Disney-Pixar (December 2 2015), Walt Disney Home Entertainment (November 3 2015), Blu-ray Disc plus Digital Copy, 22 mins plus supplements, 1080p high-definition widescreen 1.78:1, DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, Rated TV-G, Retail: $14.99
The Toy Story gang are back for another small screen adventure with big screen flair.
The Sweatbox Review:
Director Lee Unkrich’s third Toy Story film came full circle and wrapped up a more than satisfactory storyline for John Lasseter’s immensely popular playthings that come to life when no-one is watching. But despite the indication that this would be their final adventure (the ending bringing closure as well as suggesting a perfectly formed future for the characters), a billion dollar plus box-office take (bested only by Disney’s own Frozen) can not be ignored and, as has become the modern Disney and Pixar way, spin-offs were first introduced before the inevitable crush of “audience demand”, however undeniable, resulted in the announcement of the upcoming Toy Story 4 along with a sequel to Frozen.
There used to be a time when Disney shied away from direct sequel releases. “You can’t top pigs with pigs” was Uncle Walt’s famous retort when asked for more Three Little Pigs cartoons back in the 1930s, although even he relented with a short-lived series of shorts. But the features were never touched: sure there might have been more of the same (what is The Three Caballeros if nothing than a continuation of Saludos Amigos‘ South American atmospherics, with Cinderella an open attempt to create another Snow White), and a later move into live-action resulted in many franchises long before the term was coined. Even in recent years, the Disney name has been the brand, with each new film – especially in the renaissance of the 1990s – essentially being a follow-up to the one that came before.
In the modern age, Disney has actually done well to resist the pull of churning out needless and creatively bankrupt theatrical sequels, after the mostly misguided attempts to produce such films for the direct to video market in the early 2000s…and mostly as a result of those outings, which were looked on less than favorably by both the fans and the incoming Pixar regime after the merge with Disney Animation. Ironically, this merger has resulted in a mixing of cultures, with Disney taking on a renewed Pixar-styled shorts program, and both units more open to producing additional films in a series, from shorts spin-offs (Disney’s Tangled Forever After, Frozen Fever, and Pixar’s Cars and Toy Story Toons) to full feature sequels.
As much as I admired Toy Story 3, I must say that I did find it more a rehash of highlights from the first two films (combined, at times, with such a bleak outlook that, on renewed viewing, leads me to think that it is perhaps the most despondent example of family filmmaking yet seen, especially in what was ostensibly a CGI comedy) and felt that with things resolved in such a fluid and organic way any fourth film could struggle to match the greatness and originality of what came before. So it was a pleasant surprise when the Toy Story Toons came along: essentially the kinds of shorts that would accompany a feature on DVD but given a big screen upgrade. The first two of the three genuinely brought back the magic of the series, while a third perhaps exposed the limitations of the format.
Given more time to tell its story, a fourth outing, Toy Story Of Terror, was treated to a near half-hour screentime when it appeared as a commercial television special a couple of Halloweens ago, following Disney’s own move into featurette-style specials with the Christmas-themed Prep & Landing. While not precisely themed to the holiday itself, it was still a slightly spooky affair, having fun with shock jumps and the darker side of Toy Story‘s tropes, although in my comments for Animated Views I did suggest that the characters now be retired until their appearance in the then-rumored fourth film so as to keep the series special. It was probably good advice: as much as I did enjoy Toy Story Of Terror, I can only say the opposite is true for this latest addition, Toy Story That Time Forgot, ostensibly a Christmas offering but again only very loosely tied into the holiday specifically (it’s actually set post-Christmas).
Taking its cue from the more off-the-wall aspects from the series, as well as the more obvious references to the B-movies of Doug McClure (themselves receiving something of a reappraisal thanks to Kino Video’s nice new Blu-ray transfers), Toy Story That Time Forgot unfortunately is a pastiche too far. That’s not to say it hasn’t been crafted with all the polish of any other entry in the series, and the returning topline voice cast of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen and the impressive roster of names from the features is again in full force and performing the usual slick one-liners with wit and emotion.
So why the not-so-enthusiastic response? Well, for me, Toy Story That Time Forgot gets too “big”, changing the dynamic in what makes the Toy Story universe tick from being an entertaining hypothesis on the somewhat metaphysical question of if toys really do come to life when we’re out of the room. The early films in the series cleverly made sure that however the room was left when the toys’ owner Andy left was pretty much the same way he would see it again when he returned, give or take an intentional “mistake” that he wouldn’t notice anyway. Adults would shrug their shoulders, unsure of quite where they might have left something on the floor or on a counter, again creating the illusion of the toys having their entire adventures play out in a secret world unknown to us, save for a few brief instances of some well-deserved retaliation.
Even in Toy Story 3, perhaps the film that plays closest to the notion of the toys exposing their cover, the conceit is carried off winningly enough so as to remain whimsical to the point that it reinforces the fact that, yes, our toys probably do come alive when they need to, a tone carried over even more endearingly in the trio of Toy Story Toons shorts and the previous Halloween special, itself replaying a few old story elements but having fun with it. But in as much as that featurette-length outing was fun and diverting, Toy Story That Time Forgot is a bit of a drag, stretching out a thin premise and becoming repetitive, sometimes as if the very reason for an additional special was just because someone came up with a pretty amusing title.
