Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Review: Toy Story of Terror!

Toy Story of Terror!  represents Pixar's first foray into the realm of television specials.  Just in time for Halloween, the Toy Story gang find themselves caught up in a creepy turn of events when forced to spend a night at a roadside motel.  The easiest place for a toy to get lost, according to Woody, the toys do indeed begin to disappear one by one.  Is something spooky afoot?

Much like the three Toy Story Toons that preceded it, Toy Story of Terror! features lots of familiar faces, all voiced by their original actors, but focuses its narrative on one character in particular.  Jessie is our main star this time around. With her abandonment issues and fear of small spaces, she's an ideal choice to place in a horror film setting.  On top of that, it's also nice to see Pixar tell a story that deals with Jessie facing her insecurities head-on, as she never really had enough screen-time to do so in the film series proper.  Though the brisk pacing of the special's run time means that the plot has to speed along at a breakneck rate, Jessie has a nice complete character arc in this special that is surprisingly well done.

Mr. Pricklepants, the thespian hedgehog who was undoubtedly the best new toy introduced in Toy Story 3, also gets his most substantial role to date.  As a classically trained actor, or so he thinks, Pricklepants delights in calling attention to the horror film cliches that Toy Story of Terror! employs as well as predicting what may happen next based on his knowledge of classic films.  Not only is his performance hilarious, but it also leads a few sly fourth-wall-bending jokes here and there!

In keeping with Toy Story tradition, a few new toys are introduced in Toy Story of Terror!, though we don't get to see too much of them.  Indeed, perhaps the only real shortcoming of Toy Story of Terror! is its brief length.  Though the story does not feel rushed, it does move along quickly, and it's a shame that more time couldn't have been spent fleshing out the scenario.  There is little time to devote to the new characters we meet, but they make the most of their brief roles.  One new character in particular ought to bring a smile to the faces of longtime Toy Story fans who know the original movie inside and out.

It's also worth pointing out that, while Toy Story of Terror! is definitely heavy on Toy Story, it's relatively light on terror.  The first half of the 22 minute special does pack in a few well executed homages to classic horror films and there are a few mild jump scares sprinkled throughout, but the horror film pretense is almost completely dropped for the latter half of the story. 

This might be a little disappointing to those who were hoping for something a little creepier, but the more traditional Toy Story antics that follow are more than enough to make up for it.  Clever nods to both the original Toy Story and Toy Story 2 are sprinkled throughout for longtime fans to catch and the climax is thrilling enough to maintain the suspenseful atmosphere created by the special's more spooky beginnings, even if it is more along the lines of the traditional action and adventure one expects to see from Toy Story.

Ultimately, Toy Story of Terror! is a success.  The story, though brisk, feels complete and is consistently entertaining throughout.  The special is funny as well as exciting, and nods to both classic horror films and previous Toy Story films ensure that all audiences will find something to enjoy.  Pixar knocked it out of the park with their first TV special.  Here's hoping Buzz and Woody will be back on the little screen with more adventures soon!

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