Writing about Toys (1992) has been on my "to do" list for ages so I recently re-watched it to get re-inspired. This is one of those movies that did poorly with critics and at the box office but is actually one that is visually distinct and has an opposing message and theme to what normally comes out of Hollywood.
Directed by Barry Levinson (Rainman, Bugsy, Envy) and stars Robin Williams, Joan Cusack, LL Cool J, Robin Wright, Michael Gambon and Jamie Foxx' movie debut, the movie’s style and costumes are obviously influenced by the art of René Magritte.
The story goes, Robin Williams helps run a toy factory, Zevo Toys, for his ailing father who then passes away, leaving control to his brother, Leland, who is a military man and will run a tight ship. Leland has little interest in the toy business until he learns about corporate espionage, then his military training kicks in. He decides to start producing war toys, something that Zevo has decidedly never done before. This is where the story shifts into a battle between good and evil. The military takeover starts off as covert operations, then suppresses the very thing that made Zevo special. Williams leads the crusade against his uncle for all that is innocent and whimsical while learning how to grow up a little to win the heart of his kindred spirit, Wright, who also works in the factory. The overall premise for the movie, I find to be insightful and adds to a larger conversation about consumption targeted towards children and how certain toys encourage violence, and how the isolation can lead to the desensitization of society when it comes to violence on a grander scale, i.e. war.
As interesting as the ideas are behind the plot, the sets and costumes help tell the story and become their own characters that reflect the dichotomy of the situation. There’s a surreal, playful quality to the sets and the use of bold colours add to the fantasy of what working at a toy factory would be like. Conversely, the military influence uses camouflage, dark colours, shadows and extreme camera angles to reinforce the hostile takeover that sits on the horizon.
Visually, this movie uses distinct architectural influences, in its use of scale in creating illusion and artistic elements when creating spatial experiences. It uses repetition, line, symmetry, positive and negative space to establish a sense of wonder.
The genius of this film is that it addresses socio-political issues and consumerism; the very thing that keeps the military functioning at such a powerful level, and is illustrated using cartoonish visual effects that mask the severity of underlying real-world concerns. I recommend watching this movie for many reasons.
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Krista Jahnke lives and works in Vancouver, BC and likes to ask