Toys can mean a lot of things to popular culture and fiction. They can be props, they can be used to sell things, they can entertain, they can impress, they can exploit, and they can become symbols for greater things. The sled in “Citizen Kane” was a toy but a huge symbol for something key to the development of its main character, in “Winnie the Pooh” they were characters facing the blossoming adolescence of their keeper Christopher Robbins, in “Inherit the Wind” Henry Drummond likened religion to a toy rocking horse with a gold coating and a rotten center, in “Poltergeist” a clown doll became an instrument for evil, in “Wall-E” our robotic hero collected toys and mementos that reflected on a world he was never a part of but wishes he would have been, and even in cult classics like “Monster Squad” protagonist Phoebe’s teddy bear became a last gift to her friend Frankenstein as he was doomed to a life in Limbo and torment.
Toys can do so much for the world, and they’ve become a link for our nostalgia and our childhood reminding us a childhood we wish we had and a childhood that we had that we enjoyed until we had to grow up and move on to bigger more mature things and responsibilities. In honor of “Toy Story 3,” we count down the “Our Favorite Movie Toys” from all of cinema and describe why we love these fragments of film that made us laugh out loud, cry our eyes out, and shiver in fright.
What are some of your favorite Movie Toys? Let us know in the comments!
(Toy Story… kinda)
I wanted to squeeze Totoro in this list somehow because: I am a huge Studio Ghibli fan, “My Neighbor Totoro” is one of the most heartbreaking animated family films of all time, and Totoro is so damn adorable to look at from his wide eyes to his humongous stature. Also, Totoro, after the release of the movie, became a toy himself and is still such a damn prized possession and product craze that he goes for almost triple digits on Ebay. Depending on what size you want him in. If you want a small Totoro, good luck finding a moderately priced bid somewhere.
If you want a huge Totoro, you’d have a better chance at finding gold in Central Park than winning over a collector willing to pay a good five hundred smackers for him. Totoro is a hot item in the collectors circle still and who can blame him for being so rabid? Totoro is one of the most adorable cartoon characters of all time and everyone wants a piece of him. So as luck would have it Disney owns Studio Ghibli, and much to the delight of eagle eyed viewers on the net, featured Totoro the toy in a very brief (read: very brief) cameo in one of the trailers for “Toy Story 3”! As many keen viewers discovered Totoro is featured in “Toy Story 3” but only as a cameo appearance, standing by the Triceratops Trixie and being hugged when Woody is about to escape, so Totoro is officially a character of the “Toy Story” universe, and as such garners an honorable mention as one of our favorite movie toys. Suck on that.
If you have not seen “My Neighbor Totoro” yet, please do. I dare you to watch it without crying. I dare you.
(Puppet Master Series)
As a person who grew up watching the Charles Band horror franchise “Puppet Master” about the magical serum that can animate an array of marionettes who also happen to be extremely deadly and merciless murderers, I’ve always found the Jester to be the best character. He isn’t strong with huge fists like pinhead, he doesn’t have a drill on his head, he can’t spit out leeches, or start fires, but he is one of the most devious of the bunch, the slimy sneaky one of the group whose expressions can dictate and react to what’s occurring at the moment with his posse and he take great joy in pain. When he’s very mad, his face shifts and spins making the demonic expression, when he’s devious he makes a sneer, and when he’s upset he puts a depressed glower that makes it clear to the audience that he’s reacting as the puppets do since many of them are limited in their own body language and facial structure.
He’s the most emotional and dramatic of the group, thus he’s my favorite. Dressed like a court jester and donning his small blade and a sceptor he occasionally uses as a blunt instrument, he makes a point of sneaking around and playing ninja popping up in corners to swipe at the heads and feet of his victims and manages to survive through most of the “Puppet Master” series. If the rumored big budget reboot goes as planned someday, I truly hope this little monster makes it to see mainstream crowds and win over the nightmares of youngsters around America. While many will choose the gun slinger or Blade, my loyalties lie with Jester, because if I were to own an actual demonic marionette to do my bidding, I’d love to have this little guy around to do my work for me. But then that’s just me, I don’t think about these things. Much.
The Jester’s real name is Hans Seiderman, a prankster killed by the Nazi’s during World War II.
