Review: Toy Story of Terror / Cert: U / Director: Angus MacLane / Screenplay: John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton / Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Timothy Dalton, Carl Weathers
Since the emotionally crippling Toy Story 3 ended the toys' story, it seems as though the cinematic saga is over but nobody said anything about shorts and TV. Woody and the gang may not be starring in any more full-length features but they are still around warming the cockles of our hearts. In 2011 the crew starred in animated short Hawaiian Vacation, which was better than the feature it preceded (Cars 2). Also in 2012 we had another Toy Story-themed short in Small Fry, which was a charming warm-up before the brilliant The Muppets. So now we have a longer short film (if that’s a thing) in this 22-minute breeze of Halloween-themed fun and it is utterly brilliant.
The narrative, though simple, has a taste of the depth Pixar usually delivers with a toybox full of references for Horror fans. The film sees Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack), Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), Rex (Wallace Shawn), Trixie (Kristen Schaal) and Mr. Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton) thrown into a haunting adventure at a motel. Notably absent are Bullseye, Ratzenburger’s Hamm, Estelle Harris’ Mrs. Potato Head, the aliens and Blake Clark’s Slinky but then again we all know that you can’t take all your toys on a road trip. The fact this TV Special re-gathers its starry cast is one of many astounding features on display in what is a dazzling (albeit really short) piece of animated television.
The plot directly follows on from the films, with the toys now in Bonnie’s possession and the main narrative arc revolving around Jessie and her confinement fears (developed in Toy Story 2). This TV special spectacularly links the events of the films into this story, without recycling very much at all. Look out for some very astute nods to the second film in particular. The script allows for Pixar to balance child-like silliness (Rex stepping in goo, a slapstick villain) with adult aimed complexity (abandonment issues, the cutthroat online sales industry and intertextuality aplenty). Initially you are thrown by seeing Toy Story on your television and not your multiplex but you'll soon become accustomed to the quicker pace; this is an impressively tight and engaging story. Even if the usual depth cannot realistically be expected, there is an admirable weight behind this short.
The voice work is as lively as we have come to expect from the series and the animation is absolutely fantastic. The characters feel as ageless as ever and the new additions are most welcome. The third person speaking Combat Carl (a wonderfully self-deprecating Carl Weathers) is a particularly fantastic addition to the Toy Story alumni. Though it is Dalton as hedgehog thespian Mr. Pricklepants who steals the show, talking us through the generic elements of the Horror genre as the plot progresses. It is nice to see Jessie made the central focus and her character is developed by the story. A story aided by Michael Giacchino’s scoring, which adds background atmosphere wherever needed.
Toy Story of Terror takes influence from Psycho (though refraining from Hermann’s screeching suite), Dracula and The Pit and the Pendulum, to name but a few. The film is breezy, charming and deeper than you could expect for a short feature. Is it as good as the films? Of course not, it's only 22 minutes long, how could it possibly measure up? Yet it’s the best Pixar production since the last Toy Story film and uses Horror genre conventions to tell a knowing and engagingly spooky tale. In short, this is essential, near faultless animated television for all ages.