Toy Story of Terror! (2013)

2013 #93a
Angus MacLean | 21 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English

Toy Story of TerrorThe fourth Toy Story short, Toy Story of Terror! is a made-for-TV Halloween special that nonetheless has all the quality we’ve come to expect from a Pixar short. (I say “nonetheless” — I’ve written at length before about my thoughts on the all-but-disappeared divide between TV and film.)

When new-owner Bonnie’s mum’s mom’s car gets a flat, the toys and their owner are forced to spend the night at a roadside motel — the setting for many a horror movie, of course. And indeed there’s something suspicious at the motel; something that stalks toys, and snatches them… or worse…

Of Terror winds up a mash-up of horror-trope-spoofery and usual kids’ tale Toy Story antics, pretty much divided half-and-half around the midpoint. Which is no bad thing when it’s all so much fun. The horror movie stuff early on is a suitable tribute to the genre, packed with atmosphere. Of course it’s kid-friendly and so not really scary, but there are plenty of nice references and a solid mystery — in A Horror Movie it could be any kind of monster stalking the toys, but in this (semi-)real world, what’s it going to turn out to be? The stand out, perhaps, is English-accented thesp Mr Pricklepants, who trots around describing all the horror movie tropes. It’s a top-notch performance from Timothy Dalton.

Terrified JessieThe second half is more familiar Toy Story stomping ground — indeed, if there’s one bum note, it’s that the villain and his ‘plot’ are almost a rehash of Toy Story 2. But hey, if you’re going to copy, copy from the best; plus it’s not exactly the same, just resonant; and it’s only a small part of a successful whole, so it can pass. As this is primarily a kids’ film, there’s a Moral Message to be learned. I don’t really object to that — it fits with the story and tone, and it also serves as character development for Jessie — it just always strikes me, when watching stuff aimed at kids now that I’m a grown up*, how blatant these Messages are when you know they’ll have been inserted.

Much to my delight, it moves at a rate of knots. This could easily have been a longer piece, evolving at a steady rate; perhaps not a full feature (not without a few more plot beats at least), but certainly longer. Instead, it goes like the clappers, and I appreciate that. Plus, even though it’s only a 20-minute TV special, Pixar have clearly poured all their usual love and attention into the animation. Highlights include a black-and-white horror movie at the start (oh, imagine a full-length Pixar film looking like that!), and an underground section lit by the spooky green glow of Buzz’s glow-in-the-dark parts, which is both amusing and effectively eerie. And best of all, the whole thing is genuinely funny. There’s a particularly great gag with a Pez dispenser near the end.

The name's Pricklepants, Mr PricklepantsApparently Toy Story of Terror! spent two years in development. While that might seem excessive for a mere under-half-hour animation, the time and effort have paid off handsomely: the result is a thoroughly entertaining short — and one that actually embraces its seasonal theme, rather than forcing it in as an afterthought. Terrific.

4 out of 5

Toy Story of Terror! is currently exclusive to Sky Movies in the UK, showing regularly on their channels and available on demand, including via NOW TV.

* technically ^

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