Directed By Barry Levinson
Starring Robin Williams, Michael Gambon, Joan Cusack
How much more Christmas can you get then a movie about the true meaning of Christmas for children… TOYS!
Robin Williams stars as Leslie Zevo, the son of a Willy Wonka-ish toy maker whose father leaves his fantastical toy company in the hands of Leslie’s military obsessed uncle General Leland Zevo (Michael Gambon) upon his death. Through the conflict to win back the toy company, Leslie grows into the person his father needed him to be to become the heir of his legacy.
I was sold on this movie from the first teaser trailer that was released, which features William’s on location, doing was he does best; a stream of consciousness, fast-paced patter about the movie and the director, including an Arnold Schwarzenegger impression. It doesn’t feature a single scene for the movie, but it highlights William’s comedic style, which the movie does provide.
Much William’s dialogue in the movie feels ad-libbed. The impression is that the cameras were turned on Williams and the director just let him loose. I’d love to see a release featuring the material that wasn’t used. The rest of the cast is just wonderfully weird from Joan Cusack playing Leslie’s oddball sister, to LL Cool J at his LL coolest as the General’s overachieving son. Yeardley Smith, whose voice is familiar to many as Lisa Simpson, is included in a minor role on the toy company’s R&D team. This could be the reason that a parody of the movie’s trailer is used in the Simpsons episode Burns’ Heir.
The film is bookended with a Christmas performance for the companies workers, but the film is littered with the type of holiday magic that fits the season perfectly. From the beautiful green rolling hills of the outdoor shots to the toy factory assembly line, Levinson creates a perfectly whimsical and surrealist setting for the story to unfold. To that point, costumes and imagery in the film borrow from the works of Belgian surrealist Renè Magritte, particularly Son of Man and Golconda. Although I didn’t recognize this homage when I first saw the movie, I would draw the connection years later when studying art history, and attribute the film to making Magritte one of my favorite artist. The academy took notice of these aspects, and the film was nominated for Best Art Direction and Best Costume design.
The soundtrack sets the perfect tone for the film, starting with Tchaikovski’s Symphony No 1 for the opening scene, and Enya’s “Ebudae” playing over a procession that puts the fun in funeral. The workers merrily go about their task to Tori Amos’ “Happy Workers”, and Hans Zimmer’s score weaves the film together.
Sadly, all this was lost on audiences during the 1992 Christmas season, with poor returns at the box office. It didn’t fair much better with critics either, and earned Barry Levinson a Razzie nomination for Worst Director. My biggest complaint with the movie is the hamfisted approach to underline the horrors of video game violence featuring a scene about training children to be complacent killers that could have been sponsored by Joe Liebermann. I only wish one of the games in that scene had been a part of the licensed Toys video game that was released on Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis.
FInd time this holiday season to watch Toys for the stunning visuals and entertaining performance by Robin Williams.