Blu-Ray Review: Toy Story of Terror!
In May of 2010, I attended a charity screening of Toy Story 3 put on by PIXAR Animation Studios, to benefit the Comer Children’s Hospital, in Chicago, IL. Needless to say, it delivered on several emotional levels, and became in my mind, a worthy conclusion to the Toy Story Trilogy.
After the film ended, there was time for a few questions, and the first came from a little boy:
“When is Toy Story 4 coming out?”
After that summer, that’s all every other person could talk about regarding the topic of “sequels that PIXAR HAD to make” (along with sequels to the likes of The Incredibles, and Monsters Inc).
Instead of letting the fact they had a billion dollar hit on their hands go to their heads, PIXAR chose to instead, take a different approach to continuing the adventures of Woody (Tom Hanks) and his friends. Much like they had done with the film Cars, the toys would find themselves entering the world of shorts, with several showing before various Disney and PIXAR releases.
Then in the fall of 2013, the company moved their characters into prime-time, with their first Holiday Special: Toy Story of Terror.
Attending the D23 Expo in August of 2013, some 40,000 people and myself, were treated to the first 10 minutes of the short, which would be premiering on ABC that fall. I didn’t see it when it officially came out, and just now got to see it all when it came out on Blu-Ray.
The film contains just a small smattering of the main Toy Story cast, with regulars Woody, Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack), Rex (Wallace Shawn), and Mr Potatohead (Don Rickles). Along for the ride are a few toys from their new owner Bonnie: a triceratops named Trixie (Kristen Schaal), and Mr Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton), a lederhosen-wearing hedgehog.
Going on a trip with their owner Bonnie (Emily Hahn) and her Mom (Lori Alan), one of the car’s tires goes flat, and the family drops in at a small motel in the middle of a thundering downpour.
Of everyone there, it is Pricklepants who feels that the mise en scene, seems ripped straight from the images of a horror film. Naturally, the toys think the plush thespian is just over-reacting…until, several in their party start to disappear!
Director Angus MacLane has been a major fixture at PIXAR for quite some time. Having worked as an animator, writer, and recently director, he’s definitely had a well-rounded career inside the famed animation studio.
Prior to Terror, MacLane had directed one of my favorite Toy Story Toons, titled Small Fry. I actually got to hear Angus tell about his experience working on the short when I went to PIXAR in 2011, as part of the Cartoon Art Museum’s annual fundraising event. Angus’ stories about coming up with the toys for the piece, let alone his teen years spent as a “ball pit supervisor,” definitely stuck with me. And just as in Small Fry, his storytelling in Toy Story of Terror shines through.
Unlike a feature film which can encompass 1-1/2 to 2 hours, this animated short only has 22 minutes to tell its story, which is not a bad thing. PIXAR still retains their animation and story qualities, albeit on a smaller, but not necessarily less-grand scale.
I was really struck by the fact that even though the film conveys a spooky tone and atmosphere, it is not exactly a Halloween short. I do love it when a PIXAR film can have you walk in expecting one thing, and instead, it morphs into something a little different…but not wholly without being enjoyable.
Toy Story 2 almost feels on par with the atmosphere in this short, and given that TS2 is my favorite PIXAR film, I think that’s why I enjoyed this so much. Maybe it’s also because Jessie (voiced by Joan Cusack) figures so heavily into the story. PIXAR reached a new level of female characterization when they introduced Jessie 15 years ago, making her one of the most dimensional female leads they had done yet, paving the way for complex characters like Dory, and Helen Parr.
There’s also plenty of easter eggs hidden throughout the short, that will have you watching it over and over again, pausing and slowing down certain scenes.
When it comes to extras with their home video releases, PIXAR usually does a good job, and they have given buyers of this set, plenty of extras to riffle through.
Audio Commentary– Angus MacLane shares the commentary track with Ian Megibben (the short’s Director of Photography), and Axel Geddes (the short’s editor). The guys get into several of the in-jokes of the film, as well as peek into Angus’ psyche, in which it is revealed much of his language is in that of films and their references. With all three of these guys having something to contribute, the commentary rarely ever hits a lull, and should provide some nice insight for fans of special features.
Toy Story Toons shorts – the set collects the three previously-released Toons: Hawaiian Vacation, Small Fry, and Partysaurus Rex. It’s nice to have these three Toons included in this release, as they had been split up across several different film and short collection releases. The previously-heard audio commentaries to Vacation and Fry are included, but the added bonus, is the one for Rex, which hasn’t been released until now. Though it’s not as informative as the first Toons’ commentaries, it is pretty fun.
Team of Specialists – Unlike the recent film releases by Walt Disney Animation Studios, PIXAR is still willing to give little behind-the-scenes glimpses, that I’m sure will inspire some kids out there to get curious about the art of animation. Here, director Angus MacLane takes us along on one of his workdays at PIXAR…with some other small jumps back and forth through time. We get to see everything from research, to foley artists, and even a small conversation with Michael Giacchino, the composer of the short’s music (and composer of scores for films such as Up, and The Incredibles).
Deleted Scenes – With only 22 minutes of running time to go on, it was a given that some story elements would end up being cut out of the story. We are treated to 3 deleted sequences, in storyboard format, and including rough vocal tracks by the PIXAR staff. None of the sequences is really major, so it doesn’t really feel like we’re missing any major keys to the short.
Vintage Toy Commercials – When making Toy Story 3, PIXAR made some great vintage-style commercials of Lots-O-Huggin Bear. Here, they do the same with three other toys. I won’t say what they are for, but the childhood vibe is strong for those of you (like me) who were kids in the 80’s.
D23 Teaser – This little teaser was shown to us at 2013’s D23 Expo, following the first 10 minutes of the short. It’s nothing really major, but definitely makes you wonder what you’ll see (and the good thing is, they keep so much of the juicy stuff unshown!).
Unlike the DVD release, the Blu-Ray release also gives you the chance to load a Digital HD copy to your digital media items.
I’m probably one of many who can keep a stone face and say, “I’m perfectly happy if there is never a Toy Story 4.” To me, the Toy Story Toons, and the Holiday short(s) that PIXAR Animation Studios have put out, are a wonderful way to keep the adventures of our favorite childhood playthings going, without destroying the excellent trilogy of films that the studio has put out.
Toy Story of Terror to me, is definitely money well spent. I went into it knowing as little as possible, and I hope I’ve conveyed my sense of excitement in this review, without delving too deeply into some of the film’s plot points. I strongly recommend seeing the short, and I hope once you do, you’ll be thankful that I didn’t ruin anything.
After watching the whole disc set, I will say that the $15 amount for the short, the extras, and the digital copy, is one of the most satisfying home video purchases I’ve made in awhile. Not even many full-length feature films have as much TLC given to their releases.
Btw, if you have ABC, the continuation of the Toy Story “Holiday” specials will continue in December with the release of Toy Story That Time Forgot. In case you’re wondering what may be coming, here’s a preview pic that was released of that upcoming special:
Also of interest, Angus MacLane is a LEGO Hobbyist, who enjoys making little figures/things out of myriad LEGO pieces. You can see more of his work by clicking on the graphic below.