Tom Hanks and Tim Allen reprise their roles as Woody and Buzz Lightyear for this year’s Toy Story holiday special, which airs tonight at 8 p.m. on ABC—but the real star of the half-hour is a dinosaur (voiced by Kristen Schaal) going through a bit of an existential crisis.
Although Trixie is a triceratops, Bonnie—her “kid”—doesn’t treat her like one. Instead, Bonnie pretends Trixie is anything but a dinosaur: One moment Trixie’s a baby reindeer, the next she’s a goblin fairy (points for creativity, Bonnie). But poor Trixie just wants to be herself.
What makes this worse is that Bonnie picks a new toy to play the role of dinosaur—a cat ornament dressed like an angel. All the other toys praise Angel Kitty for her work as a kitty-saurus, while Trixie continues to pout about Bonnie’s inability to see her for who she really is.
Bonnie shirks the rest of the toys, too, when she heads to her friend Mason’s house and chooses to play an Oculus Rift-like game with him. Her toys and his are left to hang with each other. The only problem is Mason’s crew, much like Buzz in the first Toy Story movie, don’t even know they’re toys—and, as a result, are hilariously self-serious.
What follows are scenes featuring the same humor and creativity as any other Toy Story-related film, centered around Trixie’s encounter with the toys-who-don’t-know-they’re-toys—and what this teaches her about her relationship with Bonnie. While spin-offs of beloved kids’ movies are often disappointing, Pixar has proven again and again—with its Toy Story sequels, with 2013’s Toy Story Halloween special, with this one—that it knows how to keep the franchise’s story and characters fresh.
This is mostly thanks to the special’s decision to spotlight toys that played only supporting roles in previous adventures. Woody and Buzz appear in Toy Story That Time Forgot, and throw out a few good one-liners—but they aren’t in any way the center of attention. Instead, the special gives Trixie—who’s appeared in previous films but never as the main attraction—the honor of anchoring the show, proving that this creative team can make a complex character out of any toy.
It also helps that the special’s Christmas theme isn’t too heavy-handed. There’s a gingerbread house and Christmas tree, but other than that, the story’s more about identity and belonging than the holidays—a positive for anyone who’s tired of clichéd Christmas specials.
Toy Story That Time Forgot is a pleasant reminder of the power of Pixar, one that comes at an opportune time: It was announced in November that a fourth Toy Story film, directed by John Lasseter and written by Rashida Jones and Will McCormack, will hit theaters June 2017. Sure, that’s quite a ways from now—but if Toy Story That Time Forgot is any indication of what the next film will bring, it’ll be worth the wait.