Toy Story of Terror! (Blu-ray Review)

tsterror160x160Toy Story has seen a few spin-offs, one shots, and shorts featuring the show’s beloved characters over the years, and for Halloween 2013, Disney Pixar brought (most of) the crew back together for this short and spooky episode, Toy Story of Terror!  Can this feature find its way into the holiday “must sees” for families, or does this release cheapen the series?  Does anyone else find it strange a billion dollar franchise is airing episodes over the air on standard channels to the tune of no real financial gain or merchandising opportunity?



Bonnie (Emily Hahn) and her mother (Lori Alan) are on a road trip, and in the middle of a dark and rainy night, their car gets a flat, forcing the pair to stop at a motel for the evening.  Along for the ride, Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack), Mr. Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton), Rex (Wallace Shawn), Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles) and Trixie (Kristen Schaal) find themselves indulging in the mood and atmosphere, buying into the sinister allegations and film references that Mr. Pricklepants spouts.  As the toys begin to disappear one by one, it’s up to the last one, Jessie, to solve the mystery and battle her own fears to save her friends against a seemingly innocent, but cruel adversary.

Toy Story of Terror! can’t come close to rivaling the storytelling depth and amazing pull of the feature film trilogy with its truncated runtime, but this adventure is paced perfectly to fit its three act narrative in the length of a 30 minute episode.  Because of its limitations, this is an entirely different look at the series, shedding the easy-breezy, often goofy humor of the six minute shorts that have accompanied the films, instead focussing on a single narrative arc that runs across the cartoon, and it works, in its own little way.

Despite whatever warnings air before this show on Disney Junior, Toy Story of Terror! is hardly scary, and shouldn’t be viewed as inappropriate for any age.  The “scares” are soft, the allusions charming rather than sinister, and the villains are more heinous in intention than they are in actions, as they prove rather inept and readily countered, hence the manner in which the climax can fit so snugly in the runtime.  The only horror genre staples here are the implied (but not focussed on) scenery, the constant references to the themes in such films by Mr. Pricklepants (which again come off as silly rather than sinister), and the unseen villain that at first rapidly dispatches of its foes before the realization that it’s more an innocent bystander rather than a cruel or unstoppable force.

The interesting part of this feature is the way that only part of the Toy Story staple characters are utilized, shirking series stalwarts like Hamm, Slinky Dog, Mrs. Potato Head, Sarge, or even the little aliens (which could have worked nicely in this feature) to keep the pace going, sacrificing familiarity for purpose, opening the question for what other types of character pairings would work in short features.  Those utilized have perfect parts that fit within their characters from the films, with a special focus on Jessie’s story arc from Toy Story 2, a callback that not only is called upon for the climax, but is also given its time a few spots prior, a necessary callback after the removal of such references in the trilogy endcap.

The show isn’t without its hiccups, though, and as neatly a package is presented here, there’s just too much convenience in the plot, from the existing toys in the motel all serving particular purposes as a team (despite the various departures that are implied), to the questions of how the film’s creature doesn’t accidentally asphyxiate itself by lodging various toy parts in its gullet (also opening the door for the turning point in the climax).  Also, aside from Jessie, there isn’t a single character that faces its fears in any way, shape, or form.  Trapped and isolated from Bonnie, there’s little expression of fear of abandonment, a fear shared by all the characters but expressed only by one, and there’s no real growth for most characters, no conflict that hits them in any way differently from the others.  Additionally, the manner in which the series staples try to take front and center is a little concerning in their transition in this first appearance post-Andy, as Bonnie’s toys are somewhat shirked for those that we’re familiar with, regardless of which ones a child would logically choose.

Toy Story of Terror! is a decent outing with a handful of very humorous moments, a different spin on the series that opens the door for future equal-lengthed mini-installments, and some few new characters which sadly we are unlikely to see again (Carl Weathers’ performance as Combat Carl in particular is a standout, a callback to vintage G.I. Joe characters, both 12″ and 3.75″ scale).  Somewhat lacking in the manner in which the films were designed to appeal to both children and adults on different levels as it may be, this episode-length feature does the best it can in introducing conflict and resolution along with all the other bases along the way it has to hit to be a coherent story.  Is this a necessary must for fans of the series?  Not necessarily, as there is no plot or character advancement in any way, shape, or form, but most fans will grab this up for simple fact that this series hasn’t (yet) been run into the ground like other animated hits of its era.



Encoding: AVC MPEG-4

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Clarity/Detail:  The Toy Story Blu-rays rank among the best looking released, bar none, and Toy Story of Terror! is no exception.  The textures on each and every toy are up there with the feature film releases, the settings, despite the often dark lighting, retain amazing crispness, and there are gorgeous little details, from the stray hairs on the human characters and Mr. Pricklepants (not even counting the gorgeous light reflections on his marbled eyes), to the fabric seams and stitches in Woody and Jessie.

