Last month saw the release of two major motion pictures pertaining to toys: Toy Story 4 and Child’s Play. Each movie explores the good and bad side of toys and how people interact with them. While Child’s Play hints at how childhood playthings sometimes bring out the savage spirit in humanity, Toy Story 4 shows the lighter side with how toys play a positive role in shaping people’s lives.
In comprising this list, I realize now that finding good toy-related movies is kinda tough, as it usually boils down to the same premises – toys are either creepy, hell bent on killing people, or artificial projections of a disturbed mind. Fortunately, there are gems out there for children and adults alike. Some of these flicks may seem obscure, but once on the screen, they will either take their audiences back to their childhood or have them pondering adulthood.
10. Toys in the Attic (2009)
Think Toy Story if directed by Tim Burton. Toys in the Attic is an odd, but ambitious story of a band of toys embarking on a mission to save one of their own from an evil dictator. This one is hit or miss with audiences, but with a little context, it makes sense.
Jiri Barta’s project is a Czech-made film set in an attic, which is divided between a happy land in the east and an evil land in the west. Barta’s tale is meant to serve as a reminder to the Cold War era, when Europe was literally split between lands of good and evil. Barta also resurrects the stop-motion style animation for his characters. Creepy as it is, I’ll admit I miss this old style of animation. It takes real effort to create a stop-motion film and it still pays off even today.
9. The Indian in the Cupboard (1995)
This classic adaptation of Lynne Reid Banks’ book tells the story of a young boy whose toys come alive within a magical cupboard. Through humorous adventures – punctuated by serious moments – the boy learns about the responsibilities that come with growing up.
The Indian in the Cupboard is a nostalgia trip both for those who grew up in the 90s and those who brought magical worlds to life in their heads with only toys at their disposal. It’s not a masterpiece by any means, but definitely a feel-good kind of movie.
8. The Velveteen Rabbit (1985)
I would not be surprised if the creators of Toy Story borrowed very loosely from this story and expected everyone to forget about it. The protagonist is a velveteen rabbit who is brought into the home of a young boy. There, the rabbit meets toy soldiers, toy lions, and toy cars – all of whom are living beings who revert to toy status whenever the child appears.
As the child grows fond of the Velveteen Rabbit, the other toys become resentful and plot to get rid of him at all costs. All the while, the Velveteen Rabbit – largely inanimate through his journey – wishes to become a real rabbit so he can be loved even more by the child. There are a number of renditions of this film, but I found this version to be touching on the first viewing. Plus, it’s narrated by the great Christopher Plummer. Can never go wrong there.
7. The Mouse and His Child (1977)
This one makes me feel bad for every toy I blew up with fireworks. Based on a novel by Russell Hoban, The Mouse and His Child is about a pair of toys – a father mouse and his son, who’re perpetually attached to each other – cast aside from their toy store and sent out into ‘the world.’
As they seek out a new home, they encounter a visionary frog, a rat who enslaves disposed toys, and a troupe of birds that put on elaborate performances as actors. Though an allegory for how crappy the world can be at times, The Mouse and His Child also shows how the world can easily be just as wonderful if you look in the right places.
6. The Beaver (2011)
This is one of those shut-up-and-watch-it kind of movies. Mel Gibson plays a clinically depressed tycoon who projects his troubles onto a beaver puppet he pulled out of a trash bin. As Gibson experiences an uptick in his fortune, his bond with his beaver grows deep enough for him to lose touch with reality – and it might cost him everything he loves.
Not too long before this film, Mel Gibson had his infamous meltdown which nearly destroyed his career. In coupling his personal troubles with that of his character’s, Gibson’s performance is quite passionate – probably more so than any of his previous films. Both Gibson’s bond with his character and the beaver create a wonderful story of how toys can help even adults in times of crisis.
5. Ted (2012)
This one is a comedic slam dunk on this list. Mark Wahlberg and Seth MacFarlane weave an interesting tale of a man whose childhood toy is both his best friend and a lazy, womanizing alcoholic.
As Wahlberg plays a perpetual man-child, his friendship with Ted becomes an obstacle, and he needs to make a choice between growing up or staying attached to his childhood toy for the rest of his life. Coming out a year after The Beaver, Ted is another good tale of how toys shape even the lives of adults. It’s a Seth Macfarlane film, though, so no kids allowed.
4. Pinocchio (1940)
No list of toy movies can be complete without this Disney classic. The story of Gepetto and his handcrafted puppet come-to-life will never get old.
Though based on a tale which explores the consequences of being a bad child, this one takes a more innocent approach, but still gets the message across in some spots – namely, the segment where bad children at a carnival are transformed into donkeys. This scene may be too much for children these days, but no matter what, as a film produced in 1940, Pinocchio will take just about anyone back to their childhood.
3. Cast Away (2000)
An odd selection you might say, but if anyone has seen it, the name Wilson will ring a bell. After Tom Hanks gets stranded on a desolate island, he befriends a soccer ball which he dubs Wilson.
Wilson operates as merely a coping mechanism for Hanks, but anyone can relate to Hanks’ bond with it. As his only friend in this natural prison, Wilson helps Hanks get through the trial and find his way home. True to other good toy movies, this one is a tear jerker, but it still shows how toys play a vital role in conditioning the human spirit – no matter your age.
2. Christopher Robin (2018)
This film shares a lot with Ted and The Beaver. Great as those two are, Christopher Robin still manages to knock those two flat. Ewan MacGregor plays a middle aged Christopher Robin who takes an unintentional break from adulthood to reunite with old friends in the Hundred Acre Wood.
Torn between his present life and his childhood passions, Christopher Robin must make a decision on how he wishes to continue his friendship with Pooh and his friends. This one is another tearjerker and it’s not even sad. Honestly, it’s probably one of the happiest movies I’ve seen in awhile. A thumbs up all around and great for all ages.
1. The Forgotten Toys (1995)
This one gets me every time I watch it. The Forgotten Toys tells the story of two misfit toys – an Annie doll and Teddy bear – trying to find a loving home. I won’t spoil too much, but tears and smiles are guaranteed for this one.
The Forgotten Toys was followed up with a TV-series, but this one by itself is spectacular. As innocent as Winnie the Pooh and as adventurous as Toy Story, The Forgotten Toys is a heartwarmer for all the right reasons and also a good Christmas movie for anyone wanting something different.
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