“Limitations are the shackles that we bind to ourselves”
Following the success of last year’s Toy Story of Terror special, Disney and Pixar have presently tackled a holiday more on the nose: Christmas. Toy Story That Time Forgot opens two days after the presents have been torn apart and each new addition to the posable family introduced. A bit of cheer remains as Bonnie (Emily Hahn) has affixed antlers onto her triceratops Trixie’s (Kristen Schaal) horns to transform her into the unsuspecting victim of a terrible faux dinosaur played by the spiritual wisdom spouting Angel Kitty ornament adorning the tree. Trixie, displeased about never getting to be her actual species, tries to heed the platitudes the others share but her frustration can’t help taking center stage. The hope is that a trip to young Mason’s house for a play date will turn things around.
The journey does exactly that—just not necessarily how you’d guess. Mason got a complete set of Battlesaurs that are now out of their boxes and in the playroom, but he received the latest videogame console too. Wanting to hang with her friend, Bonnie chucks her backpack containing the few toys she brought over (Trixie, Wallace Shawn‘s Rex, Tom Hanks‘ Woody, Tim Allen‘s Buzz, and the Angel Kitty) and finds a seat in front of the TV. This leaves the plastic gang to venture forth into the quiet room of prone toys, soon stumbling upon the armored dinosaurs caught up in the delusion of their fabricated backstories because Mason never spent enough time to show them their true purpose. Trixie enjoys believing their macho aggression to be theater, but soon the stakes get violent and stuffing is spilled.
It’s pretty much the emotional arc of Buzz’s introduction to the first Toy Story—a headstrong attitude of an autonomous life clung to unless presented face-to-face with reality. The general of the Battlesaurs army (Kevin McKidd‘s Reptillius) is a slave to his “programming”. He’s a brute made to ensure destruction is wrought at the behest of the clan’s sage Cleric (writer/director Steve Purcell), softening at Trixie’s disarming humor until his duty becomes tested. From there the story turns into a race against time to prove to Reptillius he can be anything his child makes him if that child breaks free of his electronic hold to remember playtime’s social and imaginative power. And the added suspense of Buzz and Woody’s eminent pulverization helps the kiddies feel some drama to hide the redundancy of the plot at hand.
This main through-line isn’t all bad despite being done in the series before, especially when portrayed with the level of cute yet prickly on display here. I don’t even mind Pixar putting a periphery character like Trixie in the spotlight since that’s what these expanded looks into the Toy Story universe are for. The issue That Time Forgot falls prey to is its ultimate lack of intrigue. Calling out videogames and the evolved selection of toys our current generation of children possess is tired and somewhat petty considering we’ve stuck with these movies even though their real world trajectory should have them in a mausoleum a la Toy Story 2 or Toy Story 3‘s garbage dump. While an effective way to ensure the Battlesaurs are misguided, it’s also the easy trope we see a mile away.
Thankfully the series’ subversive humor cultivated over the years continues to allow us to almost forget there’s a plot at all. Angel Kitty’s fortune cookie offerings are hilariously on-the-nose, the tiny biting green dinos are a blast, and the lengths Purcell takes his Battlesaurs accessorizing tactics and play-sets are a perfect dose of nostalgia for someone who grew up with He-Man figures like me. In this respect the holiday special gets the little things correct even if what holds them together lacks any real punch. It’s sugary sweet for the young ones huddled around the TV across the nation and there are some fun acts of violence to retain the older kids’ attention too. And in the end it whets our appetite by keeping these characters in our consciousness until Toy Story 4 graces us with its presence.