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Film / Toys

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Make believe, not war.

If I cannot bring you comfort
Then at least I bring you hope
For nothing is more precious
Than the time we have, and so
We all must learn from small misfortunes
Count the blessings that are real
Let the bells ring out for Christmas
At the closing of the year

Toys is a surreal 1992 comedy directed, co-written, and co-produced by Barry Levinson.

Robin Williams plays Leslie Zevo, a man who gets passed up for the inheritance of the toy factory and company of his father Kenneth (Donald O'Connor) despite his dedication because he has never really grown up himself. Instead, Kenneth leaves the factory to his brother, General Leland Zevo (Michael Gambon). This turns out to be a bad move, since the general and his camouflage-obsessed son Patrick (LL Cool J) soon bring an absurdly strict security regime to the factory and even start planning to use toys as secret war machines. (To put it in pithier terms, this plot is effectively Willy Wonka and the Military-Industrial Complex.)

Tropes employed:

  • Added Alliterative Appeal: "Debbie, you didn't do my dad, didya?"
  • Aerith and Bob: During the fake music video, the characters use the fictional band name of "Yolanda and Steve"
  • Art Imitates Art: Much of the look drew its inspiration from surrealist painter René Magritte. This is most obvious in the break in scene where Leslie Zevo and Alsatia Zevo pretend they're doing a music video featuring raining men in the background.
  • Artistic License – Military: General Leland Zevo never takes off his hat while indoors, a breach of etiquette that all soldiers (especially officers) are warned about in their first week of basic training. This combined with his general lack of professionalism and seeming enthusiasm for war (and war crimes!) in general. For the informed viewer, it could be seen as a bit of foreshadowing that Leland is more of a Manchild playing at war than a true soldier.
  • Award-Bait Song: "The Closing of the Year", written by Hans Zimmer and Trevor Horn, performed by Wendy & Lisa (with guest vocals by Seal).
  • Axe-Crazy: The General has his moments, such as using a pistol to kill a fly in his office. And continuing once it lands on his foot.
  • Batman Gambit: Not once, but twice — and by Kenneth, who's in the film for all of five minutes.
    • Kenneth's plan to have Leland take over the company is really a plan to force his son to grow up and take charge of matters. It's very likely he knew to begin with (or at least suspected) that Leland's control of Zevo Toys would cause trouble that Leslie would have to face and overcome.
    • It's also revealed later that he hand-picked Gwen as a new hire the day before he died, figuring correctly that she and Leslie would be perfect for each other.
      Leslie: You met my dad?
      Gwen: Yep. He was the one who hired me. The day before he died. Hand-picked. I don't know why... well, maybe I do know why...
    • There's also the implication that he asked Leland to take over in an effort to teach him a lesson as well.
  • "Before" and "After" Pictures: Leslie Zevo finds one of the photocopier pictures taken of the toy company's new secretary along with his cousin-in-law Patrick and says it's "like Michael Jackson before-and-after!"
    Leslie!Michael: Never had surgery! Never ever!
  • Berserk Button: "One word about that boy [Patrick]'s mother"...
  • Big Bad: General Leland Zevo.
  • Big-Lipped Alligator Moment: In-Universe example — Leslie and Alsatia's camera-spoofing "music video." Doubles as an Affectionate Parody of real '80s music videos.
  • Bizarrchitecture: All over this movie. You apparently enter the main building at Zevo Toys through the pyramid-shaped outbuilding next to it; the stairway up to Kenneth's office rolls forward to the door on giant toy wheels while you're climbing it; there's a corridor in the factory, decorated like the hills outside, where the floor rises and falls like a sine wave; the Zevos' house is a giant box, the front facade of which unfolds like a page from a pop-up book; Alsatia's bedroom is built like a stage set inside a larger room... and then see The Walls Are Closing In below. The fact that the Old General's bed is set up in a World War II?-style Army medical tent inside his living room is one of the less outlandish examples.
  • Bizarre Taste in Food: Alsatia's preferred nosh is a mayonnaise sandwich — literally mayo between two slices of bread. When Patrick expresses some concern over the lack of nutrition, she reveals that the recipe also includes whole vitamin pills. Counts as foreshadowing, as a robot is definitely not going to have the same nutritional needs as a real human.
