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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: $21,452,082

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

'Despite Toys Straight To The Point Plot, It Still Masks The Movie's Identity Crisis'

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 - and that film is..... Toys.  

When the military general decides to make weapons instead of toys, Leslie Zevo, the son of the late eccentric toymaker Kenneth, takes it upon himself to put a stop to this, 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 as a live-action cartoon character from a TV show - and yet Leslie is in most cases a dull character. Therefore, 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 - 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 border on Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory and whilst it does echo some of its sentiments, all-round the movie itself is a flop. 

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 the execution was poor, given the setting and colourful tone it is just too serious and broody 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. 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 all the way through. Also, the sexual undertones this film was giving off was odd. 

Up until the last half- hour or so, I became bored with this movie; not one single scene was exciting. 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.

Like with all Robin's films, it has its detractors - me being one of them. There are movies of his that people cannot stand that I enjoyed and vice- versa. 

There was one scene when one of the characters said clucking hens. I was mistaken in thinking he said 'f***ing hens' instead, but moving on. 

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, but with everything else, they are an afterthought.

Robin Williams is very restrained in his portrayal as Leslie - and yet the somewhat playful approach the film supposedly evokes through the colourful visuals and its script sadly represses his rapid quick-fire humour and wit, which would have been ideal for a film such as Toys. You would expect wild comedy and humour, funny one-liners from his character and from him especially. Yet unfortunately, we get none of that. 

But if there were plus points about Toys, it was 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. 

Either you are going to get Toys, or you just don't get it at all: for me, I wanted to enjoy it a lot more, but I couldn't. And didn't. 

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 bode well at all. 


Pros +

- Visually spectacular 

- LL Cool J and Michael Gambon were arguably the star performers, despite this film being led by Robin Williams 

- The last 20 mins was eventful 

Cons - 

- So over the top and too elaborate it gave off a corny vibe 

- Robin Williams's bleached blond hair look

- Too dull and boring 

- Film's objective not presented well

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

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

- Low and plodding narrative, poor script & almost no direction 

Final Verdict:

Toys is a supposed attempt at making a fantasy drama for kids, but the execution is a complete misfire 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. 

Despite the strong and impressive cast lineup, this effort is a major disappointment.  


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