Do we really need another Toy Story movie? The announcement of a fourth film in the franchise earlier this year was more worrying than exciting. Where the Toy Story franchise has got legs, though, is in its short films.
The last, released for Halloween, was a delightful piece of female-led pastiche, complete with Timothy Dalton’s hammy hedgehog thesp providing post-modern narration. This year’s seasonal offering – Toy Story That Time Forgot – is just as charming.
“Don’t just play the dinosaur… BE the dinosaur,” advises Mr Pricklepants to Trixie, as another playtime with Bonnie commences.
It’s telling that he again delivers the knowing heart to this outing, rather than Woody or Buzz. While it’s fun to hear Tom Hanks and Tim Allen back in their familiar roles, Toy Story’s real strength lies in the sheer size of its supporting ensemble – and the fact that the writers know how to use them.
Here, we see Bonnie’s playthings taken to a boy’s house, where he spends his time with video games rather than actual objects – a fact that leaves his unused dinosaur box set deluded about their toyish nature. So far, so standard – all the possible jokes about non-self-aware store products were covered several films ago. Enter Trixie, who has an entirely different existential crisis: the fact that, despite being a rather fetching Triceratops, she is never played with by Bonnie as a dinosaur.
Kristen Schaal has already appeared in two Toy Story entries, comfortably bringing laughs along with her. It is no coincidence, though, that her and Wallace Shawn as Rex are the funniest members of the ensemble; they both have strong experience in comedy (one a veteran of Flight of the Conchrds, the other a Woody Allen regular), but they also play the scariest toys on the shelf. That juxtaposition between nasty exterior and neurotic innards provides endless scope for humour, but also surprising depth of character.
Rex has always been endearing thanks to his fear of not being terrifying enough. Trixie’s worry, though, is something more subtle: if you never get to play the part of yourself, what does that make you?
While she is shoved in a bag with fake reindeer antlers on her head, it is a cat-shaped ornament from the Christmas tree that gets to play Kittysaurus. So it is understandable that, when the gang are captured by dinosaurs who actually think they’re dinosaurs, she’s rather smitten.
“You have a theme song!” exclaims Schaal with perfect timing. “You guys have everything.”
That sad note to her silliness is what turns these slight 20 minutes into something more substantial. In a full-length movie, her story would be relegated to a subplot, or stretched out to feature length. As Toy Story of Terror did for Jessie, though, this format allows its leading lady to shine on her own.
The rest of the cast are as fantastic as always, with Kevin McKidd’s Reptillus Maximus deadpanning the hell out of his dumb brute. Even Kittensaurus is laugh-out-loud funny, dispatching meaningless self-help phrases like a Hallmark vending machine. In fact, the weakest moment comes in the middle, when Woody and Buzz are thrust into an overlong Star Trek-like gladiator scenario – a sign of how much Pixar have to struggle to come up with new things for old hands to do. It’s testament to their whole team, then, that even after several features and shorts, they still manage to find new themes and new characters to explore. Do we need Toy Story 4? Probably not. But a third Toy Story short? Same time next year, please.
You can watch Toy Story That Time Forgot online in the UK on NOW TV, as part of a £9.99 monthly Sky Cinema Month Pass subscription.
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Photo: © Disney/Pixar 2014. All rights reserved.