When Toy Story Meets WarGames
If a movie was great purely on how it looks then "Toys" would sweep all the awards because this is a visually stunning movie with a sense of surrealism about it as Barry Levinson takes us into the fictional world of the Zevo toy company. We have blue skies against never ending green fields, scenes which imitate art and everything has this quirky element. But a great movie is not based on looks alone and sadly when you get beyond how "Toys" looks and it all falls to pieces with comedy which doesn't work, a simple storyline dragged out to almost 2 hours and worst of all it doesn't know who its audience is. On one hand we have the childlike amusement of a toy company, the imaginative and childish antics of Robin Williams as Leslie Zevo; yet the humour, a message about war and games as well as the visual style is more adult orientated. It just doesn't work and nor does the fact it feels like the star of "Toys" Robin Williams has been restrained by a script which represses his natural quick fire humour.
On his death bed, toy maker Kenneth Zevo (Donald O'Connor - There's No Business Like Show Business) asks his brother Lt. General Leland Zevo (Michael Gambon - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2) if he will step in and run his business as he fears that his son Leslie (Robin Williams - Hook) is not yet ready to be running the business. But Leland is a military man who's out of touch which the toy industry and so struggles with the jovial nature of the factory and the eccentricity of Leslie and his sister Alsatia (Joan Cusack - Say Anything...). That is until Leland comes up with a secret plan to start making toys which are really military weapons, causing Leslie to grow up so that he can try to stop his Uncle and his nefarious plans.
One of the main issues is that whilst "Toys" has a relatively simple storyline it is dragged out to almost the two hour mark. I say simple because it is all very obvious that when Lt. General Leland Zevo is put in charge of the Toy Company he will end up turning it into a factory for making toys of mass destruction and so Leslie Zevo must find a way of stopping him. You can see this coming within minutes of the movie starting and there is no way that such an obvious and simple storyline needed to be nearly 2 hours long. And to be honest nor does it need the sub plots which include a romance between Leslie and copier girl Gwen, played by Robin Wright, as it doesn't really go anywhere and just stretches the movie out.
Part of the issues is that director Barry Levinson obviously is passionate about "Toys", this surreal world of toy manufacturing imitating art. And to be honest he should be proud because visually, those rolling green fields, the elephant machine outside the factory which billows snow and so much more is wonderful to watch and every time you watch "Toys" there is something clever and quirky which you've missed before. In a way if you think of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory and then have it imitate surrealist art you will get an idea of this visual master piece which Levinson has built. But he is so in love with it visually that scene after scene goes on to long as if we are supposed to be marvelling at this visual creation and it causes "Toys" to drag on.
Because of this, because it appears to drag on and is stretched out with subplots which have little relevance the actual point of "Toys" is almost lost and yet behind all the surreal imagery there is a point. This is a movie which tries to deliver a message about children playing war games and growing up too quickly but it doesn't work because it ends up watered down. It's actually a good message especially the side about growing up too quick but it might as well not have been included.
Adding to "Toys" woes is that its star Robin Williams appears to have been shackled by a script. You expect plenty of wild comedy, quick fire banter and snappy one-liners but for the most none of that is present instead we have Williams as Leslie Zevo trying to make such obvious gags as a smoking jacket funny. In fact because Williams seems shackled to the script he is a little disappointing and ends up being outshone by Joan Cusack who is wonderfully quirky as Alsatia Zevo. And even Michael Gambon who plays bad guy Lt. General Leland Zevo ends up being more entertaining than Williams as does LL Cool J who plays his military son.
All of which are issues which contribute to what in reality is the biggest problem for "Toys" and that is it doesn't know its audience. It looks like a movie for children, and the storyline along with the casting of Williams screams children's movie, but then get beyond some obvious silliness and a lot of the humour is more adult orientated or at least cerebral enough that young children won't get it. And then visually, this is a movie which will appeal to those who can see the influence of surrealist artists such as in the MTV video scene. But together the two don't work, adults who enjoy the look will be bored by the story, and young kids who enjoy the story will be bored by the look and humour.
What this all boils down to is that "Toys" is in fact a clever idea and visually stunning but it is a flawed idea because this is a storyline for children but with a style for adults. It doesn't help that Robin Williams feels restrained by a script and for what is a simple storyline "Toys" ends up going on far too long as director Barry Levinson revels in his quirky and surreal creation.