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Toy Movies 101: A How-To Guide To Make Them More Watchable

Jose Flores Jose Flores
September 1st, 2009 12:13pm EDT
TransformersWith the success of Transformers and G.I. Joe, Hollywood is scrambling to find the next toy that can be adapted for the big screen. This is both exciting and a little scary, as these movies tend to have very little middle ground: They're either blow-your-mind amazing, or so bad that you can actually hear your inner child dying as you watch.

With this in mind, and with a very real interest in keeping our inner child alive (which barely survived Transformers 2), check out some helpful guidelines for anyone looking to make a movie based on toys.

Pick the right toy. Just because some toys translate well to the big screen, doesn't mean all toys translate well to the big screen. Selectivity is important. A toy needs to be edgy enough to be interesting, but child-friendly enough to look cool within the confines of a PG-13 rating. It is a fine line to walk: If a toy is too mild, the finished product will be labeled a kid movie. If a toy is too extreme, kids won't even be allowed in the theater.

Stretch ArmstrongUnfortunately, the mad rush to find the next big idea means studios will ignore selectivity in favor of impulse. That's how we end up with Stretch Armstrong, due out in 2011. We're already having awful visions of some ungodly Dudley Do-Right meets The Mask hybrid. Ugh.

Tell a good story. This one might seem incredibly obvious, but you'd be surprised. In the age of special effects and objectified women, movies often ignore the basic tenets of storytelling in favor of explosions and barely-dressed actresses. Now don't misinterpret - we enjoy fire and nudity as much as anyone else, but is it too much to ask for a coherent plotline to go along with the pyrophilia?

The story does not have to be deep, it just needs to make sense. That means no contradictions, and no sudden loopholes to get around what would be contradictions. It also means a back story that connects the characters to the action unfolding on the screen, and a conclusion which either wraps the story or teases a continuation. At least make sure the dots connect.

Get the main character(s) right. If you're making a movie based on toys, chances are the characters have already been provided. You know their names, you know what they look like, and you might even know about some of their relationships. This can be a time-saving advantage, or it can be a hidden curse, because if characters are that well-known before a movie starts, everyone in the audience has an idea of how they should be brought to life.

Movies can't conform to everyone's individual idea, though, and that's why in this case, characterization is more about setting a tone than showing details. Though there are certain heroic traits that everyone agrees on (bravery, loyalty, nobility), what the audience really wants is presentation. The characters must be impressive every time that they appear onscreen. They must command attention because no one wants to miss what they'll do next. They must live up to what everyone imagined when they were sitting in their rooms, actually playing with the toys, hoping that one day it would all be real.

G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra

G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra © Paramount Pictures


Don't be too childish. Yes, this one sounds like a contradiction. After all, aren't toy movies made for children, and for adults who want to remember their own childhood?

The answer is yes, but there is a difference between portraying childhood and being childish. Everyone wants their kids to enjoy childhood, but no one wants them to behave childishly. The same holds true for movies. They must maintain a child-like spirit, but with enough complexity to appear real. They can't be clear-cut black and white, that's what we have cartoons for. A live action portrayal has more responsibility because it brings a toy to life inside the world that you and I see every day. We won't accept an oversimplified depiction because we know that this isn't that simple of a world. We can't suspend our disbelief that much.

We go to toy movies because we want to believe that our toys could actually live among us. An overly childish movie not only kills that fantasy, but it convinces us that even if a toy could come to life, it simply wouldn't survive our world.

Don't try to do too much. This is basically a recap, a reinforcement of everything we've already laid out. Toy movies have four responsibilities: Pick a toy that translates well into live action, personify that toy correctly, make sure the story doesn't suck, and give the story enough depth to make it real. That's it.

Toy movies don't need to worry about winning any awards. People aren't always going to the theater to see an Oscar-winning masterpiece about a toy. It's an added bonus, but that's not the reason audiences spend money. They pay to see a show that outdoes every childhood action-figure fantasy ever played out in their heads. That's what we expect these movies to deliver, and if they just focus on the basics, they'll be successful every time.

More toy Movies slated for production: Max Steel, Monopoly, Battleship, Grayskull (remake of He Man), Candyland, (all coming out 2011) and the untitled Lego movie slated for 2012.

Jose Flores
Story by Jose Flores

Starpulse contributing writer


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