‘Toy Story of TERROR!’ a delightful start to a new series

Jessie, Buzz, and Woody in Toy Story of TERROR!


Toy Story of TERROR!
Directed by Angus MacLane
Aired October 16th on ABC

Given ABC’s ties to Disney, and by extension Pixar, the network’s commission of a series of animated Toy Story shorts was probably inevitable. Many fans of the films may have been nervous about any new additions to the Toy Story franchise, but fortunately, Toy Story of TERROR! puts the fears of all but the most strident viewers to rest with its warm characterizations, endearing comedic moments, and strong visuals.

There was a time when animated holiday shorts were the norm. From Charlie Brown to Rudolph, the networks made a tradition of seasonal specials, encouraging the family to gather around the TV together on holidays to watch something other than football. This has gone by the wayside in the US, with even the best of the classic shorts rarely garnering significant ratings, but hopefully the popularity of Toy Story can help bring the form back.

Toy Story of TERROR! succeeds for a few basic reasons: it’s fun, it looks great, and, at least to its target demographic, it’s scary. The short centers around a familiar conceit- trapped at a spooky hotel, our heroes are being picked off one by one by someone or something lurking in the shadows. Thanks to the immediate lampshading from Mr. Pricklepants, à la Scream, this is endearing rather than tiresome and watching the short revel in our favorite horror tropes is a lot of fun. From the dialogue to the animation, the team involved are clearly enjoying themselves, making the most of the 22 minute runtime with arch camera angles and lighting to match the black and white movie we see the characters watching at the start of the short.

Combat Carl and Jessie in Toy Story of TERROR!

More importantly, though, Toy Story of TERROR! centers on a clear threat and two very common fears- claustrophobia and autophobia, the fear of abandonment or isolation. While most viewers will know going in that there’s a warm, cozy ending ahead, Jessie’s trauma and fear is treated seriously and respectfully throughout, providing the emotional stakes necessary to fuel the story. The performances from the voice cast are strong and do a lot to sell these dramatic beats, as does the sound design and the animation, and younger viewers will undoubtedly associate strongly with Jessie’s plight. Her eventual facing of her fear is emotional and while it’s an obvious beat to hit, it works nonetheless.

This approach to Toy Story television shorts, making them 20ish-minute standalone adventures, holds a lot of promise and they could become a hit for ABC, if viewers are willing to give them a try. It’s nice to see someone reviving the format that gave us It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown along with so many other classics. Hopefully Toy Story of TERROR! is the first of a new generation of holiday specials, rather than a one-off treat.

What did you think of Toy Story of TERROR!? Will the format catch on? How adorable, yet terrifying is that iguana? Anyone else want their own Carl Weathers-voiced Combat Carl action figure now? Post your thoughts in the comments below.

Kate Kulzick

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