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TV Picks: 'Toy Story of Terror,' '56 Up,' 'Reign,' 'Burton & Taylor'

October 10, 2013|By Robert Lloyd, Times Television Critic
  • Cowgirl doll Jessie has a fearful moment in the animated special "Toy Story of Terror," airing Wednesday on ABC.
Cowgirl doll Jessie has a fearful moment in the animated special "Toy… (Pixar / Walt Disney Co. )

"Toy Story of Terror" (ABC, Wednesday). And so the three-headed holiday season begins, with a Halloween special wrought from the "Toy Story" franchise -- a franchise, it hurts my brain to realize, that is nearly 20 years old. No expense, horses or gigabytes have been spared for its being merely a TV show. (I do assume all the relevant codes reside on a supercomputer somewhere, waiting to bring these characters economically back to life.) Tom and Tim and Joan and Don and Wally and Timothy and Kristen (Hanks, Allen, Cusack, Rickles, Shawn, Dalton and Schaal, that is) are back as Woody and Buzz and Jessie and Potato Head and Rex and Pricklepants and Trixie, with new-to-the series Pez Cat (Kate McKinnen), Pocketeer (Ken Marino) and Combat Carl (Carl Weathers), whose specs are contained in his name. (It's a name you will hear a lot, as he refers to himself in the third person) It begins in the classic way: a road trip -- Woody and the gang are along for the ride -- a rainy night, a flat tire, an unexpected stop. ("A roadside motel is one of the most common locales for a horror film," says pedantic stuffed hedgehog Pricklepants, who keeps up a meta-commentary throughout, in the manner of "Scream.") Stephen Tobolowsky plays the desk clerk; did a chill just run down your spine? When Mr. Potato Head -- foolish plastic potato! -- leaves the safety of a motel closet to check out the "amenities" in the dead of night, he kick-starts a genre-familiar sequence of separation and disappearance and things moving about in the dark. (Themes from earlier "Toy Story" movies are also recycled, which should bother no one.) Although Woody and Buzz get their screen time -- with Jessie, they are the "Jules et Jim" of computer-animated cartoons about sentient playthings -- it is the plucky cowgirl, facing her fears, whose story this is.

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"56 Up" (PBS, Monday). Michael Apted's great, growing lifelong documentary project reaches late middle age. The series began (with a different director) in 1964 -- this franchise is more than twice as old as "Toy Story" -- to provide a "glimpse of Britain's future" as nascently embodied by 14 7-year-olds from different economic and cultural backgrounds; in its premise was the suggestion that the future had already been largely written. But the subsequent films (all directed by Apted and made for television, though sometimes released theatrically here), which return to the same subjects after seven-year intervals, argue that life is not that predictable, apart from the fact that we all get older (if at seemingly different rates of decay), if we live. They have become something bigger, grander, more universal. What we find in this latest episode, despite ups and downs, divorces and deaths and disease, is a great deal of contentment, and, barring contentment, acceptance, and barring acceptance, understanding -- the recompense age gives for taking away all that beautiful youth. (Each new film incorporates material from its predecessors, and so we see the characters at several ages, the young and the old and the in-between compounded into one.) And the story has grown over the years, like stories do, as spouses and children and grandchildren have come into the picture and grown old or grown up -- the series contains its own echoes, like a human canon. And more and more "Up" itself has become its own subject, not only its effect on the lives of its participants, but where the participants feel it has wrongly or insufficiently represented them. (Some have gone and come over the years; all but one is present here.) Still, as one subject says, "It isn't the picture, really, of the essence of Nick or Suzy -- it's a picture of everyone. It's how a person, any person, how they change.... It's not an absolutely accurate picture of me but it's a picture of somebody and that's the value of it." In other words, a picture of you.

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