WELCOME TO A NEW COLUMN CALLED CHANNEL SURFING, IN WHICH I SPORADICALLY LOOK AT CURRENT TV SHOWS AND TALK ABOUT THEM. THESE ARE NOT ONES THAT I CARE TO WRITE WEEKLY RECAPS FOR AND ARE INSTEAD REFLECTIONS EITHER ON THE EPISODE, THE SERIES, OR PARTICULAR MOMENTS. THIS WILL HOPEFULLY HELP TO SHARE PERSONAL OPINIONS AS WELL AS DISCOVER ENTERTAINMENT ON THE OUTER PANTHEON THAT I FEEL IS WELL WORTH CHECKING OUT, OR IN SOME CASES, SHOWS THAT ARE WEIRD ENOUGH TO TALK ABOUT, BUT SHOULD NEVER BE SEEN.
ONE OF THE STRANGEST TRADITIONS THAT HAS STARTED POPPING UP IN THE PAST FEW YEARS IS HOLIDAY SPECIALS FOR BELOVED PROPERTIES, NOTABLY ANIMATED AND FROM THE LIKES OF PIXAR OR DREAMWORKS ANIMATION. WHILE IT HAS BEEN GOING ON FOR DECADES WITH SITCOMS, IT FEELS LIKE HALLOWEEN IS JUST STARTING TO DEVELOP THEIR OWN LINE OF TV SPIN-OFFS FROM MOVIES. CHRISTMAS HAS BEEN IN THE MARKET FOR DECADES AT THIS POINT, AND HALLOWEEN IS MISSING OUT. WITH VERY LIMITED EXCEPTIONS, THERE HAVEN'T BEEN THAT MANY SPECIALS (THE BORING SCARED SHREKLESS AND THE GREAT MONSTERS VS. ALIENS: MUTANT PUMPKINS FROM OUTER SPACE BEING TWO OF THE MORE PROMINENT ONES). ALSO, BY MOST PEOPLE'S LACK OF FAMILIARITY WITH THEM, THEY HAVE VERY SHORT SHELF LIVES IN TERMS OF BEING AIRED OFTEN ONLY ONCE ON BROADCAST TV.THE LATEST TO ENTER THE RING MAY SEEM LIKE MOST RIDICULOUS ENTRY, BUT ONE THAT FELT LIKE IT WAS GOING TO MAKE THE ROUNDS EVENTUALLY: TOY STORY. LONG CONSIDERED THE FOREFATHER OF THE GREAT ANIMATION REVIVAL OF THE MID-90'S, IT HAS DONE WONDERS IN THE INDUSTRY AND HAVE EVEN BECOME A BILLION DOLLAR FRANCHISE. ALONG WITH SOME MOVIE SHORTS, THE CHARACTERS HAVE LIVED ON SINCE THEIR FEATURE-LENGTH FAREWELL IN 2010. IT ISN'T A SURPRISE THAT THEY WOULD WANT TO CASH IN ON A HOLIDAY SPECIAL, EVEN THOUGH THE THEMES OF THEIR MOVIES HAVE BEEN GEARED MORE ON SENTIMENTALITY AND FRIENDSHIP THAN SCARES.This isn't the first time that Toy Story has attempted to do TV. The rather entertaining Buzz Lightyear of Star Command TV series ran for 62 episodes and remains one of the better animated programs released by ABC in the early 00's. It is strange that with the success of the films and their popularity continuing to peak that it has taken this long to revive the potential of a TV market for the franchise. Nonetheless, they have done something rather ingenious. Unlike Shrek, which ran through several specials and eventually overstayed its welcome, it gradually released products, which makes Toy Story of Terror something to celebrate, even if it still feels like a gimmick.
One of the more interesting things about Toy Story 3 was that it was essentially the Great Escape, but from a daycare center. After listening to several commentaries and research, there is a certain level of craft and admiration that goes into Pixar's flagship series. They wouldn't just dump a product out that is subpar and would tarnish their image. Say what you will about their recent output of films (I for one found Monsters University to be fun), but they know how to make a story thematically. The execution may not always work, but thematically, they know their stuff.
Toy Story of Terror is an intriguing batch of references as a result. Running in a half hour time slot, it pushes what can be done in a limited time frame. The story of toys stuck somewhere overnight is full of potential, especially when faced with an enemy. In a way, the enemies feel like a combination of the first two movies. There is a lizard, much like Spud the dog from Toy Story, who tries to keep the toys for himself. There is the watchful security owner who wants to sell the dolls on eBay, much like Al from Toy Story 2. These two concepts do create quite the conflict, as it makes an impenetrable fortress for the toys, who spend the episode trying to get out.
It may be light on overall hardcore scares, but what gives the special a little bit of an edge comes in the formatting. The act breaks all end with an intense cliffhanger that demands you to stick around.The menace isn't as much there as it gives the toys an excuse to turn the office in which they are trapped into a metaphorical haunted house, or more specifically a parody of Alien, in which the lizard is around every corner ready to snatch them up. There are decapitated toys and the world does feel a little barren. Still, for those that know their classic horror references, there are subtle nods to several gems, including Psycho, Evil Dead and being buried alive plays an important role in the plot towards the end.
The reason that the horror works is that this is a strange place that isn't entirely familiar to everyone. While there are a few new toys introduced (Combat Carl, voiced by Carl Weathers being the prominent one), this still feels like a survival tale. Jessie's (Joan Cusack) struggle is the central premise in which she continues her fears of abandonment. While almost every character faces it, Jessie was established in Toy Story 2 to have suffered from it the strongest. In fact, it comes back nicely in Toy Story of Terror by explaining that her fear of boxes springs from her being abandoned in one. There is argument to the accuracy of that to the overall story, but it is enough to set up the third act's biggest conflict in which she must overcome her fear and hide in a box in order to free everyone.
There is a message of perseverance that is consistent throughout the story that even if this is supposed to be a horror story, Combat Carl presents Jesse with a motto of survival, and it is one that is hearkened back to repeatedly in order to establish her as a strong, independent character. Even if the story itself is light on actual premise and concepts, this feels like a Jessie story and how she can become the hero. Even if she was always a great character in the movies, this is a nice change of pace where it isn't Woody (Tom Hanks) or Buzz (Tim Allen) saving the day, but her.
Even if the references are clever, that is about as close to horror as this special gets. It is fun and definitely a treat to see all of the characters laughing and having fun. There is plenty of humor and heart here that has made Toy Story indistinguishable in terms of popularity. It may lack the memorable moments of the movies, but it doesn't tarnish things either. It is a fun ride for 30 minutes and even if there is a desire for more, it is mostly because of how much we have come to love the characters. While I pray that it doesn't become a tradition and they just begin doing specials for every holiday for the sake of doing so, I do hope to see them around again in these small doses. They really do fit the bill.