  • Book Ends: The film takes place over the course of exactly a year, beginning and ending with Zevo Toys's Christmas pageant.
  • Bottomless Magazines: The war toys are all showing firing much more ammo than their size should allow to store, and never seem to run out of it.
  • Broken Aesop: This movie was written to have strong anti-war themes, however it subverts its own premise in that when tyranny and oppression threaten innocence and freedom, there is no choice but to rally up and fight to protect them. The fact that the leads are saved by spamming an army of inanimate toys against their opponents also gives weight to Leland's whole point about the advantages of a drone army, even if it is for different reasons.
  • Camera Spoofing: The "music video" staged by Alsatia and Leslie in order to sneak into the off-limits areas of the factory. Aided by Owen surreptitiously covering the monitor's label with one reading "MTV".
  • Chameleon Camouflage: Played for Laughs. Patrick is usually introduced to a scene dressed exactly like some part of the scenery.
  • Child Soldiers: General Zevo wants to train children to remotely pilot toy-sized lethal military hardware into active warzones.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Leslie and Alsatia; they get it from their dad. It is apparently a quirk of the Zevo family, though in Leland, Patrick, and General Zevo it expresses in a more military fashion: Consider Patrick's obsession with camouflage and Picky Eater tendencies. Gwen's a half-bubble off plumb herself, which is probably why she and Leslie hit it off immediately.
  • Cool Car: The blue car that Leslie drove was a rare 1950 Muntz Jet, of which fewer than four hundred were made.
  • Cowardly Lion: Leslie.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Patrick — and Kenneth too, all things considered.
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check: Even after his plan fell apart, General Leland could have made a fortune just selling his way-ahead-of-the-time video games. Seriously, the things incorporate no-glasses 3D in the early '90s! If you take off the real weapons, his "war toys" are pretty kick-ass as real toys as well.
  • Cutting the Knot: Leslie and company duck into a room to evade the Tommy Tanks, who proceed to blow the door open with tiny rockets.
  • Dark Reprise: After Leland takes over, "The Happy Worker" becomes "Workers".
  • Deadly Remote Control Toy: Remote-control miniaturized vehicles of war unwittingly operated by children are the Evil Plan of General Zevo. He gets the idea after inheriting his much more whimsical brother's toy factory and, while visiting a shopping mall arcade by chance, observing how all the kids playing these games have such honed reflexes that they could theoretically outfly a trained military professional. He then puts two and two together and realizes that the only reason they have to make tanks and fighter planes so big in the first place is to make room for the pilots; but if they were remote-controlled, why, they could be made as small as a toy. And General Zevo now owns a toy factory... Of note is that Toys came out in 1992, only two years before unmanned drones would be put into regular use by the military.
  • The Dragon: Patrick, who does a Heel–Face Turn.
  • Droste Image: One version of the poster.
  • Dungeon Bypass: Leslie using Santa's airplane to get to the General's office. Bonus points for using a Chekhov's Gun.
  • Echoing Acoustics: Alsatia shows Gwen a corner inside the women's restroom at Zevo Toys where you can really get a proper Fifties-style reverb on your voice; the two of them end up singing "In the Still of the Night" together.
  • Evil Plan: General Leland Zevo seeks to take over his late brother's toy factory to use it to brainwash kids into remote soldiers.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: General Zevo's creations include Ball, Dolly, Tommy Tanks, and Hurly-Burly Helicopters. Each one is quite capable of lethal action.
  • The Foreign Subtitle: In Spain, the film was added the subtitle Fabricando ilusiones (roughly "Making dreams").
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Patrick observes to Alsatia: "Well, whatever you're doing must be working, because you always look the same age to me."
      • Alsatia also insists on testing all the doll fashions and accessories herself because she is one.
    • "Whose side are you on, anyway?"
  • The "Fun" in "Funeral":
    • Kenneth manages a posthumous prank that gives everyone at his funeral a much-needed laugh. It even becomes a Brick Joke in a later scene.
