Warning! Spoilers Ahead!
Toys didn’t get a fair shake. I saw it in the theater when I was a teenager, and the visual effects mesmerized me. It was a Magritte painting come to life. I never understood why I didn’t do well, especially with such a phenomenal cast. Toys was one of those movies that just didn’t click with audiences. Not only was it a flop at the box office, it was nominated for a Razzie, which by the way, it didn’t win.
Starring Robin Williams, Robin Wright, and LL Cool J, Toys tells the story of the Zevo family, which owns and operates the Zevo Toy Factory. The patriarch, who is about to die, decides to give the company to his brother, who in turn wants to start creating war toys, which his nephew Leslie (Robin Williams) thinks is a bad idea. One is inclined to agree with Leslie, seeing how introducing war toys into the magical world being almost literally painted before one’s eyes would be a travesty to the abounding magic. A family drama ensues, things get pretty dark, and then everything turns out okay.
One of the reasons the movie didn’t do well was because of its marketing. I really need to have a talk with marketing departments. I get that they are trying to attract the largest audience, the most money. “We gotta make our money back,” and all that, but come on. Don’t try to sell me a kid’s movie when what you’ve actually got is an art-house film swarming with surrealist imagery and sounds. I’m sure it’s no surprise to you that marketing departments are among the biggest (and most useless, yet necessary, if you can wrap your head around that) headaches in the film industry.
Toys was marketed as a children’s film, a film filled with fun characters, happy music, and beautiful cinematography. They couldn’t have gotten it more wrong. Toys is far from a children’s film. I’m not even sure it’s a film for grownups. Like so many of the films I write about, it’s for the displaced person who doesn’t want to leave the comfortable world they’ve come to know because they know the outside world is dangerous. Toys is for the outsider, that person who didn’t want to play war games with the other children, who instead wanted to create their own worlds by looking at the clouds, pondering the universe around them, and spinning through their imagination. They didn’t want to kill; they wanted to create.
Toys takes the imagination of these kinds of minds and puts it on film. The message is beautiful, and the acting is great. It’s a shame this film didn’t get more of an audience because it should be a classic. To me, and many others from the comments I see on Youtube and other media outlets, it is and will always be a classic.
One of the stunning aspects of the film is also the music, which in part may have had something to do with the film’s failure. Hans Zimmer and Trevor Horn did the music, and while beautiful and serene, there’s a sense of danger and distance to it. It’s sort of like when your in an airport in Belgium and you hear synth music pumping the background. Your jet-lagged; everything is beautiful, and some perfectly composed music the likes of which you’ve never heard of before seems to be following you around. It’s beautiful; but it’s different. And for American audiences in 1992, it may have been too different. You’d be hard pressed to find a copy of the soundtrack now, but listening to some songs on Youtube this week, I realized how ahead of their time they really were, and how stunning they sound now. It’s the same sound that Trevor Horn would later bring to Tina Turner’s album Wildest Dreams, which he produced the entirety of in 1995.
Tina Turner aside, Toys is a dark, broody meditation on the trappings of childhood. It’s the sort of film that questions the very notion of growing up. Who says one must leave the fantasy and toys behind? Grown ups in this film are marked as the kind of people who want to kill. That’s the message, that if you decide to grow up, you want to play at killing things. Who wants that? The alternative in Toys is to stay imagining, to stay alive through the magic of the imagination. Sadly, in this world where men and women who hold on to the child-like wonder of life (including the toys that accompany it) are labeled as weird, so much so that a movie that celebrates leaving open of the jeweled gates of childhood imaginings was thought too out there to be worth spending money on. Watch Toys again, groove to Trevor’s synths, and let your imagination out of the gate.