With kids films you could never win in the nineties. If they toned down the villains for these movies, they were deemed much too saccharine and if the villains were too menacing, the movies were criticized for being too scary for the kids by movie critics. I can still remember Siskel and Ebert bashing “Hocus Pocus” for the witches being too creepy for kids, and believe it or not, kids were not all that creeped out by them. Then there came along “Small Soldiers” by Joe Dante, a movie that’s admittedly not a masterpiece but was still an entertaining thriller adventure film about dangerous psychotic toys that become lethal thanks to super powered military chips. Hey, it’s fiction don’t over think things. As usual, critics bashed “Small Soldiers” for being much too violently themed and as a hardcore horror buff I found Chip Hazard and his crew to be the appropriate amount of violent and lethal.
Chip, as voiced by Tommy Lee Jones, was an all around violent and hardcore military action figure who took his job very seriously, and any threat around him had to be extinguished no matter what. Even if it meant mutilating barbie dolls to do his bidding, and enlisting the likes of flame throwers, nail guns, and flaming tennis balls to maim and destroy our human protagonists. With much more dread and blood splatter, “Small Soldiers” would have been a very good modern take on “Puppet Master” doing out with the serum animating marionettes and relying on modern tech to bring alive evil. But for what it is, “Small Soldiers” is passable kiddie fare with considerably entertaining adult type humor, sexual entendres, and villains we actually feel threatened by. How can you not be intimidated by Chip when he mutters “You’ve got a lot of guts. Let’s see what they look like,” and “Are you scared? We’re all scared. You’d have to be crazy not to be scared”? Chip felt like a horror character injected in to a kid film, and he made for a genuinely terrifying antagonist for a concept that was never developed in to a series, a toy line, and a franchise as they seemed to want it to be. But Chip lives on and could probably kick Chucky’s ass if he wanted.
When the psycho dolls attack Kirsten Dunst you can hear “Communication Breakdown” playing in the background. Zeppelin rules.
(Toy Story Series)
Like pretty much every character in “Toy Story,” Buzz Lightyear is a symbol for Andy’s childhood. Where as his original memento from his childhood is Woody, his newest toy is Buzz Lightyear. It’s sleek, it’s new, and it makes noise signaling the blossoming adolescence of a young boy who goes from the bare essential to requiring much more stimulation and entertainment hence why Woody is so threatened by Buzz. Because what’s old is always forgotten with children. Buzz Lightyear however is the braggart you can’t help but love. Much like Woody his purpose is made clear and he has someone he is destined to forever entertain, but like Woody, his time is running out the minute Andy’s mom takes him out of the box for Andy’s birthday.
Tim Allen is continuously fantastic as Buzz, the rogue pilot in it for himself from the moment we set eyes on his plastic shell and cocky grin, and with his true purpose being his friends in the toy box, he becomes an actual hero in spite of the fact that Andy may soon grow out of him and part ways. Lightyear is my favorite character in the whole “Toy Story” universe because unlike Woody and other characters in Andy’s box, he continues to look for a purpose and mission in a world where he’s told he’s just a toy. He learns to be something more in “Toy Story,” he becomes a bonafide hero in “Toy Story 2,” and I’m assuming he avenges the death of someone close to him leading to blood soaked toy rampage in “Toy Story 4: Revenge of the Sith.” To Infinity, and beyond.
After Buzz Lightyear garnered his own sub-par animated spin-off, Patrick Warburton voiced Buzz in place of Tim Allen. Warburton would later co-star with Allen in “Joe Somebody,” bitch slapping him in front of the cheerleader from “Heroes.”
(Puppet Master Series)
Arguably the most popular puppet in the puppet people pack, Blade is the bonafide leader of the puppet master group, the posse alpha male, the one who holds the answers and the weapons that can maim, destroy and mutilate. Even in a group including a strong man, a driller, and a six shooter, Blade continues to be the most popular puppet in the posse. And who can blame the love? Blade has this incredible facial structure that straddles the line between human and death with a pale white texture and thick lips with black eyes that look deep in to nothingness signaling a void that ensures his mission is to kill. Match that with his cool black hat and trench coat combo and you have a surefire iconic mascot for a terribly underrated and obscure horror franchise.
