have a ball with the character—her slightly squeaky, slightly high voice contrasts nicely with the bulk and awkwardness of the triceratops (much the same way Wallace Shawn’s voice has always complemented Rex’s supposedly ferocious appearance). Trixie gets to be sweet, smart and (unlike Rex) decisive when everything around her starts spiraling out of control.
Toy Story That Time Forgot may only marginally qualify as a Christmas special, and it may not be the same as a full-blown movie (that we have to wait another three years for), but it’s a good time spent with characters we love--and one little dinosaur we now love a lot more.