Toys (1992) Barry Levinson
Gross: $23 million
I don’t have the numbers but it is a massive failure. This was a dream project for Barry Levinson for 10 years. He originally wanted it to be his debut film but he could not find anyone that would fund the project. This movie was negatively viewed by critics and was nominated for several Razzies (although did not win).
The story is about a toy manufacturer that dies and leaves his estate to his brother who is a retired military general (played by Michael Gambon). The General wants to make toys capable of holding weapons to be the next stage in military combat. Two other family members Leslie (Robin Williams) and his sister Alsatia (Joan Cusak) try to stop the General from ruining the toy company.
This is a very hard movie to review. It is rare to come across a movie that is so divisive as this one. If you look on IMDb, this is truly the definition of a love or a hate film. If you look down the list you see two frequent phrases: ‘ misunderstood gem’ or ‘worst movie ever’. Now I had actually seen this movie when I was a kid but I wanted to check it out again before I gave my verdict on it. If I had to pick which category, I am going to go with the unpopular opinion and say Toys is a misunderstood gem.
The most striking aspect you will notice of this film is the visual design. The movie is like a moving surrealist painting. You have literal pop out houses in the middle of endless fields of grasslands, floating elephant statues, miniature city models, moving staircases, walls which close in on people and all manner of bizarre images. The imagery keeps the movie as a kind of dream like fable (instead of taking itself too seriously) and represents well the childhood innocence of the characters. The general’s toys also have facial features and are very menacing villains.
A common complaint is that the story meanders. The movie really is set up for Robin Williams to do his shtick. There are many scenes where Robin is given a set of props and just told to go for several minutes. Even though the story is simple, I think it is effective. By the end I was really involved in the character and what ended up happening with them. The movie has a few themes. One is a kind of left over Cold War sentiment (seeing as how this movie was supposed to be made in 1982 it figures) about paranoia, fear, and the military industrial complex taking over. It’s a bit dated, but I think if flows into the other theme of keeping a bit of your childhood. Leslie is, in a way, another Peter Pan kid who doesn’t grow up. The real theme he tries to show is to always keep a little bit of your childhood alive with a bit of humor and imagination.
The acting, overall, is very good. Michael Gambon does a great job as the villain delivering incredibly cheesy lines and making them work. LL Cool J also does a surprising job as the General’s son who loves to use camouflage. Robin Williams is at his most Robin Williams-esque. Depending on how you look at it, this is either Robin at his best or at his very worst. He is bouncing off the walls giving one liner after one liner and moving from prop to prop. Frankly I think he is the reason why people either love or hate this movie. You can either enjoy Williams for what he does, or he is the most ear screeching head ache inducing f*cknugget ever put on celluloid.
So yeah, I am not quite sure what to tell you guys. To me it is a very endearing and original film, but I can certainly see how the story can be bizarre and William’s antics gratingly annoying to some. If you are feeling a bit brave, I would suggest you at least check out the first 30 minutes or so. I think by then you will really know whether this is for you or the worst piece of sh*t you’ve ever seen. But whatever you do…don’t play the Toys SNES game. Now that was a piece of shit!