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Saturday, 4 June 2016

Retro Movie Review: Toys (1992) #RobinWilliams

Cast: Robin Williams, Michael Gambon, Joan Cusack, Robin Wright, LL Cool J, Jamie Foxx 
Genre: Fantasy
Estimated Worldwide Gross: over $21 million

Trivia: Robin Williams stated that dying his hair orange/blond made him feel like the 6th Dr Who

Plot: A high-tech factory falls into the hands of an army general who turns the models into killing machines. The deceased owners' children know what's afoot and, although apparently powerless, have to find a way of bringing down the nightmarish empire that is being constructed under their noses

'Oddball, Conflicted Film In Many Ways & Yet Is Not So Bad'

I am a massive fan of Robin Williams works - & most notably pre-early 2000s from Mork and Mindy to Good Morning Vietnam, Hook, Jumanji, Flubber to lesser-known efforts in The Survivors and Fathers' Day and though a lot of people have made out the fact that not every film he has starred and appeared in have been masterpieces, there is one film in particular where I am somewhat unanimous and in full agreement with most people, but at the same time, it.... has some watchable scenes with Robin Williams in them - and that film is..... Toys.  

When the military general decides to make weapons instead of toys when he tries to take over his brother's factory, Leslie Zevo, the son of the late eccentric toymaker Kenneth, takes it upon himself to put a stop to this scheme of his, with the help of his sister and love interest, once and for all. 

There was another movie released in the 1990s that had a similar theme to Toys called 'Small Soldiers', but it was executed far better than this film. When I first saw the cinematic trailer for this film way back in 1992, I was so impressed I thought this is going to be as good as Hook. But it wasn't until I saw Toys in full that my initial impressions on this film and what it was going to be like didn't match up to how I'd perceive it. 

Robin's character Leslie Zevo does display some of the typical & characteristic Robin Williams comedic improv traits, but other than that, this is not one of his better movies, nor performances. His performance is almost like a live-action cartoon character from a TV show - very boisterous and as typically-Robin, he did make me smile and laugh on occasion. Yet it is unfortunate that Barry Levinson was unable to help Robin recreate that magic from Good Morning, Vietnam that led to him winning a Golden Globe for Best actor as Adrian Cronauer. Leslie Zevo is no Adrian Cronauer, he isn't bad - but neither is he as memorable and cool as Peter Pan from Hook, Aladdin's Genie and many other worthy and notable characters that he has played. & the bleached blond hair doesn't cut it for me, either. 

The art direction and visuals do border on Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory & it looks impressive. 

I suppose that had Toys taken a leaf out of Mr Magorium's Wonderful Emporium, then it would have succeeded and made for a much better film. But for the performances by LL Cool J, Michael Gambon and the two Robins: Williams and Wright, the execution was muffled, given the setting and colourful visuals, & the tonality in being serious, surreal, quirky and weird, is rather unbalanced. And sadly for Robin and director Barry Levinson, who is a director I admire and whose other work I tend to like a lot in general, after the excellence of Good Morning, Vietnam this time around, lightning did not strike twice for them. Yet, I mean, having rewatched it twice, this is a pretty messed up movie, but also Robin's offbeat silliness did have me laughing and smiling, which wasn't grating and wasn't so bad. I don't mind weird-looking movies at all, just as long as it comes with an interesting story or narrative, but Toys just doesn't have that. It was messy, the editing in the final third with the battle scene was overdone with the slow-motion shots of Leslie and co evading the killer toys, and in Toys running a bit too long in the tooth as well. Also, the sexual undertones this film was giving off was odd. 

Opting for a more darker theme or approach wasn't the best idea either. As for the musical numbers, well, it was....odd and the songs weren't that memorable. Hearing the children sing in a few of them greatly annoyed me even more. The music in this film reminds me a lot of Hook in some ways - the orchestral vibe it is giving off, for example, some of it is very extravagant. Only here it was cringing. 

The biggest problem with Toys is despite the straight- to- the- point plot, the movie itself doesn't make much sense and never figures out what it wants to be, or the message it wants to convey. The film clearly has a massive identity problem. Sure enough, the film starts out all happy, colourful with a candy-coated opening, but then you sometimes want to tear your hair out in frustration because there are times where it feels as if it is not going anywhere. And in most cases, it doesn't. It's difficult to invest interest in a film and to sustain interest in it when it doesn't make any inroads to do just that. 

It tries to be highly ambitious in its set-up and art direction through the visuals and colourful looks of the characters and such, coupled with the performances by the main cast, but this is such a mixed bag. I don't hate this now, but I don't love it - this movie falls in the middle for me. Geez, Toys is such a subversive film - which is something I have come to a realisation with -and that I was too harsh on it and I was initially judging it, not just from my first viewing but going along with the negative reception it had received. Alas, this is a mixed bag, overall. 

Robin Williams and the rapport between himself and Robin Wright was really good onscreen. I never realised how well those two gelled well together in their scenes as a pairing, especially the one where they have lunch, & that they were a good twosome as they bounce off each other. 

Other plus points about Toys were LL Cool J - whenever his character had screen-time, he was good and his character livened up the movie a bit and was a lot more interesting than most of the others. It was when he told Leslie and the others what the General had been up to that the film turned it up a notch. And the fight between Leslie and his evil uncle towards the end had a lot more 'oomph' than the one between Peter Pan and Captain Hook in Hook. If Toys had more moments like that throughout this film, in addition to a more coherent message, I would have enjoyed it even more. 

I sort of get what Barry Levinson was trying to achieve here, even if he admits it was flawed and the criticism is understandable. This is Levinson's so-called Tim Burton-esque take on family and children-based themes. But it doesn't quite work and had it undergone the Disney treatment, and in live-action form, then I'm sure they - as in Disney would have made Toys more fun, light and whimsical and less cringing & with colourful special effects and more importantly, made it more accessible and approachable as a family fantasy flick. Just like they did with Robin Williams's, Flubber.

You know what - this should have been an animated movie, instead of being live-action: if Toys was an animated film and given how the events unfolded, it would have made far more sense.   

Yet here, Barry Levinson was making an adult movie with kids in mind, - and that alone, just didn't exactly bode well. Luckily, Robin Williams's schtick and silliness were tolerable & entertaining that I could enjoy in doses and so it was also fun to see his character, Leslie showing his amusing side. 


Pros +

- Visually spectacular 

- Robin Williams was all right when he was amusing

- LL Cool J, Robin Wright and Michael Gambon did well, Robin Williams was well, Robin Williams, which for me is never a bad thing

- The last 20 mins were good

Cons - 

- Robin Williams's bleached blond hair look

- Far too long 

- Film's objective not presented well

- Some of the music and musical numbers were too extravagant, and also cringing and tedious 

- Would've worked so much better as a zany fantasy comedy instead, or even as a Disney- like animated feature 

Final Verdict:

Toys is a supposed attempt at making a fantasy drama for kids, but the execution is so awkwardly strung together by Levinson, which is hugely surprising given this is the same director who gave us the brilliant Good Morning, Vietnam and Rain Man with Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. Yet strangely enough, it is saved by the efforts of Robin Williams, Robin Wright, LL Cool J, Michael Gambon and Joan Cusack. Just. 

Despite the strong negativity, Toys is an awkwardly surreal-yet occasionally flawed fantasy comedy that tries to be all- Tim Burton weirdo fantasy-like.

& it's a weirdness that you can buy into and enjoy, - or not. 


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