Sunday, December 16, 2012

25 Days of Christmas Movies 2012 - Day 16: The Closing of the Year

Today has been a remarkably productive day.  I feel like this is the first day I've gotten since December 1st that I've actually had the time to do any of my holiday preparations and while it might have passed quicker than I would have liked due to my massive amount of activity, I feel really good about the rest of the holidays now (whereas before they were looming in front of me like a massive deadline with a frowny face on it).  In the space of one day I finished all my baking, wrapped all the presents I currently have in hand, figured out how much pizza would cost for my Broadcasting holiday party, washed my laundry, wrote up my rehearsal schedule for the week, and even completed a blog post (that is, I'm assuming I'm going to complete this post).  I'd say I've done fairly well for this day.  Honestly, with just a week left till my holiday break and two weeks (give or take) left in this year, I feel comfortable preparing for the end of yet another year.  Afterall, part of the significance of the Holidays, aside from getting together with friends and family and sharing gifts and goodwill, is coming to grips with the closing of the year.  We get a chance to look back on the ups and downs of our year and decide if, at the end of it all, it was a success or not.  That is partly the theme of today's film which is again bookended by Christmas scenes and tells a tale of the year in the life of someone who has yet to decide how to own his own life.  I think it's time to hit up the factory and play with some Toys.

At the Zevo Toys factory in a lovely field of green, owner Kenneth Zevo (Donald O'Connor) is dying. He expresses to his assistant Owen Owens (Arthur Malet) that he wants control of the business to go to his brother, military man Lt. Gen. Leland Zevo (Michael Gambon). Leland Zevo himself is uncertain of his brother's wishes, instead pointing out that his nephew, Leslie Zevo (Robin Williams), would be a worthy successor as he has apprenticed at Zevo Toys his entire life. Kenneth Zevo states that although Leslie loves his work, he is also too immature to be a good business owner and deal with the corporate world. After Kenneth dies, Leland takes over. At first he has no interest in anything at the factory until he hears of possible leaks and corporate espionage. Leland brings in his son Patrick (LL Cool J), a soldier and expert in covert military operations, to oversee security. He soon decides to make a series of war toys. This dismays Leslie as Zevo Toys has never made war toys as Kenneth did not like them. After a confrontation with Leslie, Leland halts the development of the war toys. He asks Leslie for some space to work alone to develop some toys of his own and states he doesn't want Leslie to see them because they might not be good enough. Leland's continued demands for more space, rigid security and top-secret projects dismay the childlike Leslie, his innocent and childlike sister Alsatia (Joan Cusack), Owen, and a factory worker Leslie has developed a crush on named Gwen Tyler (Robin Wright). Leslie becomes more suspicious when Owen shows him children arriving at the factory and ushered into the restricted area. He breaks into a research area and discovers kids playing realistic war video games.  Leslie then must decide how he can regain control of Zevo Toys from the demented General and restore the company to it's original principals.  But can he do it in time?

Toys was a huge flop upon release because it was advertised as a holiday family film when in reality, it's a surreal adult fantasy about learning to accept responsibility.  Naturally, it's target audience could not grasp it's satire and adults who would have enjoyed it's subversive messages about war and the desensitization of children through violence stayed away because it looked like a kid's movie.  It reality, Toys is one of those excellent niche films...a movie that appeals to a small group of people and never would have been made today (as a big budget tentpole anyway....maybe as an independant).  I love Toys for it's darkness juxtaposed with it's lightness, for the wonderfully dramatic turn by Robin Williams (yes, he did do serious movies 'before' his later years), for it's music, for it's design, and for it's messages.  There are many messages in Toys that children really should see, but I feel like a lot of them would miss them on a first viewing because the film is so surreal and strange.  No matter though, it will always exist for them to see...in fact it's streaming on Netflix now.  I suppose it's a good thing that director Barry Levinson didn't dumb down his vision to make a 'kid's' movie.  He made exactly the film he wanted to and while it didn't connect with audiences at the time the way everyone might have wanted it to, it still endures today as a grand example of how we can look at a year in our lives and how we can face the obstacles in our lives to make our lives either successes or failures.  FYI, I feel like my year has been a major success...in cause you're wondering.


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