Writer and director: Angus MacLane
Following a couple of rather disappointing cinematic outings some might think that Pixar have become too comfortable and now lack creativity to develop original ideas instead relying on sequels to existing properties. There have been Toy Story shorts before but touching a trilogy so sacred for something as mainstream as a prime time TV special might have proved disastrous. Luckily the creative team know these characters so well and have so much respect for these creations, they will never release anything that doesn’t meet the highest standards.
While the original movies focussed of the relationship between Woody and Buzz, in this instalment the Joan Cusack voiced Jessie takes centre stage. The story finds the gang stuck in a motel after Bonnie’s mom’s car breaks down and just like any classic horror movie, the toys start to disappear one by one leaving the cowgirl to try and save the day.
As a Halloween special there is plenty of visual references to horror movies but essentially it has the familiar tropes of the Toy Story of toys attempting to find their way home. There’s also a nice expansion of Jessie’s fears which were first established in the second movie with writer/director Angus MacLane able to pack in more character development to this short than many TV shows manage in a season.
Following the horror movie opening it might be argued that the ultimate set up becomes slightly too similar to that seen in Toy Story 2 but these recurring conventions are part the franchise’s winning recipe.
With the focus shifted, other B list characters also get the chance to shine with Timothy Dalton’s Mr Pricklepants almost stealing the show as he provides a wonderful horror movie inspired meta narration to the events. New character Combat Carl (played by Carl Weathers no less) is the source of many laughs with his Vietnam War era dialogue and there are plenty of visual gags too with LEGO and a PEZ dispensing cat providing some digimation delights.
While this might be a slight tale, there’s still room for continuity with a name check for original owner Andy, a mention of Al’s Toy tying things together nicely. The implication that different toy stories take place all the time is also a neat touch. Would anyone really object to seeing Combat Carl’s mission to find Billy?
With the sub 30 minute run time, some characters don’t get the screen time that might be expected but instead it tells a simple story with a familiar charm and confidence. This special is a welcome addition to the Toy Story canon and proves there’s still plenty of magic left at Pixar studios.