Pixar takes the same kind of pride and care with their “Toy Story” characters as Walt Disney did with his beloved Mickey Mouse. Whether it’s a major motion picture, a half-hour TV special, or one of the short Toy Story Toons to come out of Pixar Canada, the quality of animation and the level of creativity is consistently superior to the competition. I know. What competition, right?
“Toy Story of Terror” is a perfect example. This 21-minute Halloween special debuted on ABC-TV on October 16, 2013, but it stars all of the original voice talents and features the same energy, inventiveness and attention to detail as we got in the three big “Toy Story” movies. What’s more, in this release the Pixar bunch continues with their playful brand of self-reflexive filmmaking.
This time we pick up the action as Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Jessie ) Joan Cusack), Rex (Wallace Shawn), Mr. Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton), Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), and Trixie (Kristen Schaal)are using a portable DVD player to watch a horror film in the trunk of young Bonnie’s car. Her mother is taking her on a road trip, and as the toys watch horror in horror, Mr. Pricklepants narrates, anticipating the action by exposing all of the conventions of the genre in a sardonic running commentary.
Even as Bonnie and her mother check into a softened Pixar version of the Bates Motel, Mr. Pricklepants continues to undercut everyone’s fears by poking fun of all the clichés—that is, until the toys start disappearing in darkness one by one after they’ve left the suitcase.
Some will say that the plot comes a little too close to “Toy Story 2,” but it struck me as a fun variation on what toys might find “horrific” about a motel, and also provided a nice parody of what parents know for a fact: toys can easily get lost in a hotel room. How many times have caregivers found themselves on all fours looking under the bed, opening every drawer, or shaking out all the bedding, trying to find a toy while a child sat there crying? It’s so common it’s almost a cliché—but it’s also a “truth,” and one of Pixar’s many strengths has been telling it like it is, and still managing to surprise. Even after the credits have started rolling, there’s still more to delight.
All of the characters are entertaining and Pixar is generous about sharing the wealth. Everyone gets a funny line, a precious reaction shot, or some kind of spotlight, however brief, so “Toy Story of Terror” plays a bit like a cartoon version of an ensemble film.
Still, two characters that stand out this outing are Combat Carl (Carl Weathers), a soldier toy the gang encounters along the way, and Mr. Pricklepants (Dalton), whose commentary is hilarious. Carl’s—I mean, COMBAT Carl’s—energy is infectious, and he brings the kind of craziness to the film that Buzz Lightyear did in the first “Toy Story.” Look for him to get the spotlight in future “Toy Story” films.
The production values for “Toy Story of Terror” are superior to what you usually see on television, and that goes back to the obvious affection that Pixar has for the face of their franchise. Presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, it looks terrific in every aspect, with a sparkling AVC/MPEG-4 transfer. Colors have pop, objects are nicely defined, black levels rock, and the amount of detail is what you’d expect from Pixar.
The audio is MORE than you’d expect, especially for a TV special. The featured audio is an English DTS-HD MA 7.1 that really rises to the occasion, especially in the segments that play up the dark-and-stormy-night horror aspects. Also included is an English 2.0 DVS Dolby Digital descriptive track, with subtitles in English SDH, French and Spanish.
This combo pack comes with a Digital HD Copy but no DVD. Since the main feature only runs 21 minutes, you knew that Disney would do something to add to the value, and the main padding is a trio of Toy Story Toons—the first three made by Vancouver-based Pixar Canada. I knew that each had been released previously on home video, but I would have been hard-pressed to find them, if I had a child who was suddenly clamoring for a particular cartoon short.
As it turns out, “Partysaurus Rex” was a bonus feature on the “Monsters, Inc.” 3D Blu-ray release, while “Hawaiian Vacation” and “Small Fry” were included in the “Pixar Short Films Collection, Vol. 2.” Since I probably wouldn’t have remembered where they were, it’s nice to have all three on this disk for easy access, and you can play them with or without commentary. Each of these shorts is as funny and original as the main feature.
Other than that, the bonus features are relatively slight. In addition to a 12-minute “making of” extra, a commentary track, and three deleted scenes, there are also three newly created “vintage” toy commercials (for Combat Carl, Old Timer, and Transitron) that were obviously fun challenges posed to the Pixar animators. Though REALLY brief, they’re also fun to watch. Finally, if you’re into all things Disney there’s a trailer for “D23.”
“Toy Story of Terror” is full of jokes, gags, and allusions that adults and older siblings will love, but it’s also intended for younger children, with a core message about believing in yourself and, as the old Nike commercials urged, just doing it!