73 thoughts we had while watching the bonkers Robin Williams movie Toys

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Nov 21, 2018, 3:30 PM EST (Updated)

Wedged between the rousing successes of Hook and Mrs. Doubtfire, Robin Williams made the weirdest movie of his entire career with Toys. The family dramedy about a clan of toymakers and soldiers was a 12-year passion project of director Barry Levinson, but despite its imaginative tale and a star-studded cast, Toys tanked at the box office and received mostly scorn from critics. Nonetheless, to a generation of children, this 1992 bomb was nothing short of a bizarre blessing.

As a kid, I loved Toys, watching it over and over, happily mimicking William's manic toymaker and his plastic wig-sporting sister/sidekick (the one and only Joan Cusack). I have vague memories of bonkers set designs and L.L. Cool J as a cadet wearing wallpaper-camouflage. But the finer points of this film have been lost to me over the years. What a perfect time to Deja View!

  1. Toys begins with a Christmas concert at Zevo Toys stuffed with children. Which...why? Is the toy factory also a school?
  2. Whoa. Donald O'Connor—best known for his "Make 'Em Laugh" number in Singin' in the Rain—plays company founder, Kenneth Zevo.

  3. This is little more than a cameo. Kenneth dies moments after handing his company over to his stern brother Lt. General Leland Zevo (Michael Gambon, aka Dumbledore 2.0).
  4. Kenneth won't leave the company to his son Leslie (Williams) because he's "such a flake." How old is Williams supposed to be in this? Like how much of a maturity-stunted goof can Leslie be and still be a lovable loser as opposed to a groan-inducing loser?
  5. The Zevos live in a pop-up house. It opens like a book and is all I've ever wanted.

  6. "I'd rather drive dad's car." A bumper car buzzes along between the somber automobiles and black hearse in the funeral procession. Goals.
  7. Yaaaas. Here's that Tori Amos jam I remember so well. "Happy Workers!"

  8. Workers dancing about as big colorful machines topped with robot, elephant or doll heads is exactly how I still imagine all toy manufacturing companies. Do not correct me.

  9. The voice of Kenneth's right-hand man Owen sounds so familiar…(Googles)…Oh! He's the voice of Mr. Ages from The Secret of NIMH AND he's Tootles in Hook.
  10. He found his marbles! 

  11. Alsatia Zevo (Cusack) insists on trying out all the doll accessories. She has life-sized versions of the clip-on paper doll dresses made so she can wear them. I spent way too many years thinking/hoping/praying this was a real job to which I could aspire.

  12. Real Talk: I want that outfit. The wig too. 
  13. There's a prolonged explanation about how Michael Gambon is playing an American military man with a pronouncedly British accent. Just in case you were wondering. (I wasn't.)
  14. Revisiting Toys may have been a mistake. There is already so much droning on about war. I didn't remember the general being such a dominant figure. I didn't remember this being such a drag. 
  15. "You're as big a fool as your father ever was." "You really think so? Thank you!" These moments where Gambon is a frothy, sneering jerk and Williams is a blithe, beguiling clown are the bits I remember. That's the stuff! 
  16. Correction: L.L. Cool J does not wear wallpaper camouflage. He is introduced rolling out of a sofa donning upholstery camouflage, dedicatedly decorated with pink roses and pastel green vines. 


  17. The "jokes" in the family dinner scene involve spilling wine down Leslie's shirt front and eating cereal for dinner. Um. The humor isn't holding up as well as I'd hoped. 
  18. "Appendicitis is a respecter of no one." It's funny because it's true! 
  19. Hello. I would still like this to be my bedroom, please.

  20. "Happy Workers" reprise gets a rough remix treatment to show how disruptive the increased security is to company morale. There's heavy-handed, and then there's scowling security guards in black and red marching to "hoo HAH!" theme music through barbed wire, wavy hallways and pastel workrooms. 
  21. Fun Fact: Barry Levinson won the Academy Award for Best Director, but not for Toys. 
  22. Fun Fact: Toys earned Levinson a Razzie nomination for Worst Director. 
  23. Fun Fact: That same year Pauly Shore won the Razzie for Worst New Star for Encino Man
  24. Leslie's wears a "body of sound" coat that makes an array of annoying sound effects. As a kid, I thought Leslie was a scream. As an adult, I just want to scream. 
  25. "Are you disrespecting my duplication investigation!" L.L. Cool J is an underrated comedic talent. 
  26. I never realized that William's love interest Gwen was Robin Wright, rocking a side-pony tale, a Southern drawl, and a Julia Roberts smile. 

  27. Do we think her outfit is a company uniform? Or is she just living her ringmaster fantasy?
  28. In real life, there's 15-year age-gap between Williams and Wright. Seriously, how old is he supposed to be in this movie? 
  29. In Toys, Robin Wright screeches like a dolphin as a means of flirting. Just know that. 
  30. There's SO much riffing. About Michael Jackson, sugar, lack of lips, farts. It's…it's a lot.
  31. "I was born in the back of a bumper car." That's a good line! I could have done without the vagina hand puppets though. 
  32. To go incognito to an arcade and toy stores, the general and Patrick wear fisherman gear, complete with waist-high waders.

  33. Woo boy. Levinson is trying to make some big statement about love and war, and maybe toxic masculinity? It's a mess. Because our options are what? War-mongering brutes who bark and bully? Or quirky "nice guys" who hit on their employees, casually stalk them down isolated country roads, and nonchalantly throw out "I want to get laid" through means of devil hand puppet? Is neither an option? I'd like to choose neither please. 
  34. Robin Wright's job in this movie is to dress ridiculously and giggle at everything Robin Williams says.
  35. In Toys, the general dreams up drone strikes. He wants to make video games to train future soldiers and trick young gamers into blindly bombing foreign nations. 
  36. Is this a kid's movie? It's about toys. It's about war. It's colorful and childish. It's PG-13 for "some language and sensuality." I just don't know.
  37. This reminds me of that live-action Super Mario Bros. movie, in that I think I loved it because it was tangentially related to toys, and was silly, and because children have terrible taste. 

