Christmas time has come round again and following on from last year’s review of Love Actually I would like to once again review one of my personal christmas favourites, even if it may not be well-loved by many.
Having already directed Rain Man and Good Morning Vietnam Barry Levinson set off to direct the markedly less successful Toys. Toys is a film that demands a suspension of disbelief more heightened than one is ever accustomed to. Set in the forcibly whimsical world of Zevo’s toy factory and the equally whimsical pop-up mansion the protagonists inhabit, the film loiters in a timeless void, a story that could be just as easily set in the 50’s as the modern day. The story unfolds like a modern-day fairytale, dynastic struggles, good Vs evil and innocence in the face of war. Many people have considered this an anti-war film, which, given that the film finishes in a final battle stand-off opens an easy route to crying hypocrisy. While the film has a lot to say about war, it’s not that it shouldn’t exist. More than anything it admits the presence of war, but demands that we protect children from it, and that we do not fight without just motivation. Of course, what constitutes just isn’t really the place of a Barry Levinson film to decide but it can set the ball rolling in terms of thinking about it.
There are confused elements within the film. While clearly the new security guards and tight factory regulations introduced by the General (Michael Gambon, in a splendidly funny turn) are meant to be the forces of evil (they subtly bear a ZZ symbol on their collars) the status quo we are introduced to seems equally post-apocalyptic. In enforced pastel colours groups of workers perform repetitive tasks day after day while convinced that they have “the perfect job”. I don’t know what the happy medium between this marxist pastel nightmare and the police state enforced by the general is but there has to be one. In the end it does seem like they might be on their way, with a few concessions being made to the general in the closing montage but the idea of the factory returning to how it was is not entirely comforting for anyone apart from the anthropomorphised toys themselves.
The performances in this film tend towards pantomime, since the script doesn’t allow much three-dimensional character development, notably true for Alsatia, whose character is so entirely two-dimensional that she dresses herself as a paper doll. This does get justified in perhaps the strangest and least explained plot twist (apart from the strange capacity of Michael Gambon to spawn a black son) but I guess Joan Cusack does acquit herself quite well given the bizarre demands of the script. LL Cool J, who I know of exclusively from this film and was somewhat surprised to find is a rap artist, plays his part very well but serves almost exclusively as comic relief. The two who manage to get out of stereotypes in their performance are Robin Williams and Robin Wright who act as the romantic sideplot with Wright as a perfect foil to William’s humour. They’re great performances and really sell the heart of this odd, sweet little film.
- Entertainment: 5/5
- Artistic: 4/5
- Intellectual: 3/5
Hoping that everyone had a Merry Christmas and wishing you a Happy New Year from We Can’t Hear the Mime.