And there’s also the fact that he has a knife as one hand and a razor sharp hook as the other that guarantees he’s a force to be reckoned with time and time again. Growing up and loving the movie series, he and the Jester were always my favorite, because he simply always found a way to outlive his compadres and they seemed to follow him around wherever he went regardless of what he did. Even in the face of lame sleeker puppets like Torch and the monster thing with the giant teeth, Blade is still the coolest most eye catching character in the group and the mythos. Should a reboot occur, I don’t see anyone more deserving of re-appearing than Blade… maybe The Jester.
Was there ever really a point to Blade’s bullet eyes? I could never figure out what their purpose were beyond adding some motion to Blade’s face.
The Zuni Fetish Doll
(Trilogy of Terror)
Admittedly I only saw “Trilogy of Terror” a year ago. Before then I’d only heard about the film from everyone who claimed that the best part of the entire movie involves Karen Black battling with the dreaded Zuni Fetish Doll. Though the movie only came out in 1974 the effects and puppetry for the Zuni Fetish Doll is so seamless it’d be almost impossible to duplicate with the same effect if you animated it in CGI today. The Zuni Fetish Doll is the very incarnation of pure utter evil, a mini-warrior with weapons and jagged teeth that also manages to become a double threat thanks to his ability to outwit his victim and bite in to them with his large sharp fangs that can rip and tear. Growling and howling like a demon and scampering about like a ninja, the Zuni Fetish Doll could be a wonderful protector and is sadly a horrifying enemy.
Merciless, ruthless, pitiless, sadistic, the Fetish Doll has become an icon for the horror fans across the world who have drawn upon it for inspiration. Watching the movie you can’t really notice the flaws or puppetry behind it. Thanks to great editing and wonderful work with technicians, the Zuni Fetish Doll takes on a whole life of his own on-screen and really becomes a force to fear when confronted with it. Admittedly, if I ever came face to face with him, I’d scream like a five year old girl and run as fast as humanly possible. And he’d still eat me alive.
Allegedly the Zuni Fetish Doll was the inspiration for Chucky in “Child’s Play,” but my money would be on the Zuni Fetish Doll in a knife fight and battle of wits between the duo.
(Winnie the Pooh series)
Spelled like T-I-double-GUH-ER, Tigger is without a doubt my favorite Winnie the Pooh character of all time. Even though I love Pooh and Roo and Piglet, Tigger is my favorite of them all. Like the original story by Christopher Robbin he is one of Christopher’s stuffed toys who manifested in to one of Christopher’s varied personalities. Tigger unlike everyone else is confident, loud, erratic and completely filled with ego. He sings all of the time, bounces everywhere, knocks people down, and hangs from trees all of which is thanks to his bouncy tail that acts as a primary source of transport for the black and orange tiger.
Singing often, Tigger is not afraid to express his love for bouncing and himself explaining that the wonderful thing about tiggers is tiggers are wonderful things and the only thing about tiggers is that he’s really the only one. And who can blame him for enjoying that fact because he is one of a kind. While Eeyore is manic depressive, Pooh a glutton and Pigley self-conscious, Tigger keeps up the fort with his adorable persona, likable charisma, unabashed energy, and the fact that he cares about his friends in spite of being self-involved and narcissistic. In the end while you can bet Tigger loves himself, when the chips are down he loves his friends more and it doesn’t matter if he’s the only Tigger in the world. TTFN.
Tiggers especially love Malt extract, and in the original books he lives with Kanga and Roo.
(A.I. Artificial Intelligence)
With a concept by Stanley Kubrick, directed by Steven Spielberg and spear headed by the likes of Hayley Joel Osment and Jude Law, 2001’s “A.I.” was an unofficial welcoming of the new generation in to a world dominated by technology. Deep down it was Spielberg’s own dedication to “Pinocchio” with distraught parents looking for a child who manage to invent one to look like their late son. Young David eventually learns the hard way that love can not be manufactured and must venture out on his own to find a purpose. And much like Pinocchio he has a guide in the adorable and utterly enrapturing Teddy who is his own Jiminy Cricket, one who acts as a form of a conscience and moral center.
