While it might well be incredible if Pixar ever did make a Toy Story 4, there doesn’t seem to be any real reason to. Toy Story 3 capped the masterful series off in a way that seemed fairly conclusive, but Pixar have found a way to continue utilising their best and most beloved characters via the Toy Story Toons series of shorts, and now they’ve given us their first TV special, with a whole twenty minutes of new Toy Story material. Have no fear, despite its lowly TV stature; they’ve still got back all the voice talent, including Tom Hanks, to reprise their roles, and the quality of animation doesn’t appear to have dipped at all.
The story finds Bonnie and her mother stopping off for a night in a motel during the course of a long drive. As the night progresses, the toys begin disappearing mysteriously one-by-one, until only Jessie is left.
So this is not an ‘anything-goes’ Simpsons like Halloween special, or any kind of horror short, it fits firmly within the tone and continuity of the previous films. That Jessie (excellently voiced by Joan Cusack) is the lead this time makes it feel a little different, but that’s no bad thing in context. As Toy Story 2 explored the deeper potentials of the world, this short goes further into Jessie’s character, revealing that she has an intense fear of confined spaces, resulting from her time boxed up in storage. It’s a neat but perfectly fitting attribute that she’ll undoubtedly have to face, providing a great message to the kids. There are a few more call-backs to the perils the toys faced in the second film throughout.
Toy Story of Terror is naturally, not without a humorous element to back up the toys’ scary adventure. The character of Mr. Pricklepants, introduced in Toy Story 3, accompanies them now. This would-be thespian comments on each event as it occurs, or tries to predict the next, as recognisable horror troupes, providing a hilarious metatextual commentary. Like before, the scene-stealing Pricklepants is wonderfully voiced by former Bond Timothy Dalton.
Even with its brief length, Toy Story of Terror finds time to introduce several memorable new characters, most notably Combat Carl (you may recall Sid blowing one up in the first film). He’s voiced by Carl Weathers and can apparently only speak about himself in the third person. There are also appearances from a few more toys that are recognisable, but new to the series. It even finds times to get in a notable new villain.
It’s not really surprising that, at a mere twenty minutes, Toy Story of Terror is not, and likely never could be, up there on the same level as the main films in the series. However, it still gets a great deal of plot and character work into its scant running time. What could easily have been a cheap knock-off is actually a wholly welcome extension to the Toy Story world.