Tonight at 8|7c on ABC, the Toy Story gang is back again with a new adventure, this time centered around the holiday season. It’s called Toy Story That Time Forgot, and kicks off after Bonnie packs up her toys and heads off to a friend’s house for a post-Christmas play-date. While away from home, Woody, Buzz, and recent addition Trixie the Triceratops will have to survive an encounter with the Battlesaurs, a very literal-minded group of dino-themed armored action figures who haven’t quite figured out what it means to be played with.
We were lucky enough to speak with director Steve Purcell (Brave) and producer Galyn Susman (Toy Story of TERROR!, Toy Story 4) about what inspired them to make this animated special, and how they once again managed to mix action and comedy with the kind of deep, emotional storytelling that we’ve grown to expect from a Toy Story tale.
From the release of the first poster for Toy Story That Time Forgot, we could see that the filmmakers were prepared to send up another new genre of popular culture, as they did with their past Halloween special, so we asked Steve and Galyn what type of tropes to be on the lookout for this time around.
“As far as film references, the crew and I were fans of the genre movies from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, where people would go to the center of the Earth, or there’d be dinosaurs, or there’d be aliens. It’s got a lot of influences that go quite a ways back,” Steve told us. “As for toy references, they’re things that kids from the ‘80s might recognize–more the muscle-y action figures. We found ourselves putting together different elements that we liked and creating our own version of the ultimate action figure. We were all looking for characters that we would’ve wanted to play with when we were kids, and we felt that it was less important to be really specific to a certain movie or a certain action figure, but more the feeling of those things.”
This time around, Trixie takes center stage, as her dinosaur status helps her to befriend the Battlesaurs and see what they’re all about. “As you know, it’s a pretty rich collection of characters,” Galyn told us. “There are endless ideas for short stories that involve a lot of these characters. Depending on who’s directing, we develop the character and the story that speaks to them the most at that time. It’s not really thought about in terms of ‘Oh, gee, we need a story about Trixie, because we haven’t done one yet.’ If I were directing, I’d probably do one about Pricklepants because I just love Pricklepants! Everybody’s sort of got their favorite and you kind of tell the story that inspires you the most.”
“Trixie had been introduced in Toy Story 3, and been in a couple of the shorts, but it felt like we had just scratched the surface of her,” Steve added. “She’s such an interesting character, and when this piece was originally conceived as a 6-minute short, she and Rex were cast to go visit the Battlesaurs because they were dinosaurs and that gave them an in to the action figure set. As we started exploring Trixie’s personality, it just seemed like she was offering these interesting opportunities. Since she’s used to doing improv, she could make herself fit in very easily, and so she grew out of the idea of casting dinosaurs to go visit dinosaur action figures.”
Once Trixie befriends the Battlesaur Reptillus (Kevin McKidd), her fun-loving and sweet nature cast a sharp comparison with this new toy’s super-serious warrior mentality. As the two negotiate that gap, we get new insight into what it means to be a toy who belongs to someone else while also being true to yourself.
“We had done other stories that dealt with different issues about ownership,” Steve told us, “and we were thinking about the question of ‘When does a toy decide what it is?’ It thinks it’s one thing until it comes out of the box, and it’s not until a kid plays with it that it fully realizes the truth. That’s what we’re going after in this. We’re always looking for the toys to have issues that the audience can understand and that are universal. So whatever they’re dealing with in their toy world, we have to find some way for the audience to recognize it or to empathize with those emotions. We’re entertaining ourselves, but we realize we’re also speaking to a very broad audience.”
“We think of and write for the toys as if they’re adults,” added Galyn. “They’re not children; they don’t engage in children’s activities, they engage in adult activities, which is a great platform for being able to tell more sophisticated stories that appeal to adults. The great thing about Toy Story is that they really are toys, so if the kids aren’t getting all the nuances, they can enjoy that immersive environment at whatever level they can engage in. In some ways I think we were really lucky from the get-go when we did Toy Story the first time, that we hit on something that lends itself so naturally to appealing to so many different people.”
Now that the holiday season is here, we couldn’t let Steve and Galyn go without telling us: what is on their wishlist this year?
“I was just on eBay…” Steve started, ominously. “If you looked in my office you’d see that I have all kinds of toys from when I was a kid. The one I just discovered on eBay that’s for sale and that I thought about asking my wife to buy for me is Big Loo. It’s this toy from the mid-’60s, and it’s kind of a robot that has this weird, goofy face with teeth and it has moving arms and it shoots its hand off–it’s the weirdest thing you can imagine from the ‘60s. It’s something I’ve always wanted and I never been willing to buy it for myself because it’s a little pricey now.”
As for Galyn? “I know that there are great designs already–though they’re not out yet and I don’t know if they’ll ever be out–for large Combat Carl and large Reptillus figures, and I want them both.”
Steve chimed in with one more Christmas request. “I want those too!”
Watch Toy Story That Time Forgot tonight at 8|7c on ABC.
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