Tuesday, December 9, 2014

REVIEW: Toy Story That Time Forgot (2014)

*Warning - Minor Spoilers!*

Since the release of Toy Story 3 in 2010, Pixar have continued with the franchise in the forms of short films, with three sub-ten minute shorts (Hawaiian Vacation, Small Fry and Partysaurus Rex) and two twenty-odd minute shorts. The first of these, Toy Story of Terror, released October 2013 and saw near-universal praise, especially for how it handled Jessie and her fear of being put in a box. I never got around to reviewing it, but it is one of my favourite animated releases and is Pixar truly at the top of their game. The second short film is Toy Story That Time Forgot, and it released on the 2nd of December in the US, and the 6th in the UK.

Mike Mignola's teaser poster for the special
With Trixie (Kristen Schaal) taking the lead role this time, we go on a short adventure along with Woody, Buzz, Rex and another newcomer, Angel Kitty, as they encounter a new line of souped-up dinosaur toys, The Battlesaurs, led by both Reptillus Maximus (Kevin McKidd) and The Cleric (Steve Purcell; who also wrote and directed). Trixie and Rex are instantly enamoured with this new line of toys, especially as they are treated as equals rather than as side-characters (although it has to be said Rex, again, is a side-character), and even get to share in the accessories that the Battlesaurs have. What follows is a story of love, awakening and of confronting change, and of opening one's eyes.

It has to be said from the start that Time Forgot isn't as strong as Toy Story of Terror, nor as emotional as Toy Story 3. It even references the similarity of its own plot to that of Toy Story 1 (and Toy Story 2 to a smaller degree). I can't help but feel that there's something well-trodden here, and whilst it's not necessarily a weakness in this short, nor is it a strength. If Toy Story was a story of conflict between 'traditional' toys and newer, flashier ones (i.e. the contrast between Woody and Buzz), then Time Forgot is a story of conflict between flashier toys and contemporary video games, as evidenced by the initial unplayed nature of the Battlesaurs and Mason's later 'rediscovery' of imaginative play. The sad thing is that it doesn't really work, especially with every Pixar film getting its own video game and Purcell's own history of working in gaming, because whilst it can be seen to be a lament for children playing with toys, it arguably contributes to the opposite. A quick eBay search brought up some toys from this short as being in production (some of which don't exist within the film), but Pixar films rarely seem to have a substantial toy line behind them.

Six of the main characters (L-R; Trixie, Angel Kitty, Woody, Buzz, Rex and Reptillus)
There are many good things, however. Schaal is very much at her best in this, her voice work perhaps strengthened by two years of working on Disney's Gravity Falls as its co-lead Mabel Pines (in which she is utterly brilliant), and Kevin McKidd's performance is also incredibly strong. In about 20 minutes of film, Purcell managed to get across a lot of character development and the way he shaped Reptillus' conflict worked really well and it was thankfully different enough from Buzz's to feel like something new. Pixar's animators and designers were also firing on all cylinders for this, with some of the best and cleanest animation I've ever seen from them, again putting them near - if not at - the top once again. There were a couple of things that didn't quite work (I have no idea why Jessie was pulling such bizarre poses), but on the whole this was pretty much the best bit of animation I've seen.

I don't think Toy Story That Time Forgot will go down as Pixar's best moment. Whilst on a technical level it has some of the best design and animation they've ever produced, and the voice work from start-to-finish is well-polished, the story leaves a lot to be desired. Trixie and Reptillus are both excellent characters and work well in this, but it feels like it's quite a forgettable story with no massive impact on the direction of the franchise. I think it could have been much stronger if it was of a longer length to allow Pixar's designs to shine and to allow the new characters more time to settle in the imagination of Toy Story fans - child and adult alike - perhaps even so much as needing a film with them. I hope in fact that Toy Story 4 sees a return of the Battlesaurs, as they could help refresh the cast again.

Pixar should be proud of what they've done here. I fell in love with Toy Story again, and I thoroughly enjoyed a return to this franchise. I just don't think this is their strongest nor most impacting release, and instead falls back on safe narrative choices that the franchise has already covered, and has covered more than once.

1 comment:

  1. I need to see the Toy Story of Terror but this one does look pretty cool. I have to admit Im not a massive fan of TS but it does have some lovely nuances and dont even get me started on the song from Toy Story 2 (Jessie's Song) as I shall be nothing but tears. I like the fact that it would see these short films are adding something new to the Toy Story franchise and keeping it fresh. A definite one for the watch list.