    • Leslie and Alsatia also insist on driving their dad's car in the funeral procession. It's designed like a bumper car, and keeps bouncing off the cars in front of and behind it.
  • Gainax Ending: The actual ending of the movie is sufficiently clear-cut, but the closing credits include a dreamlike sequence of the elephant statue from Kenneth's grave somehow flying over the hills. Very symbolic, but still bizarre.
  • General Ripper: Leland is intent on turning a toy factory into a weapons factory and military training center.
  • Genre-Busting: Elements of fantasy, comedy, horror and romance. Barry Levinson has noted that music is such an integral part of the whole film, it stands on the very edge of being a musical without actually becoming one.
  • Ghibli Hills: Rolling, grassy hills surround almost every outdoor location in the movie.
  • Hammerspace: Apparently where Leslie pulls the devil puppet out of so quickly (hey, he's good). The war toys seem to carry way more ammunition than their size should allow.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Patrick Zevo, after finding out his father lied to him about how exactly his mother died.
  • Hot Nurse: Nurse Debbie, Granddad's caretaker — who's sleeping with Patrick and his father.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: General Zevo, twice: First one of his own helicopters destroys the central computer, shutting down most of his weapons. Then comes the Sea Swine... In a more humerous earlier scene, his attempt at dealing with a fly buzzing around in his office with a gun leads to him quite literally shooting himself in the foot.
  • Hurricane of Puns: Many from Leslie.
    Leslie: When you go forth tonight — or fifth, depending on your order in line...
  • Ice-Cream Koan:
    • "Treat your friends like your enemies and your enemies like your friends." Assuming this is meant to make sense, it might be a sort of echo to Cardinal Mazarin's real life quote that you must always watch out because your friend could become enemies one day and vice versa.
    • Leslie's motto is a much simpler inversion, "Treat your friends like your friends and your enemies like your enemies."
  • Insult Backfire: When General Zevo tells Leslie, "You're as big a fool as your father ever was!" Leslie gets a touched look and says, "Really? You think so? Thanks!"
  • Intelligible Unintelligible: The Old General (Leland and Kenneth's father, played by Jack Warden) is senile and almost completely unintelligible, but Leland has no problems understanding what he's saying, having been around him so long (f you listen carefully, some of the Old General's conversation is clear enough for you to get the gist). All of their conversations play out like this. See Not Even Bothering with the Accent below for an example.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Leland may devolve into a psycho at the end, but his cry of "MEDIC!" when he sees his brother collapse is real fear, and his breakdown over his wife's death is also genuine even if he can't be honest about the cause. He shows concern for his niece Alsatia's seemingly non-nutritious diet. He is also legitimately proud of his son.
    • Patrick Zevo comes off as a jerk, but he is kind to his cousin Alsatia and charming with Debbie, and in the end joins in to help stop Leland.
  • The Jeeves: Kenneth's personal assistant, Owen Owens (Arthur Malet), gives off the appearance of being a doddering old man, while being savvy enough to contribute to Leslie's plans to get the factory back.
  • Kick the Dog: When playing an arcade game, Leland is annoyed that UN trucks keep getting in his line of fire, and eventually just stops caring about the real enemies and starts destroying the trucks on sight, despite the game only penalizing him for it. In fact, the general later has his own line of games commissioned that rewards players (all young children) for civilian casualties.
  • Killer Rabbit: The first "toys" that the heroes encounter during the break-in.
  • Klaatu Barada Nikto: Gen. Leland's Oh, Crap! when his killer toys turn on him at the end of the climax. The phrase is supposed to be the Sea Swine's shutdown command, but it's malfunctioning after the central computer was shut down.
  • Lampshade Hanging: In addition to Not Even Bothering with the Accent below, why are there fireworks going at the climax of General Leland's epic speech outlining his plan?
    Leland [offscreen]: Let that be a lesson to you, always carry a flare.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Gwen would be one, except that her romantic partner is Leslie. Plays more like an inversion, with her being meant to make him a more serious and grounded person.
  • Mickey Mousing: Common in scenes that feature the soundtrack upfront in the mix. A great deal of it was recorded in advance and played on the set by Barry Levinson, so the extras actually heard the music they were dancing or marching to.
