Review: Pixar’s ‘Toy Story Of Terror’ is a smart and funny addition to the series

From the opening shot of the wallpaper with the familiar white-clouds-on-blue-sky motif to the exactly-right-genre-parody storytelling in the opening sequence to the way the story builds to a tremendously well-plotted payoff for both story and character, “Toy Story Of Terror” is a “Toy Story” story in every way, and should delight Pixar fans perennially now.

I love that this is now the Bonnie continuity, and I love the detail of watching TV in the car during a rainy drive. Awesome modern detail. Jessie is claustrophobic. That makes perfect sense after what we know from “Toy Story 2,” but handled well here. It’s easy to forget that she was completely and utterly insane in that film, mentally broken in a very scary way. Joan’s work in the special is very, very good, and I always love the moments where things go very subtle.

The way the story unfolds and the way the toys talk about horror convention is fun and simple and makes sure that things don’t get too scary for kids. Pricklepants gets to make an impression here since he’s the one who knows how things are supposed to work. Timothy Dalton has never met a plate full of ham that he has not gleefully devoured, and I love him for it. He seems to relish the absurdity of playing a character named Pricklepants who speaks in such positively Shakespearean diction.

It’s good that when it comes down to it, Buzz, Woody, and Jessie are the ones who solve things. At the end of “Toy Story 3,” there was a sense that things were ending

Combat Carl makes a great initial appearance. I love how he’s written, and the episode really does turn creepy right around the time of his introductory scene. For a special that ran a total of 21 and a half minutes, “Toy Story Of Terror” seems to be a relatively full narrative experience. Mr. Jones, the lizard, is a Pixar character that I’m almost sad to see used here because we won’t be seeing him again. He would have been a fun villain in a film where more could have been done with him.

When our main characters run into an entirely new ecosystem of toys, it can be a lot of fun, and I love all of the new toys we meet this time. The Fastener Four (Zipper Man, Snaps, Speed Lacer and the Pocketeer are all genius names) makes me guffaw, as does Combat Carl Jr. They make nice companions for our main crew, and I wonder if after what we see in this special’s ending we will eventually get to meet Billy and see him reunited with his toys.

Woody must know at this point that he’s valuable, and sure enough, he’s the first to be sold and for an impressive $2000. And when things get really ugly, Jessie has to face her worst fear in a sequence that is so well-constructed that it’s a nice reminder of just why Pixar’s story department is so revered overall. Angus Maclane, who wrote and directed, has a very focused take on what it is that makes a “Toy Story” project, and it doesn’t feel like an imitation. This is the real thing. Michael Giacchino’s score is pretty great, and the addition of Carl Weathers, Stephen Tobolowsky, and Ken Marino to the returning cast from the films adds up to something spirited and just plain fun.

If Pixar can do something like this to keep some of their most beloved characters alive, it would free them up to make the feature films originals instead of sequels, and it certainly seems like they’re up to the challenge of making something this short feel like such a genuine piece of the overall story.

Here’s hoping this one shows up on future Halloweens. It’s worth bringing back.