Depth: Even low-lit shots show great depth, particularly in the air-duct sequences, giving this release a solid three dimensional feel.

Black Levels: Darkest and deepest of any Toy Story release, there’s some true inky, rich blacks found on this release, that despite their power don’t ever crush or eliminate detail.  Perfection.

Color Reproduction:  Light scene, dark scene, it doesn’t matter; the candy-coated gloss that highlights these films is ever-present, with absolutely gorgeous reds, and amazingly subtle transitions and shadowing effects.

Flesh Tones: N/A.  It’s hard to mess up color tones, even with shadows, on a fully computer generated feature.  Pixar ain’t no amateurs.

Noise/Artifacts: Sadly, this isn’t a perfect release, despite the utterly gorgeous colors and detail.  Banding effects rear their ugly head on more than a few occasions, particularly in fast moving shots, predominantly in the black, white, and grey areas of the picture (and not just the gag vampire movie opener).



Audio Format(s):  English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French

Dynamics: Shockingly solid.  Scenes have their volume spikes and dips when appropriate, with the faux-vampire movie having solid power.  There’s perfect balance between dialogue and every other sound element, solid ramps for jump scare-like effects,

Low Frequency Extension: There are a few minor bumps and thumps, but for the most part this track steers clear from the low end.

Surround Sound Presentation: A surprisingly solid effort for a made-for-TV affair.  The opening of the show is intentionally limited, as the toys are stuck in the trunk with nowhere to go, but as they’re set free into the motel, the space opens up and dialogue finds its way through numerous speakers in the room, localizing fantastically whenever possible.  Some light ambiance, echoes, and score effects bleed through the rears, as well.

Dialogue Reproduction: Nary a single word gets lost in the mess, with perfect volume and clarity.  Timothy Dalton utterly owns this release with his vocal performance, and the various fluctuations in his voice are less than subtle, playing a fun, cheesy guide.

Release Specs: BD50 disc, Region A/B/C, August 19, 2014 release date.



This Disney release includes a code for Disney Movie Rewards redemption points, which also can unlock a Digital Copy of the film.

Audio Commentary: With Angus McLane, Ian Megibben and Axel Geddes.  This track provides plenty of coverage, but promises things it cannot deliver, with the opening comments promising their references and inferences, but few coming.  There’s minor bits of technical talk, some anecdotes, but it’s mostly hollow.

Toy Story Toons: Includes three Toy Story shorts, Hawaiian Vacation (HD, 5:53), Small Fry (HD, 7:06), and Partysaurus Rex (HD, 6:34).  These three skits are barely surface-skimming in terms of story, but they work pretty well.  Between a miniscule Buzz Lightyear, a Barbie and Ken vacation, and Rex and a whole bunch of techno beats and foam (perhaps some Molly), there’s a great mix of humor, slapstick, and just flat out cuteness.

Team of Specialists (HD, 11:53): Meet the people behind the show.

Deleted Scenes (HD, 6:33): With optional editor introductions.  Three scenes/sequences, playable individually or as a whole, that play out as animatics, black and white pencil drawings and non-final voice acting.  The first, involving a pencil topper, involves alternate sequences to the finalized story, that work in a way, don’t in others, it’s just an interesting different route the story could have taken.  The second is a brief, kind of silly bit with travel brochures that goes nowhere, and the last bit is an alternate opening that doesn’t work anywhere near as well as the one featured in the final product, as it accomplishes nothing towards the final plot, nothing towards setting the tone or stage, and generally works backwards.

D23 Teaser (HD, 1:04): A teaser for the show.  That’s it.

Vintage Toy Commercials (HD): These three scenes can be inserted into the program via the “play with vintage toy commercials mode” option after pressing play on the main menu, but can also be found on their own.



Toy Story of Terror! may not be for everyone.  Some parents may try to shield their kids from it, thinking there’s some truly spooky and scary subtext, but this is family friendly fare that aims solely at the kids, which means it can’t alienate its core audience by scaring the bejeezus out of them.  This Blu-ray release features truly great presentation aspects that would earn top marks if it weren’t for one nagging problem, and has an appropriately sized supplement package that is highlighted by the toy commercials that can be added to the film, highlighting the new toys’ using advertising fitting for their real life equivalents.  Cheap Blu-ray, short run time, but possible limitless fun for the kiddos, even if this one gets a little grating after the second or third run through for adults.



Writer/reviewer, gamer, father, technology early adopter. Formerly published on the now-defunct Project-Blu and Highdefdigest.

1 Response to “Toy Story of Terror! (Blu-ray Review)”

  1. Brian White

    “Does anyone else find it strange a billion dollar franchise is airing episodes over the air on standard channels to the tune of no real financial gain or merchandising opportunity?” Um…YEAH!

    Lowest film score yet for a Toy Story adventure 🙂 but it fits in with the Halloween theme!