  • Mistaken for Gay: In Vietnam one night, one of Leland's own men tried to frag him.
    Old General: [Mumbles and smiles] big cock?
    Leland: No, I said frag me! They tried to shoot me!
  • Ms. Fanservice: Leland has Nurse Debbie dressed up as a World War Two Nurse. The uniform being much more form flattering than normal.
  • My Little Panzer: The new owner of a toy factory switches production to toy tanks and helicopters armed with real weapons he means to sell to the military. He also starts a video game division to get kids into violence in order to have future soldiers for the piloting system he plans to use for those toys.
  • Myopic Architecture: The Tommy Tanks try to break into the warehouse where Leslie and company are hiding. After a few bashes on the door, they decide to blow up the wall next to it.
  • Neat Freak: Patrick has some traits of this. He's used to the partitioned plates common in the armed forces, and he gives a hilarious rant to Alsatia about how he can't eat comfortably in the Zevo Toys commissary because all the food on his plate is touching.
    Patrick: I like military plates. I'm a military man, I want a military meal. I want my string beans to be quarantined. I like a little fortress around my mashed potatoes, so my meatloaf doesn't invade my mashed potatoes and cause MIXING IN MY PLATE.
  • Nostalgia Filter: "There isn't going to be another war — not like you and I know it! War has changed!"
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Leland Zevo sports Michael Gambon's British accent, despite the rest of the family being as American as apple pie. This gets Handwaved in an early scene:
    Leland: You would have to be stationed in England during my formative years! I've never been taken for a real American.
    The Old General: ...mumblemuttermumble linguist?
    Leland: Oh, I went to see a linguist? Yes, I went to see a dialect coach, and the best I could do was [indistinct drawl] "You men stand over there at attention until further notice." [British] They didn't buy it!
    The Old General: mumblemumble Jersey City mutter...
  • One-Word Title
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: "Yolanda and Steve". Totally a MTV music video and not just Alsatia and Leslie in red coats and hats. Granted, the possibility that Alsatia and Leslie would randomly make a MTV music video or a parody of one wasn't really unlikely either from the guards' point of view.
  • Parting-from-Consciousness Words: Kenneth when his pacemaker gives out.
    Kenneth: It's... whimsical, Leland. [passes out]
  • Picky Eater: Patrick Zeto complains at the factory commissary, not about the food itself, but that the food is touching. As a military man accustomed to eating from partitioned trays, it makes sense.
    I can't even eat. The food keeps touching. I like military plates, I'm a military man, I want a military meal. I want my string beans to be quarantined! I like a little fortress around my mashed potatoes so the meatloaf doesn't invade my mashed potatoes and cause mixing in my plate! I HATE IT when food touches! I'm a military man, you understand that? And don't let your food touch either, please?
  • Punch-Clock Villain: The Security Mooks. Most of the new security people are guilty only of wearing an intimidating-looking uniform, although a couple of them are spying on Leslie even outside of the factory, on Leland and Patrick's orders. (And some of the guys spying on Leslie are really just rewatching the Yolanda and Steve video instead of paying attention.)
  • Punctuated Pounding: "I! WILL! NOT! LET! YOU! DESTROY! DAD'S! DREAM!" Also a case of Punctuated! For! Emphasis!.
  • Putting on the Reich: The Tommy Tanks have a face with a German World War Two style Stahlhelm helmet embedded in it.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: One of the most nicely and gently put in film history.
    Alsatia: You know, you remind me a lot of my brother.
    Patrick: That's impossible. We're exact opposites.
    Alsatia: That's what I mean. He's all silly and soft on the outside and on the inside he's really strong, and you're just the opposite.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: Leland goes a little wild with his gun, and ultimately shoots himself in the foot while trying to kill a fly.
  • Repetitive Name: Owen Owens.
  • Robot Girl: Part of a Robotic Reveal late in the movie. Alsatia is a robot created as a companion for Leslie, an only child.
  • Rose-Haired Sweetie: Alsatia is a live-action version. She embodies all the social and personality qualities of this, and even has pink hair (in the form of a helmet of molded plastic doll-hair) for a little while.
