Angus MacLean | 21 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English
The 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.
The 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.
Apparently 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.
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 ^