1992. Directed by Barry Levinson.
Child like wonder. It's a feeling that we all experienced in one incarnation or another and spend our adult years trying to recapture it. Barry Levinson's Toys is an attempt at putting the lightning of our youth back into the bottle. The result is a mixed bag of delights.
The cinematography is a crayola land mine. Adam Greenberg captures the mind bending sets of of the Zevo toy factory created by Linda Descenna and the one of kind art direction of Edward Richardson with astounding detail. Albert Wolsky's costumes also demand attention as they are a glossy mix of fantasy and industrial regime, one of the film's core conflicts.
Toys is a movie that is grounded in reality that chooses to present itself as a pinwheel bouquet of the fantastic. The themes of family, maturity, and finding one's place are all on display, but Valerie Curtin and Levinson's script departs from a formal narrative and chooses to tell the story almost in a backwards, sideways, and crisscross blend of plot and adversity.
Robin Williams' protagonist Leslie Zevo is presented as an immature fop who in reality is a nesting egg of complexities and heroism. LL Cool J gives a stilted (partially due to the script) but surprisingly funny and emotional performance as the villain's son. The great Michael Gambon plays a caricature of evil, a failed military man looking for the next great war. Robin Wright and Joan Cusack round out the cast as Leslie's love interest and sister respectively, offering one of the film's best scenes which involves a bathroom acapella exchange.
I can't talk enough about the world Levinson created. It's a playground of absurdity, complete with it's own mysteries and rules that all the players navigate with different approaches, reflexive of their true mettle, which I believe is one of the purposes of the film. Levinson created a neo-fable about the hero rising to the challenge, but unlike other heroes, Williams' Leslie wields his heart as a weapon. It's one of Williams' most unique roles because his usual humor and slapstick are mere window dressing to the emotional tempest underneath the veneer.
The climatic battle of good toys vs. evil toys brings the confusing and disjointed story to a satisfying ending, but fails to address why the story was important. The themes are not overly complex and are there for the discovery and this is the film's downfall. You're left wanting more...importance. At over two hours, Levinson abandons the core story and gets lost in the wondrous world of his design.
This departure was something I appreciated and enjoyed the lukewarm conclusion because for me, it's more about the world around the characters than what they're actually fighting for, which, upon reflection is that very world. Perhaps Levinson had a plan the entire time....I'll leave that for you to decide.