It’s a universal truth that growing up means, among other things, learning how to say goodbye. All the best children’s stories understand this, and, more often than not, the first major goodbye of a child’s life is the one they say to their favorite toy when they realize they’ve outgrown it. This moment of transition, as well as the collateral damage it leaves in its wake, is at the heart of countless beloved children’s movies, including all four Toy Story films.
It’s at the center of Netflix’s newest miniseries, Lost Ollie, too. The series, which is based on William Joyce’s 2016 children’s book, Ollie’s Odyssey, initially seems to be little more than a playful, straightforward tale of one lost toy’s journey back to its owner. But Lost Ollie ultimately has higher ambitions than its Toy Story-esque premise would suggest.
Over the course of its four episodes, the series reveals itself to be not just about one child’s struggle to adapt to the painful realities of the world, but also about the ways in which love can endure through even the most lengthy passages of time. Its interest in the latter topic leads Lost Ollie down some surprisingly dark paths, some of which may prove to be too nihilistic for its inevitably young viewers. However, the destination that Lost Ollie eventually arrives at is potent and powerful enough to justify even its most dour moments.
Adapted by Shannon Tindle and directed by Peter Ramsey, Lost Ollie follows its titular toy, a patchwork bunny voiced by Glee and Hamilton actor Jonathan Groff, as he sets out to reunite with his best friend and former owner, Billy (Kesler Talbot). In order to do so, Ollie not only has to make the difficult trek across a region that is largely unknown to him, but he must also put back together the pieces of his own painful, fractured memories.
Along the way, Ollie partners up with two other toys: Zozo (Tim Blake Nelson), a helpful but lovelorn carnival toy, and Rosy (Mary J. Blige), a feisty and capable pink bear who carries more than her fair share of battle scars. Together, Zozo and Rosy attempt to help Ollie find his way back to Billy, whose personal struggles and losses only grow clearer to Ollie the further into his own memories he delves.
Ollie’s journey is told across four episodes, each of which comes in well under an hour in length. However, it’s hard not to feel when you’re watching Lost Ollie like it might have originally been imagined as a children’s movie. In fact, had Lost Ollie been brought to life in that form, it likely wouldn’t have had many of the flaws that the new Netflix miniseries does, nearly all of which relate to the uneven pacing of its four chapters. Lost Ollie’s first two episodes, in particular, move at a much slower pace than some viewers may be able to tolerate.
Fortunately, Lost Ollie’s pace not only picks up near the end of its second episode, but its story also becomes infinitely more compelling and interesting once a certain twist, which is best left unspoiled, is revealed. This midpoint turn largely allows Lost Ollie to add deeper shades to its themes of love, loss, and memory. Despite taking place almost totally in the past as well, Lost Ollie’s melancholic third episode achieves an unexpected, Tim Burton-esque mood of gothic romanticism. The episode’s nearly wordless opening sequence especially feels like something that could easily fit within one of Burton’s better films.
This is all a testament to Peter Ramsey’s contributions as the director of Lost Ollie’s four episodes. Based on his work on films like Rise of the Guardians and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Ramsey’s blending of Lost Ollie’s animated and live-action elements is seamless and, at times, quite visually stunning to behold. What’s even more impressive, however, is Ramsey’s handling of Lost Ollie’s ever-shifting tone and, in specific, his willingness to take the Netflix miniseries to places of heartbreak, sorrow, and bitterness that most other filmmakers might have shied away from.
For a lot of parents and kids, the places Lost Ollie goes in its second half may ultimately be too dark for their tastes, but the series’ commitment to exploring the negative, as well as the positive, ways that love can endure over time allows it to mine its themes more deeply than it would have otherwise. Its expansive thematic scope also leads Lost Ollie toward a conclusion that manages to both subvert viewers’ expectations and emerge as a more cathartic and emotionally honest ending than the one viewers will likely have in their heads for most of the miniseries’ story.
Tindle and Ramsey also place a lot of Lost Ollie’s emotional weight on the shoulders of Gina Rodriguez, who plays Billy’s mom. Fortunately, Rodriguez is more than up to the task, delivering a performance across Lost Ollie’s four chapters that radiates an infectious maternal warmth. Rodriguez is, at times, almost heartbreakingly charming in Lost Ollie, and her performance supplies the miniseries with the love and heart that it desperately needs in order to work.
Despite being given considerably less to do than Rodriguez, Jake Johnson also shines, once again, as Billy’s dad, whose strained relationship with his son reaches an important turning point in Lost Ollie’s finale. Meanwhile, among the show’s voice cast, Tim Blake Nelson turns in a surprisingly wounded performance as Zozo, the older toy that Ollie partners up with early on in Lost Ollie’s first installment.
The fact that Lost Ollie’s opening two episodes are considerably more languid and predictable than its final two does take away from the overall effectiveness of the series, which feels, in certain moments, like a film that’s been stretched to work as a 4-part Netflix project. But Lost Ollie’s final two episodes contain enough power and artistry to partially make up for the mistakes of those that came before them. While the series’ epilogue may prove to be too sentimental for some as well, Lost Ollie earns its final moments of heartbreak, reunion, and closure.
In its closing sequence, Lost Ollie also adds a touch of optimism to its story of loss and love, one which argues that actual growth comes less from learning how to say goodbye than from learning how to say hello again.
Lost Ollie premieres Wednesday, August 23 on Netflix. Digital Trends was given access to all four of the series’ episodes.