Unemployed journalist Jack Brown is having a hard time fixing that problem. The job market in his hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana just isn't looking too good lately, forcing him to find employment as a maid for local tycoon U.S. Bates, but his refusing to shave his mustache and the fact that he was man cost him the job permanently. This did not stop him from managing to join the night cleaning crew at one of U.S.'s retail outlets, though.
After murdering an innocent Wonder Wheel while comically fooling around with the store's wares, Jack catches the attention of Eric, U.S. Bates' spoiled rotten son. Eric is there after hours with some of his daddy's men to pick out any toy in the store, and he's just made his selection; he wants Jack. Everyone but Eric thinks this is a bad idea, but what he says goes, and he knows enough about spoiled rottenness to know that everyone has a price. So Eric's chaperons stuff a bunch of money in Jack's hands, promise to give Wonder Wheel a decent burial, and then box him up in a crate to bring home with Eric.
Once there, Jack quickly tires of Eric's horrid behavior and humiliating pranks and he storms out, still decked out in too-tight Spider-Man pajamas, to return home. Problem is, Eric is lonely enough to beg his dad get him back by any means. U.S. offers Jack enough money to pay off his mortgage, which he all-too eagerly accepts. But Eric's brattyness has got to go, so Jack cuts through the boy's facade and begins befriending the Lonely Rich Kid underneath.
Its premise was controversial even for its day, but The Toy is still a pretty funny film with some surprisingly sweet moments, and it offers a rare chance to see two legendary comedians playing off each other.
This film includes examples of:
- Angrish: Jack gets into this after Eric pulls the second bucket prank on him.
- This also applies after Fancy humiliates Jack in front of all of their friends and he curses up a storm
- Accidental Misnaming: Everyone tends to pronounce U.S. as "You Ass," and he's not too thrilled about it. By the end, he only allows Jack to get away with it. Not that he's going to stop Fancy from doing it.
- Brainless Beauty: Fancy is nice enough, but not particularly bright. The few times she says or does something untoward, it's out of thoughtlessness rather than malice (and you can't really blame her for being irritated to hear that Eric was back home for the week).
- Butt-Monkey: Aside from Jack's torment at Eric's whims, poor Mr. Morehouse also becomes one, after U.S. orders him to fire an associate just for having sweaty hands, and later forces him to pull down his pants in front of Jack just to make a point about how much power U.S. really has.
- Cassandra Truth: Jack thought Eric was only kidding about the piranha his father released into their private creek to keep trespassers out.
- Chekhov's Skill: When Jack arrived in the wooden crate as Erics "toy", Eric throws firecrackers at him as a prank. In a later scene when they were arrested by police while printing their newspaper, the kid pulls the same stunt on the cops by throwing more firecrackers at them in order to allow Jack and himself to escape.
- Deep South: Averted. The movie was filmed on location in Baton Rouge, a major metropolitan area and state capitol of Louisiana, so Donner couldn't have pulled it off even if he wanted to.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: In-Universe Jack (black man) and some others point out the Unfortunate Implications of Eric (white kid) having him (and treating him) as a "toy" (with that exact term flung around by Eric constantly). Thankfully 1) Eric and U.S. undergo Character Development and 2) U.S. has enough money to pay them all off.
- Exact Words: Eric smugly reminds his father's surprised employees that his father said he could choose anything inside the store when he asks for Jack.
- George Jetson Job Security: As an act of Offscreen Villainy, U.S. ordered an employee to be fired just because he had sweaty palms when he decided to shake U.S.'s hand.
- Here We Go Again!: The film ends with one of Fancy's friends offering Jack a job being her son's toy. Jack responds by snapping and hauling ass down the road.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: U.S.'s affection towards his son might be one of the few redeeming factors that puts him in this category. By the end, he's showing signs of mellowing out a little.
- Ironic Echo: "Is it really that bad out there?" "It's worse."
- Meaningful Name: According to Word of God: U.S. Bates — United States (Master) Bates.
- Mood Whiplash: Immediately following the hilarious slapstick moment with Jack and the piranhas, they're shushed by Mr. Morehouse, who's fishing nearby and Drowning His Sorrows because U.S. forced him to fire a good man for the incredibly petty reason of shaking U.S.'s hand while having sweaty palms.
- Ms. Fanservice: Fancy, U.S. newest wife.
- Parental Abandonment: Eric has nannies, au pairs and butlers around to take care of him, but he really wants his dad to do the job.
- Personal Arcade: Eric has Centipede and Space Duel cabinets in his bedroom.
- Reality Ensues: Eric tries to call Jack on selling out by accepting a job with U.S.' newspaper, to which Jack has no choice but to invoke this:Jack: Man, what do you want me to do, starve to death? You think I can feed myself on high ideals and principles? Well, I can't!
- Refuge in Audacity: This. Entire. Film.
- Running Gag: You'd think U.S. would learn to either move his dominoes or just glue the damn things in place.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: U.S. wants his son to know that being wealthy means never having to say you're sorry. Jack pointedly observes that it's about the only thing Eric does understand.
- That Came Out Wrong: "Eric, this is Jack. Jack, Master Bates!"
- Undercranking: Used at a couple of points, most notably when Jack wades into a piranha-infested creek and then leaps out, running across the surface of the water back to shore.
- Also when Eric threw fire crackers at Jack and it scared him so much he jumped on the door really fast.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: We never do find out whether U.S. is still facing a federal indictment after his plan to blackmail the senator was foiled by Jack and Eric. He doesn't seem too worried about it in the end, if his future promises to Eric are any indication.
- You Didn't Ask: Eric's explanation to Jack as to why they are breaking into U.S.' printing press when Eric has the key. Jack doesn't find this especially amusing.