In Toy Story That Time Forgot, premiering on ABC on December 2nd, a post-Christmas play date finds the Toy Story gang in uncharted territory when the coolest set of action figures ever, known as the Battlesaurs, turn out to be dangerously delusional and it’s all up to Trixie, the triceratops, if the gang hopes to return to Bonnie’s room. The cast includes Tom Hanks as Woody, Tim Allen as Buzz, Kristen Schaal as Trixie, Kevin McKidd as Reptillus Maximus, Wallace Shawn as Rex, Timothy Dalton as Mr. Pricklepants, Don Rickles as Mr. Potato Head and Joan Cusack as Jessie.
While at Comic-Con, director Steve Purcell and producer Galyn Susman spoke to press at a roundtable about working with this talented voice cast, why they wanted to tell this particular story, deciding what to cut out during the storyboard phase, the side stories they had to cut from this 30-minute story, how they decide which actors they want to hire to voice new characters, and voice actors on their wish list. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
STEVE PURCELL: We have to. We have to think about not just what it means for the characters on screen, but what it says to the audience members watching. So, we’re looking for the hook into the emotion and the honesty of the emotion of the characters.
Steve, what’s it like to tell Tom Hanks what to do?
PURCELL: That’s pretty overwhelming. When Tom Hanks walked in the room, I was like, “There’s Tom Hanks! I don’t know if there’s room for me.” He’s such a personality. What’s great is that he’s such a fantastic work horse. He was totally willing to give another yell or another grunt. He was totally willing. He had prepared and he had read everything beforehand. He was excited about the story and understood what we were trying to go for, so it was a really exciting experience working with him.
How challenging is it to get Tom Hanks and Tim Allen back for these shorts?
GALYN SUSMAN: I don’t know how much I’m allowed to discuss the agreements with Tom and Tim, but we have extended agreements with them.
These shorts have been a great opportunity to focus on some of the supporting toys. Why was now the right time for Trixie?
PURCELL: Well, it’s Trixie because she’s a dinosaur. Trixie and Rex are a total fit for this. They have totally different personalities from each other. Even though they’re both video game fans, Trixie has this quirky point of view that felt like she should be the one who drives this. She’s a dinosaur, but she was feeling like she wasn’t getting acknowledged as one, so we put her in the middle of a place where this ultimate dinosaur idea is fully acknowledged. She gets to get hip-deep in it.
SUSMAN: Steve had this vision of Battlesaurs that was just so compelling, and he was ready to make it. We refer to ourselves as being a director-driven studio, and what that ultimately means is that directors have a vision and are passionate to tell a particular story. When they’re ready to do it, it dictates when that story is ready to come out.
At what stage do you have to decide what you’ll be cutting out and what you’ll be recording?
PURCELL: Anything we cut out, we hope to cut out during the storyboard phase. We don’t want anything to go to waste, so we try to do all of the cutting and pasting during the story reel. The story reel is our roadmap to the final product. We want to do as minimal changes as we can, once we get into the layout, animation and all those expensive parts of the process. Having a few guys in the room drawing and having a couple of editors on hand is the most malleable part of the process and the easiest to change.
Is there anything from this one that you had to cut out?
PURCELL: Oh, yeah, we had a whole side story where we had an outpost of rebel toys that weren’t captured by the Battlesaurs. We had the eco-force gang, led by Captain Eco, who is a biodegradable toy. He has a lifespan. He doesn’t have time to wait around to be played with.
PURCELL: I loved [Kevin McKidd] in Rome. He was such a great, complicated character because he was so confident as the Centurion, but you could feel this vulnerability in him, as well, and he was in over his head. That was a great point of reference for our character. But then, when we had him on stage, he knew to add this level of bombast and charisma to it, so everything is overstated in just the right way. He added a little bit of Errol Flynn, on top of that more complicated character that he played in Rome.
SUSMAN: And listening to him, we were inspired to make all of the Battlesaurs British. It’s a theme amongst all of the Battlesaurs now.
PURCELL: I was thinking more cartoon-y character type of actors, and John Lasseter said, “Think beyond the cartoon. When we see these movies, we expect their voices to be British.” It made sense, and it totally paid off. It made it feel even more exotic to an American audience, and it felt like that kind of genre.
How does Kevin McKidd’s character, Reptillus Maximus, fit into this story?
PURCELL: We have these Battlesaur action figures, but we wanted one for Trixie to connect to. There’s a little bit of romance. There’s definitely a connection going on with them, so we let his character be a little more thoughtful and he maybe has doubts about this culture because maybe he’s been fed this line and there’s something more than being just the Battlesaur. Because Kevin is so diverse in the kind of roles he does, we felt that he would bring a lot to that kind of personality.
PURCELL: It hasn’t felt like that. This was just the project that I was working on. For me, it’s great to work with a crew and work on something that’s turned around rather quickly, compared to the stuff we normally do. I learned a ton while I was doing it. It was a great experience for me.
How long did this take to complete?
PURCELL: Two and a half or three years. Compared to a feature, that’s pretty quick. I started on it, right as I was coming off of Brave. I was the co-director on Brave, so I was familiar with the process. But it was fun to get in from the start on this and write some new characters and see it through.
How long does each stage of the production take?
SUSMAN: Most of it is the story.
PURCELL: We go back and remake the reels, every three months or so. At one point, we turned the reels around in a month, instead of a couple of months.
SUSMAN: But, we started the layout last December. Throughout the whole process of layout, layout animation, effects, simulation, lighting and rendering, we’ll have that complete by the first week of October.
PURCELL: And there are hardly any wild cards in there, by then. All of that is very known quantities. Story is always the wild card. You’re like, “Does this play? We think it does. Let’s show it to an audience and see.” And we’ll show it in-house and, sure enough, something will be wrong with it, so we go back and pull it apart. For awhile, Trixie was more on the sidelines. She wasn’t as central to the story as we needed her to be. So, we did a big push and made sure she was as key to the story as she needed to be. That was a good effort. It was worth doing, and it helped the story.
Who would you like to see featured in their own story next?
PURCELL: I’d love to see an Angel Kitty solo.
SUSMAN: I could definitely think about a lot of Combat Carl stories that you could tell.
Are there any voice actors on your wish list to play a character?
PURCELL: That’s really based on what the character is. We then start hunting around and thinking about who would be the best voice for that. It’s not about the most famous person, but it’s about the voice that fits. I’d love to have Christopher Walken do something for a Toy Story piece. I love the movies of the ‘70s, and there are a lot of actors of that era.
SUSMAN: Tom Waits would be fun.