  • Rousing Speech: Leslie feels it necessary to give one (full of agonizing puns) to the warehouse full of inanimate toys about to serve as cannon fodder for the General's war machines while he and his allies retake the factory.
  • Rule of Symbolism: The climactic battle is between an army of robotic, military drones and a warehouse of traditional toys, which soon turns obviously into a Curb-Stomp Battle full of slow-motion teddy-bear explosions. It's meant to symbolize the destruction of innocence, that war corrupts everything it touches, even although the toy army technically fulfills its purpose by stopping the war toys from shooting at the humans in charge. Levinson has said that he thinks of the film as being about not allowing your childhood "thoughts" (i.e. innocence) to disappear in adulthood.
  • Scale Model Destruction: The warehouse in which the Christmas pageant is held is decorated as a sort of miniature model of Manhattan. Much of it gets blown up in the climax of the film.
  • Scenery Porn: Of a most surreal sort.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Sinister Geometry: Most of the buildings seen in the film are basically Platonic solids painted in flat colors. The neatness of it turns ominous as the story goes on and the General gains more control.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: A specialty of Patrick, who practices every chance he gets.
  • Stylistic Suck: "The Mirror Song," most of which is sung slightly off-key by Leslie and Alsatia.
  • Take That!:
    • More than one instance, the funniest being when Leslie and some other factory workers are watching a film of a pair of giant gag ears being tested on the unsuspecting populace:
    "I don't know, do you think we're making fun of people with big ears?"
    "I think we're making fun of people with small heads."
    "Well, either way we're going to get letters from the Royal Family. Not good."
    • The previous scene, as well as the test of the toy vomit, turn into a satire of the nineties' political correctness when they start ranting about how the ears and vomit should represent other races aside from Anglo-Saxons in order not to be racist.
  • Technological Pacifist: Kenneth Zevo never manufactured any war toys; the company only starts producing them after Leland takes over.
  • Too Much Information: During the demo screening, one of the researchers suggests making the fake feces a bath toy.
    Gwen: Will people want to take poop in the tub with them?
    Researcher: We have all done it once.
    Leslie: (Beat) This is not a shared experience.
  • The Unintelligible: The Old General, Leland and Kenneth's father and Leslie and Alsatia's granddad.
  • Victory Is Boring: Part of General Zevo's motivation.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Leland completely loses his mind when his proposal for a drone army is rejected by Washington. The military leaders he proposed it to were actually agreeing with his plan (the Russians were starting their own spy drone project) until one of them unwittingly pushed one of Leland's Berserk Buttons and he snapped, attacking him physically.
    Leland: Don't YOU tell me to calm down! DON'T TELL ME TO CALM DOWN!
  • Virtual Training Simulation: How the General proposes to control his force of drones. He's already got kids learning to fly them through video games.
  • Wallpaper Camouflage: Patrick does this several times (once with upholstery instead of wallpaper), but is also well-versed in the idea of misdirection as camouflage.
  • The Walls Are Closing In: There's a non-lethal parody where Leslie and others find themselves in a room that keeps getting smaller as square sections of wall close in one at a time; the walls come right up to the sides of the conference table and stop, by which time everyone is crouched on top of the table. It's meant to convey that General Leland is expanding other areas of the toy factory for his own nefarious purposes.
    Tester: Is this room getting smaller, or am I bloating?
    Leslie: We're being attacked by a Crossword Puzzle.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Leland's ancient father can't speak clearly, but he never lets his son forget that he is a four-star general, and Leland's only a three-star.
  • Why We Are Bummed Communism Fell:
    The Old General: mumble change sides.
    Leland: I can't change sides, you silly old fart! There's no side to change sides to!
  • Zerg Rush: The thinking behind arming toy vehicles. For the cost of one stealth bomber, General Leland can give you a million weapons platforms undetectable by radar. Later, this is the thinking behind Leslie's mobilisation of the normal toys. They may not be dangerous, but there are so many that Leland's war toys can't effectively target anything, and a few are able to deactivate the weapons by sheer chance.