As Disney/Pixar's first special for television, "Toy Story OF TERROR!" (8 tonight, WTAE) begins somewhat generically as Woody (voice of Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), cowgirl Jesse (Joan Cusack) and a pared down assortment of the "Toy Story" gang watch a black-and-white monster movie on a portable DVD player as their new owner, Bonnie, takes a car trip with her mother.
"I'm coming to get you, Betsy," says a vampire in the film in a cheeky reference to George Romero's filmed-in-Western Pennsylvania "Night of the Living Dead."
Luckily for "Toy Story" fans who expect more, this innocuous beginning is just the setup. The plot doesn't really kick into top gear until the gang is in a highway motel where odd things happen. Pricklepants the hedgehog (voice of Timothy Dalton) acts as an unwanted Greek chorus, commenting on all the horror movie conventions the toys encounter.
"This would be the part where the characters get picked off one by one," he says before being taken himself.
("Toy Story OF TERROR!" may be a little scary to some smaller children, particularly those who have issues with the dark; watching it with a 3-year-old resulted in a few moments of anxiety -- he jumped twice -- but no nightmares or other upset followed.)
Written and directed by Angus MacLane ("Small Fry"), this "Toy Story" special doesn't have the pathos of the big screen films. It's a small adventure befitting the 30-minute running time, but it's also clever in the way it ultimately puts the "Toy Story" characters in a recognizable situation, which is similar to the big screen movies.
There is learning -- Jesse overcomes a fear to save the day -- but mostly this special features humorous situations (keep an eye on the Pez dispenser) and a few funny new characters, most notably the G.I. Joe-like Combat Carl (voice of Carl Weathers).
Disney/Pixar is not developing a fourth big screen "Toy Story" movie, but shorts like "Toy Story OF TERROR!" give fans an opportunity to revisit the entertaining "Toy Story" universe and spend more time with these beloved characters.
TV writer Rob Owen: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook. First Published October 15, 2013 8:00 PM