The result doesn’t really hold itself up to it, though, with “the rules” tossed aside in favor of a more offhand tone where our hero gang must face up to a deranged bunch of Battlesaurs dino-warrior figures who seem all too real. Sure, we can assume things have gotten all meta a la The Lego Movie, but then why bother setting up the idea of the kids in the next room, oblivious to the carnage going on so close to them, and why do the Battlesaurs suddenly “behave” like toys when they’re discovered if they believe they have their own lives? Part of the fun of the Toy Story movies was that the action was always focused in our real world, grounding the fantastical notion of self-aware figures, but here the admittedly clever lighting suggests we ourselves have entered an alternate realm, an intentional approach that doesn’t really work.
Yes, we have seen flights of fancy like this before, such as the huge sci-if-western opening of the third film, but these have always been the visual interpretation of Andy’s imagination into which we travel with him, not the supposed actual happenings of delusional toys, or else the franchise just may as well be set in a toy-only world. I also had a bit of an issue with the megalomaniac dinos jumping out the box with fully formed characteristics and, seemingly, a social structure. It was funny when Buzz Lightyear was manufactured with his personality intact, and we must assume that any toy would take on the attributes of what they have been based or patterned on, but here it feels less well Pixar-crafted and jumping too much outside the proverbial box, if you will.
This is not to come down too hard on Toy Story That Time Forgot! As is the Pixar tradition, the special is an enjoyable diversion with some occasional near-genius touches even if it does feel like it is filling a gap between instalments rather than being a pivotal or even intrinsic entry in the overall Toy Story story. In its slightly flippant approach, it’s ironically a lightness of touch that feels most missing, the effortless Pixar feel being a little more forged this time around in service of a Story that, while it doesn’t deserve to be forgotten, won’t go down as being as timeless as some of the other titles in the series.
Is This Thing Loaded?
Just as the special itself is slightly underpowered in relation to Toy Story Of Terror, so is the disc a little more devoid of the generous content that Terror enjoyed, although it must be said that Pixar has still pulled out all the stops to provide a more than decent package, topped by a fairly substantial (at eleven minutes) and welcome (to pad out the extras and give some production context) behind-the-scenes Reptillus! clip. Paying more attention to the new Battlesaurs characters, and in particular its leader Reptillus Maximus (see…is that name even that inspired?), your enjoyment of finding out more about them will vary on how much you appreciate the special itself, although some of the concepts are proven to be well thought out and as “real” as any other of the fake toy brands Pixar have come up with previously.
Following on from this, a surprise but handy Audio Commentary with director Steve Purcell and head of story Derek Thompson is a very worthwhile listen, especially at the short length, and Toy Story Goes to Comic-Con follows the Toy Story That Time Forgot team to San Diego, as Purcell and Thompson present their first glimpses of the project to an enthusiastic (is there any other kind at Comic-Con?) crowd. With these Pixar two being longtime Con survivors it’s fun to see the event from both sides of the panel stage, as well as glimpses of attendees’ costume get-ups: the Paperman dude and Captain Hook with Baby Smee are excellent!
Things take more of a mocking turn next, with a Battlesaurs Animated Opening (actually a completed version of a delete scene), which is just as you might imagine with all its 1980s DIC winks and nods in limited, mass produced animation, with only the digitally clean 16:9 framing giving it away, as well as the slightly less ingenious My Unexpected Friend karaoke video in which Reptillus Maximus soulfully voices his feelings for Trixie, feeling slightly more South Park pastiche than a knowing Toy Story reference, being a little random and an overlong joke at four minutes, even if the chorus may bring a smile.
Finally, a nine-minute grouping of Deleted Scenes, with intros from Purcell, adds five moments to the disc that were storyboarded but cut from the special (Battlesaurs Christmas, including the animatic for the animated opening, Prisoners Of Bone, SOS, Trixie’s Proposal and Light Of Play). While there isn’t anything as strong as the three Toy Story Toons featured on the Terror disc, all in all there’s still more than expected on offer here that covers all the bases, from fun for younger viewers to clips that will also amuse and interest Pixar’s collector audience. Sneak Peeks are included for Pixar’s next, The Good Dinosaur, and Pixar’s last, Inside Out, out on Blu-ray,
In initial pressings, an embossed slipcover brings a bit more significance to the title, the front cover of the case looking better and more balanced than on the sleeve – which, buyer beware, includes the bonus features to misrepresent a 45 minute length – replicated underneath. A Digital HD code is included for Disney Movies Anywhere, which also offers an additional deleted scene.
Ink And Paint:
Of course things look spotless, the result of Pixar’s artists and incredible RenderMan software creating feature-level visuals, while the short length means zero compression issues.
Again bringing movie-quality power to the soundtrack is a DTS-HD 7.1 track, which has huge fun with the pyrotechnics on show and bringing an extra layer of enjoyment to the special.
With Toy Story That Time Forgot, it really is clear that Pixar should now hold back the characters from any further overexposure before the fourth feature film – which perhaps tellingly will see a return to the director’s chair for John Lasseter – makes its debut. With such a huge audience response for the third film, the Toy Story Toons got a pass for being fun spin-offs, while Toy Story Of Terror scraped through on the same goodwill even if it did suggest ideas were running dry. Toy Story That Time Forgot breaks the mold, jettisons the signature tropes of the series and unfortunately becomes just one Story too far, at least in this short-form style.
Younger fans of the series will probably get just as much of a usual kick out it it, though older followers might find they start to overthink things as I obviously have. But that’s only because the usual wit and invention is in relatively short supply and the spell is often in danger of being broken (take away the fact that the characters are toys and what, then, is the point of your characters being toys?), even if Pixar’s usual top-notch production values apply to the special itself as well as the decent disc package that’s been assembled. Perhaps not essential, most should find – if they didn’t see it on TV – that a rental will provide their fill before Toy Story 4 comes along.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?