Film Review: Toys

ToysToys is a 1992 fim written and directed by Barry Levinson and starring Robin Williams. Michael Gambon, Joan Cusack, Robin Wright, LL Cool J and Jamie Foxx in his feature film debut. It also features Arthur Malet who co-starred with Robbins in the film Hook just a year prior.

We start off the film with a huge Christmas party at Zevo toys complete with fake snow, a giant Christmas tree full of carolers, and of course Santa who comes in on an airplane to deliver presents. The company president and founder Kenneth Zevo (Donald O’Connor) soon passes away, but before he does, he asks his brother, General Leland Zevo (Michael Gambon), to take over the company because his son Leslie (Robin Williams) and his daughter Alsatia (Joan Cusack) is inferred to be rather slow. The General says he will think about it.

Kenneth’s assistant, Owen Owns (Arthus Malet) gives the General a tour of the factory, complete with the song “Happy Workers” filling the air and all of the workers at the factory laughing, singing, and dancing. We later find the General visiting his father, who barely speaks and lives inside an army tent. The General thinks there is something he can do with the factory – war has changed. He accepts the offer to take over the company and is generally bored until he gets a report that plans for a new toy have been leaked. He immediately calls in his son Patrick (L.L. Cool J) to oset up surveillance and do interrogations trying to find the source of the leak.

This upsets the workers and Leslie, including Gwen (Robin Wright) whom Leslie’s father hired just before he passed away. Eventually, The General unveils his plan to develop war toys, something Leslie’s dad always refused to do. While Leslie is developing new toys and gimmicks, The General and Patrick go to check out some of the war toys at the local mall. The General devises a plan and begins taking more and more space at the factory for his secret project. Leslie manages to get access and finds he is training kids on flight simulators.

The General meets with representatives from Washington about his plans to train kids to fly remote control planes but they are not interested. We also find out that the General lied to Patrick about the nature of his mom’s death. Things escalate until it is time for the epic battle between the old toys and the new war toys which have real guns and explosives.

After a hard-fought war, the old toys are losing, and Patrick is wounded in a model of Manhatten. Leslie uses Santa’s plane to crash into the General’s office and they struggle until the General falls and is confronted by one of his own creations – the Sea Swine, ending the struggle. We find out Alsatia is actually a robot and we end with it being another new year and another jolly Christmas party at the factory with both the General and his dad in their military tent watching a parade of small soldiers go by on a conveyer belt.

The film was a complete failure at the box office grossing only about $23 million of its $50 million budget and was competing with the Mel Gibson film Forever Young at the time. It was shot in the Northwestern US near Rosalia, Washington.

Most people consider this an incredibly terrible film, but it has its moments. Robin Williams is in his own element as Leslie and is both a nod to his role as the Genie in Aladdin and also a precursor to his Mrs. Doubtfire’s character’s hyperactive love of voices. Leslie has some great scenes coming up with new toys, with the different “flavors” of vomit and a smoking jacket being the most prominent. The film also features some gags that end up coming to reality in the near future. Both “remote control planes” ie drones, as well as another invention, virtual reality glasses, would soon become commonplace after the film.

The film does have issues, however, and some sexual references in the film help gain it a PG-13 instead of PG rating. LL Cool J does really well in the film, it being his 2nd film after his debut in The Hard Way. Jamie Foxx also gets his debut as Baker, one of the surveillance team members.

A few of the great scenes in the film include the epic toy battle at the end that gives the toys an almost otherworldly realism, the gigantic sets inside of the factory, the sprawling green grass and the floating grave of Kenneth Zevo, and also almost every one of Joan Cusack’s scenes that at first seem rather off but help you endear her to the eventual reveal at the end of the film.

Despite most other critics, I consider this essential viewing around the holidays and I look forward to it every year. It is a fun romp in another weird but familiar world and seeing Robin Williams having fun always is a good time. The soundtrack is also incredible and how I first found Enya. The “MTV” Video put on by Williams and Cusack is also memorable. I recommend it.

You can currently find it streaming on Hulu, HBO Max, and on Amazon Prime.

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