Here’s our pick of the best toy films around. You’re welcome.
Small Soldiers (1998)
Putting missile technology into toys was never going to work out well. So when a batch of toy soldiers decide to go on the rampage against peaceful alien toys, it’s up to our heroic protagonist – a dorky young lad called Alan – to save the day, get the girl (a young Kirsten Dunst) and be caught up in a whole bunch of stunning CGI.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
The first Hollywood outing for really effective animatronic heads, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – featuring a full range of robo-facial expressions – go into battle against The Shredder, a baddie far more menacing than his office supplies namesake. Needless to say, the artily-named quartet embrace their challenge in a flurry of kung-fu, pizza and ooze. Turtle power!
Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)
Dudley Moore dons his elf hat to head into New York City and make it big in the bright lights. But what’s this? John Lithgow running an evil toy manufacturing empire? Threatened corruption of the innocent mind? You’ll have to watch it to see whether Christmas can be saved. Either that, or try Jon Favreau’s similarly-themed Elf.
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)
Want to overdose on Christmas spirit? Home Alone’s sequel sees Macaulay Culkin doling out a second helping of clammy schmaltz as he foils the attempts of two bungling thieves trying to rob Duncan’s Toy Chest, an emporium of trinkets and games. Even the icky cuteness of Culkin’s Kevin isn’t enough for us to deny Lost in New York’s slick production and genuinely entertaining denouement.
The Indian in the Cupboard (1995)
If we got an old cupboard and a plastic Indian (or Native American, if we’re being PC) for our ninth birthday, we’d be pretty miffed. Unless, of course, the little warrior came to life each time he was placed in the cubpboard, as was the case for Omri in The Indian in the Cupboard. Throw a little cowboy in the mix and you have an oddly touching micro-western in which the two miniature enemies work through their differences.
Hugo follows the touching story of a young boy striving to fix his father’s mechanical automaton humanoid by stealing parts from the railway station he lives in. A far cry from Scorsese’s previous testosterone-fuelled masterpieces like Raging Bull and Goodfellas, but still a finely polished cinematic experience.
Based on a short story and directed by Steven Spielberg (though Stanley Kubrick was originally offered the helm) AI sees David – an android child – seek to become a real boy with the aid of pleasure-bot Jude Law (surreal, we know). A teddy bear companion with more conversational skills than 100 Siris comes along for the ride and proves to be as faithful a companion as any gadget we’ve ever owned.
David Bowie and his terrifying spandex leotard-bulge are perma-etched in our minds. But this dark gothic fantasy plays cleverly on the idea of toys freakishly coming to life, as Sarah takes on the all-singing-all-prancing Goblin King (with a little help from her cuddly friends) in a bid to solve the labyrinth and save her little brother from a goblin transformation. Better than it sounds.
Jingle All The Way (1996)
Swapping AK-47s and tight tank tops for holiday-themed laughs, Arnie’s role in Jingle All The Way sums up the the true meaning of Christmas – desperate and frantic last-minute shopping. The moral of the film? Never put work before family unless you want your wife to run off with the next door neighbour, never promise your kid the world’s most popular toy and never trust a postal worker called Sinbad.
Jumanji is testament to the phrase “curiosity killed the cat.” In fact, it almost killed the kids, who wound up getting sucked into its magical, but perilous jungle portal. We’re surprised the characters remained as sane as they did – kids/adults trapped in board games with the ability to conjure up trouble-seeking monkeys, enormous poisonous spiders and a full-blown stampede is enough bring out the crazy in anyone. Bet they thought twice before playing cracking open Monopoly again.
Celebrity-voiced animations may be the norm now, but it all started with Disney’s Pinocchio, the story of a puppet who comes to life and can’t tell a porky without getting a bigger snout. Real actors were also used for the characters’ motion capture, another pioneering technique that’s still in use in the CGI age. Pinocchio is – above all – still a brilliant movie, despite being over 70 years old.
The Last Mimzy (2007)
Some children find a box of toys washed up on the shore. Little do they realise the toys are from the future and will help them develop strange powers. It’s all a bit humourless, but The Last Mimzy is embedded with a message of cross-generational communcation breakdown. Not bad for a film about a stuffed rabbit called Mimzy.
Masters of the Universe (1987)
The toys were brilliant. The TV series was brilliant. The film was diabolical. Making this list on an it’s-so-bad-it’s-good basis, it’s worth watching Masters of the Universe just to see if you can spot any good acting. Dolph Lundgren attempted He-Man, while Frank “Nixon” Langella had a bash at Skeletor. Billy Barty was nominated for Worst Supporting Actor at the Razzies. Courtney Cox should have won.
