The head of a fanciful toy factory passes away and instead of leaving it to his similarly minded son, Leslie, he gives it to his militaristic brother. Soon the factory is deep into the development of drones and most of the workers laid off. Can Leslie and his gang of misfits team up to stop the general (and perhaps get the girl) before it’s too late? Find out in… Toys.
How?! Leslie is the silly son of a silly founder of a silly toy company. He has his head in the clouds and is a bit of a flake, so on his deathbed his father decides to give the factory over to his militaristic general brother instead. The general comes in guns a-blazing, taking a liking to tamping down perceived corporate espionage and the possibility of getting back in the war game with the development of toy-sized drones. As the budgets of these secret military projects balloon, Leslie soon looks around and realizes that all the happy employees are gone and the factory has transformed into a venture that he barely recognizes. Leslie decides that the general must be stopped and finds allies in his sister Alsatia, his new boo Gwen and, surprisingly, the general’s son Patrick, who has realized that his father is a monster. They head into the factory, which is now controlled by a state of the art AI driven security system. They face death at every turn at the hands of the (surprisingly effective) drones. But through ingenuity, elbow grease, and good old-fashioned fun they break through, take out the security system and confront the general. In the final fight Alsatia is revealed to be a robot, which is a bit of a surprise, and the general is ultimately taken down by his own ultimate weapon, The Sea Swine (which I choose to imagine is a sophisticated submarine drone). In the end Leslie gets the factory and the girl and everyone lives whimsically ever after. THE END.
Why?! This is where you have to start to question whether the film is actually bad or not. The motivation is pretty thought provoking, because why was the factory even left to the clearly eeeevil general? It becomes obvious that the Zevo patriarch always meant for Leslie to take over, but that he was flaky… he had no backbone. He knew that the general would twist the factory to his whims and eventually Leslie would be forced to fight back and through that process he would grow into the owner that the factory needs. Profound… although he almost killed his own son and ruined the company, so not a foolproof plan or anything.
Who?! Ladies Love Cool Jamie and also LL Cool J making his (almost) film debut. He was coming off the Michael J. Fox film The Hard Way but who remembers that? Everyone remembers him in Toys camouflaged in a couch. Paved the way for NCIS: Los Angeles. The best NCIS… although I can’t make that judgement. Patrick is the resident NCIS expert. (Patrick Note: I’ve only seen one episode of NCIS: Los Angeles, but I do think Chris O’Donnell and LL Cool J are a significantly more fun pairing that Mark Harmon and Michael Weatherly)
What?! There are quite a number of props from this film for sale online. Given that there is a battle between thousands of toys at the end this is unsurprising. Nothing too spectacular, though. Then as Patrick mentioned we see that the Toy factory serves Pepsi and not Coke, so no wonder it’s going down the tubes. Other than that, the sea swine is kind of a MacGuffin if you squint enough… it’s at least an object of great but unknowable power, but not really something that everyone wants to get their hands on.
Where?! I usually say that if I could just get my hands on a prop newspaper or look closer at what’s on TV or in the background of shots that you could figure out where any film takes place… but probably not this film. Seems pretty clear that they have set this very specifically in an unknowable, whimsical location in the United States. Case closed. F.
When?! Secret Holiday Film Alert!… I think. The opening and ending of the film is a Christmas extravaganza. I speculated on the possibility that this was just because the owner of the factory was dying and Christmas was every day because he loved that time of year, but when it came back at the end I threw that theory out the window. Add in that one of the songs that plays during the celebration is called The Closing of the Year and I have to think that in fact the events of the film take place over a single year from Christmas to Christmas basically. B+.
I mean… this is not that bad (It’s not that bad! It’s not that bad!). I can understand that when people saw that there was a film about toys starring Robin Williams they came in with some expectations. Those expectations were not exactly met by a dark comedy about military toys with a heavy surrealist influence on production. But it’s not like some auteur “dream projects” that are the bread and butter of bad movies. Is it weird that this was Berry Levinson’s passion project? I don’t think so. It’s an interesting story with some downright prescient themes on drone warfare and a beautiful and whimsical visual spectacle that is kind of the definition of movie magic. Just like how there are things to celebrate about Little Nicky even existing, it’s a wonder and amazing that this exists and it really isn’t even all that bad (unlike Little Nicky). Interesting. Patrick?
