“They are the Kubricks of animation,” surprise guest Kristen Schaal joked about Pixar during Thursday’s Comic-Con International panel for the ABC holiday special Toy Story That Time Forgot.
Schaal, who voices the triceratops Trixie, joined producer Galyn Susman, director Steve Purcell, head of story Derek Thompson and moderator Michael Giacchino to give the audience its first look at the continuing adventures of Woody, Buzz and the gang.
This time, Trixie is the main character in a tale set during “post-Christmas play date” as she gets to finally mingle with fellow dinosaurs called Battlesaurs – armored dinos that engage in “gladiator-like battles” in a nod to ‘80s toy lines like Dino-Riders.
But the Battlesaurs, led by Reptillus Maximus (voiced by Brave’s Kevin McKidd), do not know they’re toys, reminiscent of the crisis Buzz Lightyear faced in 1995’s Toy Story. Our heroes must soon find a way back to Bonnie’s house before they become permanent combatants for these delusional toys.
Almost 10 minutes of work-in-progress footage was screened, and the packed room loved every frame.
Here are 11 things we learned from watching the clips, along with a few key behind-the-scenes anecdotes shared by the panelists:
1. The filmmakers treated the Battlesaurs as if they were a real 1980s toy line. They created a cheesy opening-credits sequence for the Battlesaurs cartoon, complete with theme song. Footage of McKidd performing that song during a recording session was screened, generating laughter from the audience. Sample lyrics? A chorus of “Battlesaurs! Battlesaurs!”
2. Investing the Battlesaurs with a backstory of sorts, and treating them like a real line of toys, was a mandate from Pixar’s John Lasseter. “We had to think about the world as an immaculate reality,” Purcell said. “As absurd as their world is, John insisted we … build the story out from questions like, ‘Who do they fight?’ and ‘Why are they fighting?’”
3. Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack and Wallace Shawn return to voice their classic characters.
4. In addition to the Battlesaurs, another new toy joins the gang: Angel Kitty, a Christmas ornament that’s half kitten, half angel.
5. The Battlesaurs belong to Bonnie’s friend Mason, who received them for Christmas. As Buzz points out in one of the clips shown, the volcano-y playset comes complete with motion control-activated sentry.
6. The Battlesaurs’ scientist, Ray-Gon, uses an elaborate robotic arm rig – and his opposable thumbs – to arm Reptillus and pals for combat.
In one scene, Ray-Gon gives Trixie her own set of armor – complete with tactical eyewear and twin rocket launchers. He also arms Rex with, well, arms. Two incredibly long mechanical appendages in a scene prompted overwhelming laughter from the crowd.
7. The original Toy Story was intended to be a holiday special called Tin Toy Christmas, based on Pixar’s short Tin Toy. Footage from the short was presented, featuring early renderings of Woody – he looked more like a Howdy Doody doll – and Buzz wearing a red space suit.
8. The Battlesaurs have a cleric character, voiced by Purcell. The director provided a scratch vocal during the early animation process, and it went over so well that Lasseter said to keep the voice for the final production.
9. Each Battlesaur playset, including the Arena of Woe, comes with “Raptorian Guards.” “[All guards] look exactly alike,” Thompson said, adding that they serve the same function in this toyline as Cobra’s faceless troopers did for G.I. Joe.
10. This marks the series’ first trip into sci-fi territory. The filmmakers screened genre “classics” to prepare them for telling the story.
11. Giacchino added that a musician he is working with on the score owns the horn featured in the first Planet of the Apes film. It will be featured on the special’s soundtrack.
Although the footage screened was incomplete, it appears as Pixar has another hit on its hands. The level of inventive world-building on display here is enough to fill a fourth Toy Story film.
The half-hour Toy Story That Time Forgot will air Dec. 4 on ABC.