Just in time for the Halloween season comes the all-new, made for television special from Pixar, Toy Story OF TERROR! (Dramatic music cue: bum bum buuuuuum!) Premiering tonight at 8|7c only on ABC, the special combines all there is to love about horror film camp and suspense with the best of Toy Story, including Pixar animation and voice work from Tom Hanks, Joan Cusack, and Tim Allen.
On what appears to be a run-of-the-mill road trip with their owner, Bonnie, the toys find themselves in what the audience knows to be typical horror story fodder. Mr. Pricklepants serves as sage narrator for Woody, Buzz, Jessie, and pals, and points out that nothing on this adventure is quite as it seems.
“He has encyclopedic knowledge of very specific nonessential trivialities of cinema,” director Angus MacLane describes of resident film expert Mr. Pricklepants, the audience’s tour guide through the adventure. Pricklepants stands in for what we all already know of horror films: the dramatic cliffhangers, stranded protagonists, false senses of security, and ominous thunderstorms. Like the audience sitting at home, he knows that the character shouldn’t run that way, but we’ll all watch from the edge of our seats as they do anyway.
That’s part of the fun of Toy Story OF TERROR!–watching the beloved toys in the familiar and scary territory of a horror film, but with a fun Pixar twist. Filmmakers had the chance to pay homage to suspenseful thrillers and horror films of yore with familiar character types–the damsel in distress, the know-it-all, the mentor, the skeptic, and of course, the mysterious something lurking in the shadows.
MacLane, who worked with Toy Story OF TERROR! producer Galyn Susman previously on Pixar’s shorts BURN-E and Hawaiian Vacation, is familiar with what makes the toys “tick” and is interested in what it would be like to bring them to life in this horror format. He cites influences from both the horror and thriller film canons: “Narratively, certainly Silence of the Lambs, Aliens, Predator, Hunt for Red October…”. Not to mention Night of the Living Dead, Cat People, and Young Frankenstein.
A new addition to the toys is a motel-weary stranger, Combat Carl, voiced by Carl Weathers. To avoid any potential spoilers, and to help add to the suspense, just know that yes, this Combat Carl is a nod to the Combat Carl of the first Toy Story who falls victim to Sid’s “creative” playtime, and no, we won’t tell you any more about how he meets the toys and joins in on the adventure. You’ll have to tune in to find out!
Speaking of suspense, filmmakers definitely embraced the half hour format, commercials included, to provide all of the cliffhangers to add the “OF TERROR!” to the film’s title.
“What I’m looking forward to the most is seeing the movie with the commercials” describes MacLane, as those long dramatic pauses that make you hold your breath are something that filmmakers don’t usually have a chance to play with in a more open-ended format.
Not unlike full-length Pixar films is the attention to detail in the special, right down to illuminated cobwebs, a suspicious puddle of ooze, and a believable CG rainstorm. Fun Toy Story OF TERROR! fact from the director: everything you’ll see on screen is indeed computer animated with the exception of one element–a bat you see flying through a spooky graveyard was in fact a prop filmed on a green screen. “That effect of the cheesy rubber bat was amazingly achieved, brilliantly by doing it the old fashioned way: ordering a few bats off of the internet and seeing which was the floppiest.”
Don’t be too nervous to watch though–the TV special is more about emotional thrills than it is actual “TERROR!”. Both MacLane and Susman feel that they achieved the right balance of scary and fun in the finished product. “The first showing was considerably scarier… it was too much. Sometimes I think when you’re working on it and you’re that close to it, you don’t necessarily have exactly the sense of how scary you’ve made something.” Susman described of their scarier first attempts. Says MacLane: “There was a bit of a balance there where you wanted to pay off the genre expectation but make it appropriate for the Toy Story audience.” Whew!
Be sure to tune in tonight at 8|7c on ABC, and to help prepare yourself, watch this sneak peek!