Robin William’s eccentric character proved that it’s not cool to be a big kid. It’s downright weird. But more importantly, the forces of good versus evil – represented by benevolent and malevolent toys – is the real underlying theme of this whacky blockbuster. The fun-filled world of Zevo Toys is under threat from a new breed of violent toys intent on destroying childhood innocence with war and destruction. A full-blown battle between the good and dark side of the toy world ensues.
The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
“You know? For kids?” That’s how dim-witted Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins) pitches his idea for a new toy to the board at Hudsucker Industries. Inspired by his stupidy (and desperate to crash the company stock) the board unwittingly signs off on the year’s biggest craze: the hula hoop. A killer cast including Paul Newman, John Mahoney and Steve Buscemi (yes, it’s by the Coen brothers) create some of the most memorable, if cartoonish, characters you’ll ever see on film.
Zathura is like Jumanji in space. Directed by Iron Man’s Jon Favreau, two children must play for their lives as their house hurtles through space controlled by the game Zathura. Vampire fans look out for a young Kristen Stewart, and Star Wars bods keep your eyes peeled for Frank Oz as – of course – a robot.
Toy Story (1995)
Pixar gave toys like Woody and Buzz Lightyear egos, hurt feelings and a heavy dose of kid-friendly sass in its first feature film. Toy Story basically invented the animation film as know it – wise-cracking and CGI-laden but full of heart. If you haven’t seen the original or the two incredible sequels, bang your head against the nearest wall in shame and then schedule in some toy-time. Or we’ll make you pay a visit to toy-torturer Sid.
In The Attic: Who Has a Birthday Today (2009)
What’s in the attic? Toys, of course. And not, for once, as a euphemism for lunacy. Instead, this charming Czech stop-motion film charts the adventures of a group of toys who come to life when no people are around. Sounds like Toy Story? Yes, but without the big budget or audience-tested schmaltz and gags.
Thirteen year old Josh Baskin (Tom Hanks) accidentally turns into a ‘big’ 30-year-old man via a creepy fortune-telling machine and does what we’d all do in that situation: gets a job as a toy tester at FAO Schwartz, the New York answer to Hamleys. He gets briefly sidetracked by a pretty woman, but sensibly focuses on getting loads of free gear for his new flat and playing Chopsticks on a massive electronic piano before rightly deciding to head back to being a teen.
Wallace & Gromit in The Wrong Trousers (1993)
The not-right trousers in the title are pretty fun – they’re ex-NASA and robotic – but the second Wallace & Gromit half-hour animation makes our list for the high-speed train set chase alone. Our man and his dog are after Feathers McGraw, the evil penguin lodger, and everything about the scene – from the pistol-toting Feathers to the milk bottle finale – is timed to incredibly silly perfection.
The Christmas Toy (1986)
A full nine years before Toy Story, The Jim Henson Company made The Christmas Toy, in which toys come alive when the children aren’t around and Rugby the Tiger is moaning about not being the favourite toy anymore. Sound familiar? There’s a sinister twist – Rugby, Meteora Queen of the Aliens and all the other toys freeze forever if they’re caught out of place. Risky stuff.
Child’s Play (1988)
Riffing on the Cabbage Patch Kids craze of the 1980s (which was creepy enough in itself) Child’s Play stars Brad Dourif as a serial killer whose soul is transferred into a ‘Good Guy’ doll. Okay, the film’s pure hokum – but Dourif’s voice work and the animatronics made the demonic doll, Chucky, an icon of modern horror. 1998’s Bride of Chucky (tagline: Chucky gets lucky) is arguably a more worthy entrant on this list.
GI JOE: The Rise of Cobra (2009)
Remember when you were a kid, bashing your Action Force toys into each other and imagining a blockbuster movie playing out in your head? This is that movie. Ninjas clash, explosions explode and Paris is wrecked in a chase sequence that could’ve been lifted straight from Team America: World Police. Meanwhile, indie film darling Joseph Gordon Levitt tries to act from behind a Darth Vader face mask and Christopher Eccleston affects the worst Scottish accent since Christopher Lambert. Marvellous.
Transformers: The Movie (1986)
Forget the Michael Bay Transformers films – for those of a certain age, the ’80s cartoon movie was a defining childhood memory. A traumatic one – toy manufacturers Hasbro wanted to clear out the old Transformers inventory and introduce a line of new toys, so for the opening twenty minutes of the film, characters who’d merrily dodged laser blasts in the TV series were slaughtered in Peckinpah-esque scenes of carnage. All that and it featured Orson Welles’ last screen role. As a planet-eating robot.
The Beaver (2011)
Mel Gibson attempted to restore his tarnished reputation with director Jodie Foster’s film, in which he plays a CEO who falls into depression, and takes to communicating with his family through a hand puppet after a failed suicide bid. It flopped in the US, but despite the seemingly-daft premise, Foster plays it straight. Worth a look.
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