Toy Story Of Terror! spoiler-free review

Review Mark Harrison
18 Oct 2013 - 07:41

Mark takes a spoiler-free look at Pixar's Toy Story Of Terror!, airing on Sky Movies in the UK on the 27th of October...

While rumours abound that a fourth Toy Story feature is still on the cards, Pixar Animation Studios has found another, very successful outlet for their most beloved characters. 2010's Toy Story 3 wrapped up a pretty much perfect trilogy, but Woody, Buzz and the rest of Bonnie's toys have carried on in a series of hugely enjoyable Toy Story Toons.

Now, just in time for Halloween, they're the stars of Pixar's first TV special, Toy Story Of Terror! Bonnie and her mother are forced to stop off in the SleepWell motel during an overnight drive, while the toys are kept awake by a horror movie, and by Mr Pricklepants' disturbingly accurate comparisons between their situation and the classic dramatic structure of that genre.

Starting with Mr Potato Head, the toys begin to disappear one by one, tumbling into a mystery that will force Jessie to find a way of confronting her greatest fear. It's in that much at least that Jessie takes centre stage for this special, exploring her character in more depth than we've seen than the soul-shaking When She Loved Me number in Toy Story 2.

One of the big pleasures of this one is in seeing how writer-director Angus Maclane has revisited certain aspects of Toy Story 2, particularly involving the value of Woody and Jessie as collectables, but the continuity references don't stop there either.

The major new toy character this time around is Combat Carl, voiced by Carl Weathers. If the name rings a bell, we saw Sid blow one of them into smithereens in his backyard in the first film. As a character, he seems appropriately traumatised, and Weathers has some great moments, referring to himself in the third person and launching himself into the thick of the action.

As far as voice acting goes, it's Timothy Dalton who steals the show as Mr. Pricklepants, one of the less explored characters introduced in Toy Story 3. This time around, he's hilariously re-purposed as a meta-hedgehog of horror, creeping out the other characters with his ominous and slightly excitable tour of genre tropes and clichés.

And if you're slightly put off by the shonky voice acting in the otherwise lovely Sky Movies advert that has promoted the special in the UK, then have no fear- Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack and all the other original voice actors are back on board here, just as they were for the Toy Story Toons.

As in those shorts, the special also dedicates screen time to exploring areas of toy life that were unexplored in the main features. This time around, we see how Pez dispensers get on when nobody's around, a really funny spoof of a Transformer, and a brief, but completely satisfactory answer to one of my personal burning questions about Toy Story- what happens to Lego?

If there's a criticism of Toy Story Of Terror!, it would only be that the script isn't quite up to the standard of what has gone before. It's longer than the shorts, but not quite long enough to really get its teeth into the kind of storytelling that has characterised the franchise. But if it feels a little rushed, it's only because it's so enjoyable, at its best.

It's also most likely to send a shiver up your spine for the lack of Hamm - it's understandable that certain characters are missing, especially with the strong Jessie arc at the centre, but something about Toy Story without John Ratzenberger's snarky money bank just feels wrong. Likewise, it's always nice to see the little green men, but they're seemingly cut in order to keep it  straightforward too.

As to the actual terror - sorry, I mean, Terror! - those viewers who have young fans in the house needn't be too worried about the special being scary. Although it pays some quite lovely and often hilarious homages to the genre, including Predator, Psycho and Night Of The Living Dead, there's nothing that will really terrify young kids here.

That said, Maclane makes particularly ingenious use of how tough it can be for a toy to manoeuvre through an environment in which you're only 1/16th the scale of the people who live there. Michael Giacchino, (who is quickly establishing himself as the next great movie composer) also helps to ramp up the spook factor, with his excellent score. But if anything, this is less intense than the sequences in Sid's room from Toy Story, and kids should enjoy those scary parts as much as the very funny comedic side.

What we have instead is an instantly rewatchable Halloween special that should become a fixture in the slightly repetitive viewing patterns of young kids, right alongside the trilogy of feature films and the excellent short Toons.

Even if it feels a little madcap and hectic, Toy Story Of Terror! packs a lot into its twenty minutes, including a laugh-out-loud hilarious credits scene and even some further character development for some of our heroes. Even a structural stickler like Mr. Pricklepants can appreciate how this turned out. And he actually does, metatextually. Meta-hedgehog!

Toy Story Of Terror! will premiere in the UK on Sky Movies on October 27th.

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