There is nothing that sells movie tickets more than nostalgia, and there are few things moviegoers are more fond of than their childhood toys. With that in mind, it seems a no-brainer that Warner Bros. should be pairing a walk down memory lane with proven comedic talent in The LEGO Movie.
Making a film built entirely out of toys demands imagination, and the results are already clear: when appealing to an audiences’ inner child, superheroes, wizards, and even presidents can all coexist. But this isn’t the first time filmmakers have turned to toys to do the impossible on film.
Here is a brief look at Our 10 Favorite Toy Movies.
Victor Herbert’s operetta Babes in Toyland has been adapted a number of times, but the 1934 film starring comedy duo Laurel and Hardy has to be our favorite. Set in the fairy tale land of Santa Claus, Little Bo Peep and the Three Little Pigs, the film is anything but suitable for children.
Featuring six-foot-tall wooden soldiers unaware of their own strength or lethality; threats of medieval torture; pignapping, and an army of Bogeyman, the fact that toys come to life is almost an afterthought. Nevertheless, the fever-dream plot and characters are unforgettable.
Every child dreams of bringing their toys to life, but few ever dream of their army men or toy soldiers teaching them about 18th Century colonization. Somehow, author Lynne Reid Banks made that seem exciting in the novel The Indian in the Cupboard, adapted to film by director Frank Oz.
The story begins a when young boy receives a small cupboard for his birthday, but the potential for ‘worst birthday gift ever’ is redeemed when he realizes it can bring toys placed inside of it to life. As the title suggests, Omri forges a fast friendship with Little Bear, a small Native American figure.
The basic premise of The Last Mimzy seems fairly standard for this list: a young boy and girl are stunned and delighted when their stuffed rabbit turns out to be more than a simple stuffed animal. Where Mimzy differs is the fact that it’s not a magical being, but an artificially intelligent creation of future humans, sent back in time to return with DNA uncorrupted by widespread pollution. Also, it turns children into telekinetics and telepaths so it can communicate.
That’s a heavy story for a young audience – even moreso when the plot is placed under a microscope. Mimzy’s young master is needed to save the future, but the plan was never to prevent the pollution in the first place. So the children will be forced to watch humanity stumble, with or without superpowers.
The Misfit Toys may not be the star of the stop-motion classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, but they are just as well-known as Santa’s gifted sled-puller. An addition to the original story, Rudolph discovers the Island of Misfit Toys after leaving Santa’s Village, populated by toys deemed unsuitable for giving to children.
Ruled over by King Moonracer (a winged lion, because why not?) the island’s inhabitants feature an airplane that won’t fly, a swimming bird, an ostrich-riding cowboy, and a polka-dotted elephant, to name a few. Seeing them brought to life made every child realize that each toy is deserving of love, whatever their faults. That’s a dangerous excuse for hoarding, but memorable nonetheless.
Toys often appear in animated children’s films, but rarely are they the sole star. When Disney adapted the classic Italian tale of Pinocchio into the studio’s second animated film, they had to make some serious changes before it became the classic it is today. The story of Geppetto’s marionette wished to be a real boy is one of the most iconic in Disney’s history, with many other films on our list owing their existence at least partly to it.
To this day, we can’t help but wish there was a small, singing, top-hat-wearing cricket sitting on our shoulder, telling us when we’re headed for trouble. But if that comes at the price of a nose that grows with every lie, and the chilling run-ins with ‘Pleasure Island,’ the film is more than enough of an escape.
Given its title and subject matter, director Barry Levinson’s Toys must be mentioned for this list – as much for its approach to the idea of childlike play as the cinematic riddle it wound up being. The story is simple enough: Leslie Zevo (Robin Williams) is too immature to take over control of his father’s toy company, and must wage war against the military toys created by his three-star general uncle.
But the overall detachment from reality makes the film more of an abstract painting of a film, sure to confuse almost every viewer at one point or another. Thankfully, the film’s third act includes an all-out war between traditional toys and military-grade toy tanks and helicopters – not to mention the enormous (and deadly) ‘toys’ sprinkled throughout. Toy fans may not love it, but it’s one they simply must see to believe.
What happens when a toy coming to life turns out not to be a dream come true, but a nightmare made real? That’s the case with Chucky, the bloodthirsty star of the Child’s Play film series – an everyday ‘Good Guy’ doll brought to life and infused with the departing soul of “The Lakeshore Strangler.”
It wasn’t the first movie to place an animated doll as its deadly villain, and there have been plenty of imitators since. But whether it’s the red hair, the freckles, or the voice work of Brad Dourif (Lord of the Rings) that make Chucky remain as unsettling today as when first released, the movie made us forever suspicious of even the cutest dolls (more than we were already).
To a child, there’s nothing more wondrous than the idea of having your favorite stuffed animal come to life and become the best friend you’d always hoped for. While Seth MacFarlane’s Ted featured a talking teddy bear that did just that, it followed the story through to the end, with the titular plushie’s persona of ‘best friend’ aging alongside Mark Wahlberg.
It may not be as revered as others on our list, but Ted did what no other ‘talking toy’ movie ever had: shown adult audiences what it would be like to have a toy for a best friend. For that alone (not to mention the experience of seeing a friendly fistfight between a human being and stuffed bear), the movie is worth some recognition.
It’s one thing to see your toys come to life, but in Small Soldiers, Alan Abernathy is dropped right into the middle of a full-on toy war. Essentially, gross mismanagement and shortsightedness led a toy company to design toys that would “play back” with the children who owned them. The Commando Elite were outfitted with artificial intelligence, as were their sworn enemies, the Gorgonites.
Predictably, the situation spun out of control when the Commandos decided humans would only get in the way of eliminating their Gorgonite foes, and the star-studded cast raised this toy-led adventure up from a simple children’s movie. In fact, much of the film is far darker than any kids movie should be – but that doesn’t mean older audiences can’t appreciate a brutal action-figure massacre.
As the name implies, it was Pixar’s goal to weave a tale beginning and ending with children’s playthings, but in chronicling the adventures of Woody, Buzz Lightyear and the rest of Toy Story‘s cast, they proved that animated films could be relevant for an entirely new generation, and crafted one of the best examples in history.
For the sake of the other entries on our list, we’ve grouped together the entire trilogy. There is little the series as a whole leaves uncovered, and for viewers who aged right along with Toy Story‘s Andy, no film will better capture the love of dolls, action figures, or stuffed animals – and the need to one day leave them all behind.
That’s just 10 of the many films starring or featuring toys that are far more than simple playthings, but each movie fan is sure to have their favorites. Which toy characters stick out the most in your memory? Is it due to the quality of the film, the strength of the performance, or simply nostalgia?
Be sure to mention your own favorites in the comments.
The LEGO Movie is in theaters now.
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