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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Toy Story of Terror!

Here we are again, on Fishing in the Discount Bin, where I ramble about one of the many movies I own.  This time, we get into Pixar's first foray into animated TV specials with Toy Story of Terror!  This was originally watched and blogged about on August 23, 2014.

As previously mentioned, I'm a Pixar junkie, and love pretty much everything they do.  Which makes me sad that Pixar isn't giving us a movie in 2014, as their originally-scheduled film, The Good Dinosaur, got sent back to the drawing board.  But luckily, I can still get my Pixar fix with the recently released Blu-Ray of Toy Story of Terror!  Pixar apparently decided that one field they had yet to conquer was the animated holiday special, so last year, they gave us the Halloween special Toy Story of Terror!

As with may an APJ ("adult Pixar junkie."  Is that a thing?  Can we make that a thing?), I'm frustrated with Pixar's current franchising of everything.  Don't get me wrong, when they do it well, it goes great.  (i.e. Toy Story 3).  When they do it wrong, it goes spectacularly wrong.  (i.e. Cars 2).  But with the short films, and now, animated specials, I feel that, if they do it properly, we can explore another facet of their universe.  For example, I loved the Toy Story short Small Fry, which explored the sad, short life of fast food toys.  So when Toy Story of Terror! came along, I felt mildly hopeful when I noticed that most of the same creative team behind Small Fry was working on it. 

I was first a little surprised that instead of Woody and Buzz being our stars, the main character is Jessie, the cowgirl we first met in Toy Story 2.  As remembered from Toy Story 2, she's been rendered claustrophobic, thanks to being packed away in a cardboard box by a collector for years on end.  Will she have to face her fear in order to help her friends out of a jam?  It's part of the "universe-expanding" stuff that I was hoping for.  So nice to explore an existing character rather than invent new character flaws in our heroes for the sake of exploring. 

When last we left our heroes at the end of Toy Story 3, Andy had given all his toys to a neighbour girl named Bonnie before heading off to college.  In Toy Story of Terror!, Bonnie and her mother are heading to Grandma's house, with some of Bonnie's favourite toys, when car trouble has them pull into a roadside motel for the night.  Mr. Pricklepants (one of Bonnie's toys introduced in Toy Story 3, and hilariously voiced by former James Bond Timothy Dalton as a master thespian) begins pointing out that the set-up is reminiscent of many classic horror movies.  This becomes a running gag as Mr. Pricklepants starts getting all meta and pointing out what horror movie tropes they're currently acting out. 

And wouldn't you know it?  Some of the toys wander off to explore the motel, and start getting picked off one-by-one by a mysterious beast, until only Jessie is left. 

Shall I ruin the plot twist?  OK.  Turns out the mysterious beast is the motel manager's pet iguana, whom the manager has trained to steal toys from the younger guests.  The manager has then created quite the sideline for himself auctioning off the rarer and more valuable toys on eBay.  When Woody is sold and packed away in a shipping box before they can be reunited with Bonnie, and all the other toys locked in a cupboard, it's up to Jessie to save Woody.  And how?  Well, when Woody gets tossed in the back of a delivery truck, Jessie knows the only way in is for her to get sealed into a box and sent out to the truck herself.

Yeah, the climax is a little contrived just to get Jessie into a box, but it works. 

Being a 22-minute TV special, there's not a lot of room to introduce new characters, but we do get a new one, in the form of Combat Carl, voiced by action star Carl Weathers.  For those who don't know, way back in the first Toy Story, Hasbro wouldn't let Pixar use G.I. Joe for a scene, so Pixar created Combat Carl to be their G.I. Joe surrogate in the Toy Story universe.  I see in the end credits, Hasbro gets a special thanks, so no doubt this time out, they got permission from Hasbro to make Combat Carl as G.I. Joe-like as possible.  And they even mention in the "making-of" special that Combat Carl was designed to be evocative of the original G.I. Joes from the 1960s, his sidekick Combat Carl Jr was their spin on the 3.75" G.I. Joes that I grew up with.  The closest we'll get to seeing G.I. Joe in Toy Story

I found t he special to be very fun, very entertaining, and it didn't feel like they were exploiting the franchise.  They found another corner of the universe to explore -- mainly, developing Jessie's character a little bit -- and they went exploring.  It was good. 

Before I wrap this up, let's take a moment to talk about some of the features on the Blu-Ray.  Those wacky Pixar animators actually created fake commercials for some of the toys that are introduced in the special.  So we can watch the special with the commercials or without.  The Combat Carl commercial is a takeoff on those classic PSAs that ended every G.I. Joe episode, and it is eerily close to be a real G.I. Joe PSA.  It's great.

Also on the Blu-Ray you get the three Toy Story short films that have been produced to date.  I talked about Hawaiian Vacation and Small Fry when I did The Pixar Short Film Collection, Volume 2.  The third one, which I'd only seen online, was Partysaurus Rex, which ran in theatres in front of the 3D re-release of Finding Nemo.  Rex the dinosaur hangs out with the bath toys, who are immobile when they don't have water to float in.  So, using his arms, Rex turns on the taps, and the whole thing becomes an excuse just to have an extended musical number/Toy Story rave.  It could have been an exploration of the unique existence of bath toys, but no, it's just a dance number. 

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