The Christmas Toy (1986)

The Christmas Toy (Story)

Whenever I encounter a piece of media, I try to tackle it as its own work.

But I do not have the intellectual flexibility to do anything other than gawk at all 50 minutes of The Christmas Toy with “holy shit, this is Toy Story” looping through my head.

I mean, look at the premise:

  • Toys come to life when the child isn’t watching
  • Value and self-worth in toy world is derived from being played with
  • There’s an upcoming gift-giving occasion (Christmas instead of a birthday)
  • The current favorite toy feels jealousy of losing his prominent place in the toy hierarchy
  • The threatening new toy is a space character who doesn’t know they are a toy!
  • After a rescue mission, the toys come to accept there’s room for many toys in the kid’s life

People talk about Disney stealing ideas all the time, but I’ve never heard speculation that Pixar might have straight up lifted the concept of a 1986 Jim Henson special for their debut feature.

The Christmas Toy does contain a few details which did not carry over to Toy Story, the most notable being a rather grim bit of worldbuilding: If a Toy is caught moving by a human, the toy straight up dies. Like, its toy soul is gone. Forever. (Alas, they find a way to softpedal this with a resurrection, which is a bit disappointing).

In an alternate world with no Pixar, it might be possible to watch The Christmas Toy with fresh and more generous eyes, but the more I watched, the worse it looked in comparison to the 1995 masterpiece. It doesn’t feel as thoroughly imagined and lived in, and the characters have very little definition.

This is also a musical, but that doesn’t really change matters very much. The songs are maudlin and deeply forgettable; I couldn’t hum a single line from a single tune once the credits started rolling.

The one thing that I really love about this special in comparison to Toy Story is that this is completely live action. There’s something so fascinating and pleasing about watching physical toys come to life and move around, sometimes dozens at a time. The more I watch the work of Henson and his company, the more awe I feel at the tremendous skill and artistry in puppetry.

But it’s a small consolation, and there are better stories that use the art form — even Christmas specials, e.g. Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas. Otherwise, there‚Äôs not much to recommend here except the WTF of an alternate reality Toy Story.

Is It Good?

Not Very Good (3/8)

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