Liz Tells Frank What Happened In the 1992 Robin Williams Film Toys

Dear Frank,

It’s weird to remember, how much a thing Robin Williams used to be. I mean, for literally DECADES he was huge! His body of work is the furthest thing from consistant — for every sublimely wacky performance like Mrs. Doubtfire there’s an embarrassing flub like Flubber; for every nuanced dramatic moment in Good Will Hunting, there’s the hair-pulling melodrama of What Dreams May Come.

But the man had a brand, and the man knew how to get butts into movie theaters. Can you trace the recent decline of the American box office to the fact that Robin Williams has kinda sat out the last few years? No. No, you cannot. But the fact remains that in 1992, Robin Williams being in a movie was enough to get people to go watch it. Today, not so much.

Frank, here are the important things to know about my attempt to tell you what happens in Toys:

1) I watched this movie obsessively as a young person.
2) I haven’t seen it all the way through since I was legally able to vote.

But hey, man, fuggeddaboutit. It’s Toys-town.

To be fair, though, Toys does rank as one of the weirder movies I’ve ever seen (I’d say one of the weirder movies ever, but I don’t watch enough South Korean cinema to support that opinion).

Basic plot is this: Robin Williams and his (SPOILER ALERT robot) sister Joan Cusack are the children of a toy-making legend, who dies at the beginning of the movie. Robin, a 40-something manchild, isn’t necessarily up for the challenges of being an adult in charge of a toy company. His father knows this, so the person who inherits control over the company is his uncle Dumbledore Michael Gambon, who’s a general with a major hard-on for the military.

Michael Gambon’s military hard-on is so hard-core, in fact, that, he decides to start making war toys, something the very happy-sappy toy company has never done before.

While Robin Williams isn’t a fan of this plan, he doesn’t put up much resistance, because he’s (to be clear) a 40-something man-child — and he’s also very caught up in trying to bang the very up-for-it Robin Wright, who’s a recent Zebo Toys employee and wears some really fabulous jackets, as seen below:

FABULOUS JACKET

(Later, she takes one of those fabulous jackets off for a more-awkward-than-it-should-have-been sex scene. Let us never speak of it again.)

Once Robin Williams stops been distracted by poontang, he discovers that his uncle’s takeover of the company is a total corruption of everything he holds dear; he steps up, and uncovers the fact that Uncle Warslut’s war toys are actually just the beginning of a plot to power the wars of the future with children using virual reality to destroy the enemy JUST LIKE ENDER’S GAME!!!!! I get to use all-caps there because it’s true.

And then Robin and Robin Wright and Joan Cusack fight a war against Michael Gambon using toys and it is heart-breaking and eventually Robin Williams steps up to take control and THE END.

What fills up the other minutes of screen time are the toys — from the elaborately-detailed fake vomit, to the wind-up mischief-makers which wander through the miniture cities of Zebo Toys, to the virtual reality helmets which transport you to foreign experiences, Toys is a celebration of childhood imagination. A celebration of playtime. Which is probably why it broke my heart so hard.

Because one of those fundamental things about me as a person is this: I haaaaaaaaaaaaate seeing violence done to toys. I think it comes down to this: As a kid, my parents never full-on spoiled me when I asked for stuffed animals or dolls or whatnot — they were just sparing enough to make me appreciate getting a new inanimate playmate. So to see a clearly-beloved plaything abandoned will always, 100 percent, break my heart.

To see a clearly-beloved plaything used LITERALLY as cannon fodder against an arm of war toys — geez louise, I found it hard to watch.

I just checked the word count on this retelling and was shocked by how short it was. Frank, part of that was down to how I never got around to mentioning LL Cool J, who (as Michael Gambon’s son and an uptight military duder who gets converted to the Toys side by the end of it all) might be one of the most enjoyable parts of this movie. The fact that he says things like this

…Is reason enough to watch this movie.

But really, the reason I don’t have a lot to say is this: There’s just not a ton to say.

Visually, it’s a delight. Acting-wise, you couldn’t ask for a better cast. Why isn’t it remembered as a classic? I honestly couldn’t say. Except that there’s just something about the vamping of Robin Williams in a movie that isn’t a Robin Williams home run that drags the proceedings down; makes a could-be-classic into an afterthought.

Or it could be the fact that you’d assume a movie called Toys was made for children — except for the sex scenes — but you’d assume a movie with sex scenes like this would be aimed at adults. Instead, it straddled a most uncomfortable line, leaving pre-teen girls with no shortage of confusing emotions, and a life-long appreciation for LL Cool J.

As one of those pre-teen girls, I don’t really regret the latter.

Love,
Liz

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About Liz Shannon Miller

Liz Shannon Miller, based in Los Angeles, is a writer for the screen and the web, her work including G4's Attack of the Show and the tech blog GigaOM. She also co-hosts the podcast Timey Wimey TV, contributes to the video curation site Here's Some Awesome, and tells her friend Frank about stuff at Liz Tells Frank.

Posted on September 20, 2012, in All the Spoilers, Movies and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. TOYS was one of the first movies I remember being excited for that wound up disappointing me. JEFF FACTS.

  2. I remember quite loving Toys, even if it has been forever and a day since I saw it. But I do have a song from the soundtrack on my iTunes (Closing of the Year, with SEAL!!!). I remember liking the robot Joan Cusak. I totally forgot about Robin Wright being in it. I also don’t remember the sex, so it must have been super awkward and embarrassing, so I blanked it out.

  3. Yes, Toys is a mad jumble of thoughts, ideas, and concepts that just couldn’t tie itself together.

    Like the subplot about the nurse. I totally glossed over that the first times I saw the film, so I was at a loss as to why Patrick turned on his dad so suddenly.

    It is kind of an anti-Hook film, in that it goes in an opposite direction. Hook was about a man discovering that he had to remember his childhood in order to grow, while with Toys, Leslie has to grow up a little in order to be a better person.

    I can’t help but figure if Leslie’s father also put his brother in charge in hopes that Leslie would somehow vanquish the war-loving foe.

    Still, there’s odd logic, such as Leslie’s pre-war pep talk to the toys, let alone during the battle, they seem to be acting independently on their own, including feeling pain (such as when the one bear is splintered in pieces, and it gives this pained growl).

    Also, I’ve been hard pressed to figure what the General’s grand plans were for the Sea Swine. Unless this was the film’s way to show how top secret projects that think independently will come back to bite their tormentor’s on the @$$ later on.

  4. the sex scene in question is only implied, you don’t actually see anything, but of course it was still enough to make me confused as a kid and wonder what was going on and why Jamie Fox wanted to see it so bad

  5. The set design was amazing for this film!

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