Ah, the Halloween special, a dying pedigree. Every December usually brings one or two new Christmas specials. The Halloween special, however, is a rarer breed. "The Great Pumpkin" gets trotted out every October but new productions are seen far less frequently. Pixar, for the first time, is throwing their hat into the ring with "Toy Story of Terror," basically a slightly-longer, televised version of their already popular "Toy Story" shorts. I'm a fan of the company and the series but would a Disney-owned property be willing to get creepy? Yes and no. "Toy Story of Terror" follow the same batch of toys as always (though Mrs. Potato Head, Slinky-Dog, and Dolly are notably absent), on the road with Bonny and her mom. When their car breaks down, the group has to stop at a spooky hotel. Once inside, the toys wander off, something strange picking them off one-by-one.
It's probably a mark of Pixar's quality that even a fluffy TV special has a genuine character arc. "Toy Story of Terror" begins with Jessie falling into a tool box and freaking out. Later on, she ventures out of Boony's bag because it's too confined for her. This is a story of the cowgirl conquering her claustrophobia. The arc is framed as a usual "believe in yourself" kid's movie story but the effort is appreciated. Moreover, Joan Cusack sells her fear honestly. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen have far smaller roles, Cusack, Wallace Shawn, Don Rickles, and Timothy Dalton doing most of the work. Dalton and Shawn are fantastic actually, the parts of Rex and Mr. Pricklepants playing nicely to their strengths.
As far as horror-content goes, "Toy Story of Terror" has some fun. The special begins with the toys watching a black-and-white vampire film, which is recreated nicely. Throughout the special, Mr. Pricklepants delivers dialogue about the traditional structure of the genre. After Mr. Potato-Head disappears, the toys investigate the dusty, cobweb-filled sub-flooring of the motel, Buzz' glow-in-the-dark paint casting an eerie green glow on everything. Jesse quickly becomes a final girl, an off-screen monster picking off her friends. She even has a run-in with an ineffectual authority figure, Carl Weathers having hilarious fun as Combat Carl. The second half of the special, after the truth is revealed, the horror elements pretty much disappear. This is disappointing, considering the first half did a good job introducing kids to the rules of the slasher film. That's unexpected for a Disney product. Will "Toy Story of Terror" become a classic like "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown?" It's hard to say but, if this becomes a yearly tradition, I'd probably be okay with that.
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