‘Ello everyone! Wonder and whimsy is the name of the game. And a … mechanical sea slug maybe? Real hard to tell what is happening with that thing. Let’s go!
P’s View on the Preview – Toys! I’ve seen Toys a ton of times, it was constantly on television when I was a kid. And spoilees. I loved it as a kid. Kids … are morons. But Robin Williams was great, and it was just a bunch of kid jokes and toys flying around in an insane toy factory. What’s not to love?! What were my expectations? I think like with that other Robin Williams classic, Hook, I’ll be able to acknowledge that Toys is a messy film that should have been a lot better, while also admitting that I still love it. That’s my prediction.
The Good – Whimsy is indeed the name of the game. With horror films the most interesting thing, to me, is often the practical effects and how that really brings a horror film to life. With the occasional comedy or drama with a very specific set of directors, pure set design can at least partially save a film. This is one of those rare films (and funny enough so is the aforementioned Hook). There are genuine “wow!” moments in this film, and it is a shame the product wasn’t polished enough to really let it stand the test of time. Best Bit: The set design.
The Bad – The film is a mess for a few complex reasons. It feels cobbled together from a bunch of Robin Williams manic improvisational shots, and while they sometimes work, they sometimes are just really really annoying. The military ends up feeling like a weird antagonist, likely because the film was originally written in the late 70s (and thus Vietnam was in the more recent past). And then the finale is a real dud with a weirdo sea slug machine thing (in the original script, by the way, it was called a “submarine with a nose”). It seems like the film wants to be a kids film when determining humor, but also have giant war scenes and a sex scene and stuff. It is weird. Fatal Flaw: Thinks it is funny, but it isn’t.
The BMT – Log this as another Oscar-nominated BMT film, a BMT film from our past, and a BMT film I kind of like. I can’t hate Toys! It is an indelible part of my childhood. But yeah, it is a mess … you can mostly get the gist of it by watching a youtube video about the production design. Did it meet my expectations? Yeah! Actually, I did get the ending of the film a lot better as an adult. I always was a bit confused as to why Robin Williams thinks he can defeat the military toys with the old Toys … but he doesn’t, he just uses them as a distraction to buy LL Cool J time to defeat his father. See, well worth the rewatch.
Roast-radamus – A genuine Product Placement (What?) for Pepsi of all things, which is a wild product placement for a film like this, it feels like they would have you know … gotten some toys or something. And I declare this an official Secret Holiday Film (When?) for the beginning and ending of the film almost definitely taking place around Christmas one year apart. It is debatable, but I think it is easier to reason about if it was actually Christmas rather than some other event involving Santa. I think it is closest to Good, sue me.
Prequel, Sequel, Remake – You know what? I’m going with remake. Sell it to Netflix, and make it a nostalgia driven period-piece a la Stranger Things. Set in 1980 (so not too far off from the original script date), right as personal computers and a big arcade boom was coming around. Re-tool the story towards Leslie being too resistant to technology for his father to entrust the company to him. And then Leland becomes obsessed with military games, just like in the movie. Underlying the whole thing is an underground Soviet-US double agent thing with Leland attempting, with the help of some Russian dissidents, to start a third world war. In the end, Leslie, with the help of a few of the kids brought in to test the war games, ends up creating a whole line of whimsical Zevo brand arcade games, and they hack the planet to take down Leland once and for all. Toys: World War. It will be a ten episode order obviously. The second season would bring in a rival toy company and really ramp up the magical whimsey to eleven, so consider that before passing on this Netflix.
You Just Got Schooled – The video game movie tie-ins keep on coming, and Toys is no exception. There was a SNES game called Toys: Let the Toy Wars Begin! and hoooooooooooooooooo boy is this a pile of dog poo in my face! The game is an isometric shooter (for the most part) consisting of only five levels. The first four are mostly identical, involving Leslie running around defeating military toys and then playing a bizarre mini-game to turn off the cameras to allow Patrick, Leland’s son, into the factory. The final level is a side scrolling game with you in an airplane. Notably considered one of the worst movie tie-ins ever created, and playing it I can’t say I disagree. The wide variety of games I’ve played for this cycle is astounding! I think by the end I will have played basically every type of game totally by accident. It is great. F. Absolutely worthless game with aggravating gameplay. Just watch the speed run to see how it operates if you are curious.