Breezily bringing the “Toy Story” franchise to TV as a half-hour Halloween special, “Toy Story of Terror!” makes deft use of the existing characters and introduces a few new ones. Although billed as Pixar’s first TV adventure, mastermind John Lasseter’s paw prints were all over the delightful “Prep & Landing” specs, and this small-scale use of the studio’s signature property is equally tinsel. Featuring first-rate animation and the existing vocal cast, holidays would be happier if ABC could persuade its corporate sibling to synergistically provide several more of these.
The story finds the toys and their new owner taking a trip, only to have car trouble force them to spend the night in a roadside motel. Yet when one of their number disappears, they’re treated to a Mwa-ha-ha lesson in the tropes of horror movies from Mr. Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton, again riotous), before they begin to realize toys are going missing for a nefarious reason.
What follows casts Jessie (Joan Cusack) as the reluctant heroine of the piece, getting helpful advice from a GI Joe-like action figure named Combat Carl (Carl Weathers). Forced to save the day, Jessie also has a positively hilarious encounter with a Transformers-like toy, reflecting how cleverly the “Toy Story” brain trust continue to tap into childhood memories, whether they have the actual use rights or not.
Written and directed by Angus MacLane, at roughly 21 minutes sans commercials “Toy Story of Terror!” is about a quarter the length of the average animated feature, but everything else here could easily be mistaken for the bigscreen version, from the pacing and humor to Michael Giacchino’s score.
Animated specials remains something of a throwback, but in these situations a valuable one — a way to keep these properties fresh in the minds of the toy-and-merchandise-buying public and at the same time put on network fare families can genuinely watch together, a benefit ABC discovered after acquiring rights to the “Charlie Brown” classics. Still, DreamWorks Animation has been more aggressive in this regard, which has included producing such projects for NBC.
There’s much to be said for exploiting such fare judiciously. Yet given that Pixar has the superior stable of titles and their shared parentage, one can hope that ABC will have a friend in Pixar — and be “Terror!”-ized a little more often.