In view of Robin Williams’ (1951-2014) suicide, I thought it prudent to flashback review my favorite Robin Williams film. It’s not Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting, Aladdin, Jumanji, Dead Poets Society, or any of the innumerable other films that might come to mind when you think about Robin Williams. No, my favorite Williams film was that forgotten box-office bomb, Toys (1992). You’ve probably forgotten about this movie. Or never knew it existed. It did that poorly in the theaters despite incessant advertising, probably because it was literally just so out-of-the-box. Here’s a scene from the film that perfectly explains why it did poorly and why it is such a fantastic cult film:
Isn’t that snapshot glorious? They’re driving over artificial hills and stopping for mechanical wooden ducks. I don’t really need to explain very much of the film’s premise to further explain why it didn’t make much sense to adults in 1992 (but was absolutely perfect for boys and girls of a certain age (9-13 age range, usually)). Williams plays a nephew to a military general (Michael Gambon, which isn’t the most far-fetched thing in this movie) that inherits a toy factory a-la Willy Wonka. The toy factory is the fabled Zevo Toys brand, and Williams’ uncle wants to turn the factory into a weapons factory, while Williams rounds up the Zevo employees (and toys) for an insurrection. It’s aptly named as a fantasy comedy, and featured a stellar cast and director.
The director was Barry Levinson who went on to direct Disclosure and Sphere (full disclosure: I am a Crichton fanboy, and love making puns as well). The stars were Robin Williams, Michael Gambon, Joan Cusack, LL Cool J, and even Jamie Foxx! Toys was Foxx’s feature film debut (he plays a baker), if that’s reason enough for you to watch the film. Much of the film owes its artistic inspiration to Rene Magritte (two allusions to his paintings prominently feature in the film and advertising):
You can easily see the allusion to this painting in the movie poster for Toys. But that’s not the end of the surrealism that exists within the movie. Almost the entire movie is surrealist in some sense (probably also why it didn’t play so well, especially when it was released for CHRISTMAS 1992). It was a flagpole Christmas movie! No wonder it flopped in theaters. Take a look at the trailer for the film:
By the end of that trailer, you’ll either desperately want to view the film or avoid it completely. There’s no middle ground with Toys, you either love it or hate it with every fiber of your being. Just look at the “special effects” in use at the time! They’re just completely over the top and played well on VHS. Some of them don’t play as well today, since they were from the early computer special effects age (which hasn’t always aged gracefully). But it works due to the surrealist nature of the film.
The film concludes in an epic toy battle (good versus evil). You could write a whole essay about how the concluding scene probably helped inspire a ton of things that came later on in cinema, such as the Night in the Museum series, which coincidentally has Robin Williams starring as Teddy Roosevelt in those films. But obviously there are so many allusions and references loaded into Toys from other films ranging from The Wizard of Oz to Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. So there you have it – odd material, strange special effects, and one certifiably cuckoo plot leads to cult film status (especially with the over-the-top scenes, art, scenery, and effects used for the film).
Highly recommended. But it’s a kitschy B-movie (and a superb example at that too), so steer clear if you’re not into those kind of films.
MPAA Rating: PG-13