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'Toy Story' gets surprisingly dark in holiday special

(Photo Courtesy of Disney Pixar)
(Photo Courtesy of Disney Pixar)

(Photo Courtesy of Disney Pixar) (Photo Courtesy of Disney Pixar)





















Leave it to the folks at Pixar to be given a constraint, in this case Christmas, and pretty much do whatever they want despite having the obligation to capture the "spirit" of the holiday.

"Toy Story That Time Forgot," the newest half-hour short film in the beloved "Toy Story" series airing on ABC, does feature a nicely animated Christmas tree. Taking place just after the gift giving mega holiday, Woody, Buzz and company are taken by their new owner Bonnie on a play date to the house of a kid named Mason. Blessed with an obscene holiday haul, including the newest game system, the toys are left to fend for themselves in Mason's room, where a playset of armor-clad dinosaur savages take them captive.

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While the plastic antagonists of "Toy Story 3" were menacing in their deceptive cuteness, there is little humor or fun to gleam from these gladiatorial sociopaths, who are partly modeled after the Romans with traces of post-apocalyptic visions like "Mad Max." This does not discount the undeniable craft on display here, as there is much to admire about how creatively these dinosaur characters are depicted. However, that does not entirely excuse "Toy Story That Time Forgot" from being a bit of a tonal misfire.

The conceit does serve as a perfect playground to fully develop the supporting character Trixie (Kristen Schaal), who was introduced in "Toy Story 3" but not given much to do until now. A triceratops who wants to let her prehistoric colors show, she is fed up with her owner imagining her as something entirely different, even as an angelic kitty ornament who speaks in delightfully bizarre non sequiturs gets to be a dinosaur during play.

It is here where "Toy Story That Time Forgot" really shines, as it falls right in line with Pixar's ability to craft an arc for its characters. The series relies on its creative team's ability to turn a toy manufacturer's playground into an affecting character study, resonating with kids and adults alike, often in different ways. This is no exception. In bridging the last film into the inevitable fourth installment, Pixar used these specials to take mildly amusing secondary characters and make them iconic in their own right.

For fans of the series, this is really exciting. Trixie the Triceratops is now a vital part of the "Toy Story" ensemble, and she will not be going away any time soon. The writers clearly have a lot of fun giving Schaal's one-of-a-kind voice, which can also be heard on "Bob's Burgers" and "Gravity Falls," really fun material to play with. The entire team appears to be cutting loose here, in fact. By working within a short yet roomy window of 22 minutes, "Toy Story That Time Forgot" is a breezy, surprisingly weird entry into Disney's world of anthropomorphic action figures. Sure, there are some premise-level issues that make the final product off-putting to say the least, but raw talent still oozes from every frame.

Above all else, "Toy Story That Time Forgot" makes the case that there is plenty of great stuff to come from the franchise.


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