Before Toy Story, there was ITV’s The Forgotten Toys, an animated short voiced by Bob Hoskins and Joanna Lumley – we take a look back.

This feature contains mild spoilers for all four Toy Story movies.

Animated specials are an annual fixture on UK TV Christmas schedules, but it’s altogether rarer to see a Boxing Day special. That’s what’s offered up by The Forgotten Toys, a half-hour animation based on James Stevenson’s book The Night After Christmas, created by Hibbert Ralph Entertainment for ITV.

Originally broadcast on 26th December 1995, the adaptation was made too close to the release of the first Toy Story (a little while after its US release, but a few months before it arrived on our shores) for any similarities in its story of toys’ replacement anxieties to be anything other than coincidental. And yet in retrospect, it seems to anticipate the themes and ideas of not only the first film, but all four Toy Story features to date.

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The Forgotten Toys starts with two toys waking up outside in the bin after Christmas, while their children play with newer and shinier characters indoors. Voiced by Joanna Lumley and the late, great Bob Hoskins, Annie the ragdoll and Teddy the bear find themselves alone in London, desperately seeking new children to look after them.

In the course of the half-hour short, they also endure the full gamut of plushie existential terror that Woody and Buzz go through across four whole films.

For instance, it’s not five minutes into the special before Teddy has an arm ripped off, as happens to Woody in Toy Story 2. Moments later, they face destruction by rubbish collectors, as happens twice in Toy Story 3. Over the rest of the running time, the discarded duo are almost frozen, drowned, and torn to bits by crows and nasty dogs. That’s a heck of a lot of mild peril for just under 30 minutes.

As befits Boxing Day, there’s a hungover pathos to the proceedings that’s a bit more reined in when you have a Disney and Pixar production. If this is the British answer to Toy Story, it’s colder and more melancholic for it, with simple, bordering-on-pastel-coloured animation, but it’s brightened by terrifically versatile vocal performances by Lumley and Hoskins.

Where Lumley’s Annie is sad but accepting of her fate with the child who threw her away, Teddy is the hard-faced little Cockney geezer, played to a tee by Hoskins. Going through the gamut of denial, anger, bargaining, and depression in quite short order, Teddy’s attitude is what makes this a marked departure from Pixar’s lost-toys buddy comedy – neither of the toys are trying to get back to their old owners, even to try and win them back, but instead try to rebuild and get over this unceremonious ending. It took Woody until Toy Story 4 to get to that point.

Instead, Annie and Teddy are taken in by Chauncey, (voiced by disgraced TV personality Clement Freud) a stray dog who looks after them in return for their help after he’s struck by a speeding car – Christmas is a hard time for everyone in this film. After a spell of grieving over their abandonment, the two toys narrowly avoid destruction (again) and attempt to gift themselves to excited kids at the school gates at home time, leading to a fittingly sweet ending.

It’s a break-up movie rather than a cuddly odyssey, but it’s not all doom and gloom either. There’s plenty of comic relief, (mostly thanks to Hoskins, whose rant about his lineage to President Theodore Roosevelt and the US constitution is a highlight) and a suitable serving of leftover festive spirit too, thanks to the intervention of an old toymaker (voiced by Andrew Sachs) who may or may not be Father Christmas.

Like Toy Story, The Forgotten Toys continued for further instalments, with Hoskins and Lumley reprising their roles in 26 episodes for Children’s ITV between 1997 and 1999. Depressingly, the first episode – the self-explanatory Forgotten Again, finds Annie and Teddy making their own way after they’re lost at an airport, then embarking on Incredible Hulk-style sad wanderings at the end of each episode as they continue their apparently doomed search for a kid that can keep hold of them.

The complete series was later released on VHS and DVD, with the retroactively retitled original film getting its own release as The Night After Christmas. With its bittersweet but warm-hearted tone, the Forgotten Toys special isn’t necessarily traditional Christmassy fare, and it never became a fixture in ITV’s Christmas schedules like The Snowman has for Channel 4 or Magic Light Pictures’ animated shorts have on the Beeb.

Most things look relatively obscure next to the Toy Story movies, but for those of us who do remember that first film, it’s fascinating to see how deftly it anticipates some of the same themes and stories. The spin-off series is inevitably a little breezier, but the original film leaves a lasting impression with its straightforward poignancy and frost-bitten sentimentality. If you’re curious to give it a look or you want to revisit the special yourself, The Forgotten Toys: The Night After Christmas is still available on DVD second-hand from various outlets – watch with a stiff upper lip…

 

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