  38. You know that thing where you try a candy you loved as a kid, and are like, "Oh GOD. This is gross and awful, what was I thinking?" That's me watching Toys right now. 
  39. "This vomit is very anglo, very ethnocentric. This is obviously the fake vomit of the white man. It's oppressive." Okay. That made me laugh. 
  40. Actually, the whole innovative vomit bit is pretty stellar with the straight-faced lunacy, wacky wordplay, and keen comedy timing. 

  41. I remembered Joan Cusack being in this more. Joan Cusack should be in more things. And the things she's in she should be in more. 
  42. Leslie is bad at dates. He and Gwen's first date was in the office cafeteria. The second is in the model city that the kids danced on in the introduction. Gwen, girl, raise your standards!

  43. Reveal: the late Daddy Zevo hired Gwen in hopes she'd marry Leslie. It's meant to seem cute and caring, but it seems like a big damn red flag to me. 
  44. Williams was 41 when this movie came out. Imagine the father of a 41-year-old man hiring a 26-year-old woman to marry his son. It's not cute.
  45. Even if we assume Leslie's man-child behavior and William's orange-dyed hair is supposed to make Leslie read as younger, he won't ever read as young enough that this isn't squicky.
  46. I love the idea that you can get past militaristic security systems with some construction paper, costumes, and a homage to Talking Heads and René Magritte.                           
  47. Just ignore that a security camera would not have audio.
  48. "Shut it down, Hogenstern!" I completely forgot there's like a robo-toy sea monster thing. The "sea swine" barks like a seal and "operates by vibration."  It looks like a giant slug and it wants to murder Leslie. 
  49. Leslie somehow survived. Now, robot toy in a trench coat is creeping on Leslie seducing Gwen.

  50. Weird Fact: Jamie Foxx made his movie debut as one of the soldier's playing Peeping Tom through the creeper bot.


  51. The general tried to kill Leslie with the sea swine, but the Zevos are still sitting down for civil business meetings. What even is this?
  52. Four angry military men are bickering about war and toys in their underwear. And the general maybe killed a guy. Again.
  53. Leslie and his friends are playing with a VR device. Meanwhile, the general is going all Apocalypse Now levels of mad, singing opera and firing his handgun at a fly.
  54. A soldier/croney asks,  "Wouldn't it be better to use a flyswatter sir?" That's a fire-able offense. And by that I mean, the general fired a gun at him.
  55. I think Michael Gambon's crazy general has more screentime than Robin Williams, who is in theory the film's hero.
  56. "Debbie, you didn't do my dad, didja!?" Debi Mazar shows up to play a nurse named Debbie who is screwing Patrick and his general father. Insult to injury, Debbie tells Patrick that his mom died not from appendicitis (which is a respector of no one!) but on a military mission. See, the general "sent your mother in (to Hanoi) as some kind of a Jane Fonda look-alike." There's a lot to unpack here. But I'm so so tired all of a sudden.
  57. If you thought this movie needed some Mother Teresa handpuppetry, good news.
  58. There's some lazy commentary here about how video games desensitize children to violence. But even that is lost amid much bluster and blathering. "Now is my time. It was not Korea. It was not Vietnam. But now. Tonight on this battleground, this field of innocence, this will be my finest hour." K. 
  59. A baby doll is firing its bottle like a tommy gun.
  60. I remembered this movie being fun. This is not fun.
  61. This has become a horror movie about kitschy toys trying to kill people. But it's nowhere as amusing as that premise implies.
  62. So. Much. Blurry. Slo-Mo. Action.
  63. "Now is the time not to ask what Zevo can do for you, but what you can do for Zevo." The war toys will fight the "old toys" for the future of the company, and the survival of Leslie and his crew. Toy tanks fire upon teddy bears and blow to bits wind-up peacocks and plate-spinners. Meanwhile, Robin Wright puts her face to her hands, and man do I feel her.
  64. This battle scene is still raging on.

  65. Toys' battle sequence is longer than every MCU third act combined.
  66. "Come on Leslie, can't you take a joke?" Says a defeated general. "Oh yes. I can," Leslie bristles, "I love jokes. But what I don't find funny is when someone tries to kill me, my family, and destroy the world as I know it. I don't know why. Call me crazy."
  67. Fun Fact: This film was nominated for two Academy Awards. Neither was for Best Screenplay. (One was for Best Art Direction/Set Direction, which totally makes sense.) 
  68. The sea swine is called back to blow off Alsatia's head. But good news! She's not human. She's a robot, so she's fine. She's fine. SHE'S FINE! 
  69. "I always thought she seemed the same age." This means Alasatia has been a full-grown adult for as long Patrick can remember. But this seemingly rational military man never put one and two to robot?
  70. The general was murdered by the sea swine. Cue the closing Christmas musical number!
  71. The old toys have been reproduced because kids of the '90s love tin wind-up toys so much more than video games. 
  72. The general is not dead after all. Instead, he shelved in a creepy military tent that feeds his delusion thanks to toy soldiers on parade, and the sexy nurse who I guess gets to keep her job despite incest and spilling major family secrets.
  73. "May joy and innocence prevail." Not just the epitaph on Kenneth Zevo's grave, but also the movie's message. I guess. Sure. Fine.
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