How did you feel about the announcement of “Toy Story 4”? Delighted? Or a bit wary? The “Toy Story” trilogy is undoubtedly one of the jewels in the Pixar crown and many – and I count myself among them – felt that “Toy Story 3” wrapped up the saga beautifully, beginning and ending with the toys’ time with Andy. We were given occasional glimpses of Woody, Buzz and Jesse’s ongoing adventures in a series of five minute shorts and then we were treated to the Halloween special, “Toy Story Of Terror” which proved that there were still exciting and funny adventures to be had with our old pals. So far, so good – bring on a fourth film, right?
Perhaps in an effort to test the waters, last Christmas brought us another ‘half hour’ special: “Toy Story That Time Forgot” but this time, it didn’t quite click. Set the day or so after Christmas, Bonnie is taken to play with a friend and takes some of her toys with her. Conveniently thinning down the cast, we still get Woody, Buzz and Rex along with Trixie and newcomer Angel Kitty (Jesse, Mr Potato Head and Mr Pricklepants make appearances bookending the story). Compared to the previous outings, the storytelling just feels…off this time. It doesn’t help that the boy Bonnie goes to play with appears to be one of the most spoiled children ever, as his Christmas haul is an eye-wateringly complete set of action figures and play sets as well as a top of the line interactive game system (which keeps the children occupied for much of the story, allowing the toys free reign). Indeed, the story depends on the excessive bounty as we’re back to that well-worn “Toy Story” euphemism of ‘being played with’ being the foundation of a good relationship and a fulfilled life.
There seems to be a cynicism in “Toy Story That Time Forgot”, a commercial avarice, which was either not present or was much better disguised in previous entries and a considerable amount of the sotyr is given over to lavish descriptions of the new toys and playsets (which, surprise surprise, were actually available to buy in real toy shops). Now “Toy Story” merchandise is hardly a new concept but it’s so brazen here that it breaks through the storytelling and still impressive animation to undermine the viewing experience. Although it’s still a good Pixar product, and good Pixar equals excellent just about anything else, it’s a reminder that this is a Disnified Pixar which not only thought “Cars 2” was a good idea but that “Cars 3” is too.