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Film / Toys

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Toys is a surreal 1992 comedy directed, co-written, and co-produced by Barry Levinson. Supposedly it was the film he had always wanted to make, but the film was generally not well received by either critics or audiences; Levinson was given a Razzie nomination, while the film earned two technical Academy Award noms.

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 martial law 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?"
  • An Ass-Kicking Christmas
  • Award-Bait Song: "The Closing of the Year" 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 help his son 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 Leslie would fall for her, and vice-versa.
      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...
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    • 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.
  • Chameleon Camouflage: Played for Laughs. Patrick is usually introduced to a scene dressed exactly like some part of the scenery.
  • Character Development: Especially for Leslie.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Leslie and Alsatia. They got it from their dad.
  • 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".
  • The Dragon: Patrick, who does a Heel–Face Turn.
  • Droste Image: The poster.
  • Dungeon Bypass: Leslie using Santa's airplane to get to the General's office. Bonus points for using a Chekhov's Gun.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: General Zevo's creations include Ball, Dolly, Tommy Tanks, and Hurly-Burly Helicopters. Each one is quite capable of lethal action.
  • Follow the Leader: Robin Williams was reportedly very attracted to the role because he felt it would do for him what Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory did for Gene Wilder.
  • Foreshadowing: "Well, whatever you're doing must be working, because you always seem the same age to me."
    • "Whose side are you on, anyway?"
    • Alsatia insists on testing all the doll fashions and accessories herself because she is one.
  • 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.
  • General Ripper: Leland is intent on turning a toy factory into a weapons factory and military training center.
  • Genre-Busting
  • Hammerspace: Apparently where Leslie pulls the devil puppet out of so quickly. Hey, he's good.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Patrick Zevo.
  • 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...
  • Hurricane of Puns: Many from Leslie.
  • Ice-Cream Koan: "Treat your friends like your enemies and your enemies like your friends."
    • Leslie's motto? "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. If 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.
  • Is That What They're Calling It Now?: "If I convince the general to stop making war toys, will you let me take off your training wheels?"
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Leland may devolve into a psycho at the end, but his cry for a Medic when he sees his brother collapse is real fear, and his breakdown over his wife's death is also genuine. 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 Debi, 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 and destroys them on sight, despite the game penalizing him for it.
    • 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 its 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.
  • Mildly Military: General Zevo never takes off his hat while indoors, something all soldiers (especially officers) learn within their first week of basic training. This combined with his general lack of professionalism and seeming enthusiasm for war in general. For the informed viewer, it could be seen as a bit of foreshadowing that Zevo is more of a Manchild playing war than a professional solider.
  • Mistaken for Gay: In Vietnam one night, one of Leland's own men tried to frag him.
    Old General: Mumbles and smiles
    Leland: No, I said frag me! They tried to shoot me!
  • 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 videogame 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.
  • 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, on my notation, until further notice." [British] They didn't buy it!
    The Old General: mumblemumble Jersey City mutter...
  • One-Word Title
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Leslie and Alsatia as "Steve and Yolanda".
  • 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.
  • Punctuated Pounding: "I! WILL! NOT! LET! YOU! DESTROY! DAD'S! DREAM!" Also a case of Punctuated! For! Emphasis!.
  • "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.
  • Robot Girl: Part of a 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.
  • Rule of Symbolism: The climactic battle is between an army of robotic, military drones and a warehouse of traditional toys, which soon turns 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. Levinson has said that he thinks of the film as being about not allowing your childhood "thoughts" (i.e. innocence) to disappear in adulthood.
  • Scenery Porn: Of a most surreal sort.
  • Shout-Out: Literally, by General Leland: "KLAATU BARADA NIKTO!!!"
    • Doubles as a Stealth Pun: There's a literal War Pig.
    • The film contains several references to the work of surrealist painter René Magritte; at one point, Leslie and Alsatia dress up in bright-red versions of the famous trenchcoat and bowler hat that Magritte stuck on many of his subjects — and make a music video ("What Is Real?") about him.
    • Patrick: "You want the truth? I'll tell you the truth."
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: A specialty of Patrick, who practices every chance he gets.
  • 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 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 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.
    Leland: Don't YOU tell me to calm down! DON'T TELL ME TO CALM DOWN!
  • Wallpaper Camouflage: Patrick does this several times, 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.
    Leslie: We're being attacked by a giant 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.


Example of: