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I was wondering if Pixar would extend the focus on these TV specials on the new toys from Toy Story 3 instead of the core cast for a change. Thankfully, this one is all about Trixie. She is tired of Bonnie always playing with her as anything BUT a dinosaur. Bonnie takes Woody, Buzz, Rex, Trixie, and newly-joined Christmas ornament Angel Kitty, to her friend Mason's house after Christmas for a playmate, but she puts them in his playroom once she is distracted by the new video game system he got. The toys discover that Mason's parents, ….. in ….. 2014, are apparently wealthy enough to afford the complete toy series Battlesaurs, which are also dinosaurs, but they're in the vein of He-Man or Dino Riders action figures. There, Trixie gets close to the warrior Reptillius Maximus and joins them in their culture, finally being accepted as a strong creature for once, until it's revealed that they find pleasure in literally harming other toys! And there's a Battlesaur character called the Cleric, an evil chancellor with a cruel agenda.
I really like how this special takes you into another world along with the toys without ever diving to Bonnie's or Mason's imagination, like in the beginning of Toy Story 3. Through clever uses of camera angles and lighting trickery, the Battlesaur world takes place completely inside Mason's room but once the toys are totally surrounded by the playlets, the yellow walls subtly morph into a sunny sky, the wall edges fade, the windows disappear, and the small scale is diminished to make it look just like a dinosaur fantasy planet! When I saw the trailers for this, I thought it would mostly take place in Bonnie's imagination! I'm really glad they went with a more clever route, yet they always keep the characters' toyetic mechanics. The Cleric doesn't walk so much as he glides on top of a single rusty wheel pivot that makes squeaky noises and jerky movements, adding to his creepiness. I LOVE details like that. The tunnel of toy boxes and other items leading to the lost world makes you feel like it's a passageway to another dimension! This is continuing the films' reflection on the imaginative scenarios a lot of us actually had as children while playing Pretend with toys.
Trixie has a chance to really shine here, which is enough to keep this enjoyable, as Kristen Schaal can do no wrong. I really love how the Cleric looks, like a demented Skeziks from The Dark Crystal with very expressive eyes and mouth. Angel Kitty tags along because … she can…. and is there to spout random proverbs, which is hilarious, cute, and CREEPY. An actual child voices her. In fact, she is far and away the best thing about this special! As an ornament, she also reminds the audience that this is a Christmas special that is otherwise light on tidings of comfort and joy. She can probably take down an entire Spartan army just by using puppy-dog eyes! Plus, her velvet fur texture reminds me of fancier kitten toys my sister used to have.
Of the TV specials in this franchise, this one focuses the least on the core characters and features more original characters than any installment previously, which makes for an off-putting experience. Half the time, you kind of forget you're even watching a Toy Story special because the new characters are designed so differently! Only Woody, Buzz, Rex, and Trixie go on the main adventure, and the story is about Trixie, the one who only had a passing presence in the 3rd feature film, than any of them. Though I welcome more exploration of this world past the core cast. Steve Purcell, from Sam & Max fame, wrote and directed this, and his style has always been noticeably un-Disney to me, despite being heavy on the satire and capturing the irreverence that is popular in animation for families nowadays. I would love to have played with the Battlesaurs as a kid! The crew stated that they really treated their creation like that of an actual toy line, which is probably why this took 3 years to produce.
The pace is fast seeing as how they need to work with an epic story in a 22-minute time slot, much like how Toy Story of Terror had near the same problem. This hinders the ending the most, where all the main conflicts caused by Cleric are dashed by Bonnie pulling a very strong dues ex machina where she just bolts into Mason's room within a second and messes up his evil plans just as quickly, and forces him into a resolution he's apparently fine with. It seems very anti-climatic.
Reptillius isn't too interesting as a character. At first he comes off as the charismatic love interest to Trixie, and goes on to show he has more layers than that like remorse and shame. … but he learns the exact same lesson that Buzz learned in the 1995 film since all the Battlesaurs besides the Cleric (somehow) are not aware they're toys yet. With Cleric being the only Battlesaur character to be aware that he's a toy, despite NOT having been played with yet, it opens the question of just how this world works. He almost feels like a Buzz redux. Buzz even has a short line that lampshades this.
Also problematic is the presentation of battle and violence. This is nowhere near the first Disney film that has this issue (see Big Hero 6). When in the arena, the Battlesaurs always rip and destroy other toys with glee, yet there always has to be some cop-out message that says "fighting in WROOOONG" (in certain situations), solely because this is Disney and they're all about teaching lessons about love and peace. If you're gonna include warriors in a story and glorify them like these toys really can exist in a toy line, don't chicken out by including some message that goes against their ideals. The MARVEL movies treat this idea better. …. and aren't toys very resistant to pain!? Why are they all terrified of getting beaten by these other toys if they can just be repaired later?? ……… Okay, the ventilation fan is a legit threat, but that's only one among many others.
These are minor nit-picks for me though. This isn't the best of the Toy Story specials and is far from what the overall Toy Story universe has to offer, but the usual Disney heart and the drama is still there, along with the audiences' renewed interest in toys dating all the way from the 1995 film, and I have to say it's still PRETTY good. It is consistent within the films' rules, while at the same time feeling the most new. If you can get past the minor issues, it's a good special to watch in your post-Christmas food coma.
Also, is Bonnie a year or so older in this one? Her voice actor is growing up and she infuses more dimension to her personality.
- www.vimeo.com/andrewkaiko/norm… See my short Norm & Cory in full!
- Orbis Park won a 2012 ASIFA East Award for Excellence in Design in the Independent Film category. It tied with an SVA thesis called The Girl And The Fox. Congratulations to all the winners! And as always, my short can be watched in its entirety here: fav.me/d4hu4xq !
- I'm heading a series called TidBits With Norm & Cory over on YouTube and my Patreon account!
Episode 1: [link]
Episode 2: [link]
Episode 3: [link]