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Sunday, October 20, 2013

TOY STORY OF TERROR Scary For Its Weakness

 Article first published as TOY STORY OF TERROR Scary For Its Weakness on TheTVKing.

Toy Story is a classic, beloved film, which spawned two sequels, one decent, and one amazing. It's this high standard that any future spin-off or extension must love up to. (Yes, I'm ignoring early expansions, such as the Buzz-centric project, which I haven't seen, and seems already forgotten from the public consciousness.) Unfortunately, this week's ABC special, Toy Story of TERROR, falls very short.

Disney has a history of weak sequels and specials, but for some reason, I thought Toy Story would be immune. For one, it has the Pixar connection, and Pixar stuff generally rocks. For another, even though they have made a series of TS films, the third one was absolutely every bit as good as the first, providing serious emotional heft and development for the characters. Thus, I hoped the reputation would not be tarnished.

Right away, Toy Story of TERROR fails because it only follows a small group of characters from the movies, which seem put together randomly. Buzz (Tim Allen), Woody (Tom Hanks), Jessie (Joan Cusack), Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), and Rex (Wallace Shawn) are present, but absent are classic characters like Slinky Dog, Hamm, and Bullseye. And tossed in are two recent additions, Mr. Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton) and Trixie (Kristen Schaal).

Now, from a story standpoint, I can see why little Bonnie (Emily Hahn) would take a couple of her old favorite playthings with her, as well as some newbies, but it just seems so random in the episode, as if the producers locked down their main players, and then just kind of picked a few supporting ones based on actor availability or whose star is currently rising. And granted, in twenty minutes, there is not time to include everyone, with many of those who are present getting little to do. I just wish there had been more of a sense that this was planned out and each particular personality is included for a reason, as several seem to serve no purpose.


The main plot involves the group going to a motel. Mr. Potato Head is not content to sit in the luggage, and explores the room, looking for free amenities. The other toys venture forth to rescue him, are quickly separated, and fall into the hands of an evil desk clerk (Stephen Tobolowsky, Californication), who sells them on eBay. Jesse must overcome her fear of being in boxes to rescue them all before Bonnie leaves them behind.

The desk clerk arc definitely feels like a retread of Toy Story 2's toy man, and not in a good way, that being the worst of the three films. It's nice that this villain gets his comeuppance when one expects he won't. However the story would work with just an animal stealing toys, not needing this unnecessary man. Given the short running time, I wish he would have been cut.

The story involving Jesse's fear is OK, but a much lighter version of the drama present in the movies. And rather than being inspired by her friends to overcome her fears, she meets Combat Carl (Carl Weathers, Arrested Development), which feels unnecessary, especially when Carl and the other new toys introduced don't end up with Bonnie, doomed to be a forgotten footnote, even if the series continues past this. Given the very small role most of the main characters have in this installment, one of them should have stood in for Carl's part. Buzz seems a good choice.

Another main element of Toy Story of TERROR is that Mr. Pricklepants seems an expert on horror films, and in this spooky, Halloween-themed plot, he tells them what to look out for, sort of like a certain character in Scream. I guess this is in place for the kids watching, who wouldn't know many of the elements of a scary movie yet. But it does kind of drag down the proceedings.

There are some nice elements. I really liked the desk clerk's pet iguana, which hilariously acts like a dog. The shower curtain rip and Mr. Potato Head's arm hopping around on its own are a good play on the horror genre. It's not truly frightening, which is good for the little kids who will invariably watch. The original voice cast returns; I didn't pick up on any recastings, which always detract from the overall enjoyment.

Toy Story of TERROR is a misstep, though, and hopefully, if the Toy Story saga is going to continue, more thought and effort are put into the next installment. These toys deserve better.

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