With artificial intelligence of its own and emotions he manages to become an aid and friend to David, going along with him on his journey to find a home and is given his own day in the spotlight fighting alongside the other robots and cyborgs in this new world where they’re the repressed minority suffering under the exploitation and violence of human beings who irrationally hate and fear them. Teddy is probably one of the most human characters in the Spielberg universe and is one of the man’s pure trademarks, that dash of awe and childlike innocence that he sprinkles in every single movie he directs to touch down on to audiences and connect with them as he always has. Teddy is one of the most underrated film characters of all time and he is a truly entertaining character who keeps “A.I.” sweet without being an obnoxious sense of comic relief, and his ultimate fate is heartbreaking. If he ever existed I’d get one for myself for sure.
When I was a kid we had a Teddy, too. Except his name was Ruxpin and he played Cassette tapes with a slow moving mouth and bulging eyes. He was all the rage.
The “Saw” franchise is that element of pop culture where you forget it for a while and move on with your life doing what you’re interested in and come across it occasionally only to think “You’re still around?” Nevertheless, Billy is one of the icons of a bloated horror franchise that is a manifestation of Jigsaw, the wicked and devious tormentor who preaches about the sanctity of life and not wasting it while wasting his life teaching people not to waste their life while fighting for their lives. Where was I? Oh yes, even before we knew it was the calling card for Jigsaw, we knew upon first appearance that the little puppet riding on the small bicycle with the wicked grin and the horrific laugh was a representative for the games that would ensue and he has remained a consistent symbol for the games that Jigsaw brings his victims in to while luring potential heroes in to horrible death traps and lulling them in to a false sense of security. With a tuxedo, red bowtie and handkerchief and proper hair, this doll will definitely welcome you in to Jigsaw’s own personal hell that he’s constructed specifically for you to teach you a lesson. Allegedly the doll was originally created for Jigsaw’s son and he kept it as a memento and a reminder for his players in the future. In spite of what you may think of the series, it’s a wicked little demon.
Allegedly a few of the traps actually worked: the Venus fly trap could close, turning the key could shoot the gun, and the blades in the razor box could cut you if they were metal.
(Toy Story series)
Out of all of the characters in “Toy Story,” the Army Men are probably the most down to Earth depictions and elements of the narrative I’ve ever seen because at one time or another every single kid has had their own pile of green and brown Army Men to play with. Whether you were rich or poor, in a supermarket, pharmacy, or high priced toy store, you could get Army Men anywhere from fifty dollars to one dollar, and though they were admittedly very cheap toys, they still sparked the imaginations of every little boy around the world. We’d prop these things up in imaginary wars for literal hours assigning them names and positions and giving them dialogue and story arcs and in spite of their quality the detail to the figures were rather incredible.
Suffice it to say the inclusion of the army men was quite surprising and entertaining and “Toy Story” only enhanced that bit of nostalgia by making these the core of the Toy team providing reconnaissance and field battles all of whom are voiced by R. Lee Ermy. The scene involving the Army men in the first “Toy Story” is still a great movie moment as I could still remember the audience in theaters laughing and gasping in surprise as the army men came to life to survey the area for Andy’s mom to make sure she was out of ear shot for their private secret meetings in the room. Giving them personality was another nice touch as they’re fiercely loyal to their friends in Andy’s toy box, serving as important aspects to their secret lives, and they’re an amusing series of characters in the “Toy Story” universe.
Allegedly people have accused army men toys of advocating gun violence and “militarism,” and they have been banned from schools and daycare programs with zero tolerance weapon policies. Because nothing says potential bloodbath like 2 inch tall plastic soldiers.
(Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Warriors)
With some excellent lighting, tricky camera work and seamless stop motion animation character Phillip’s own amorphous work in progress which is his own marionette he hangs in his room forms in to the mug of Freddy Krueger in the middle of the night. Even in the age of CGI where blue thundercats use hair sperm to connect to vines, this is still a very spooky and horrific sequence only because it touches on the primal fear of every child that their beloved dolls would come alive at night and use their guts as ribbon for their own mardi gras celebration.
Phillip is one of the patients at the local mental health hospital and suffers a most cruel fate when his doll comes to life in the form of Freddy. With great editing, he cuts himself from his string binds, drops down on to his desk as Phillip looks on in horror and morphs in to full bodied Freddy Krueger who shushes him playfully, strips him of his veins and controls him leading him to the clock tower to drop to his death. It’s this bit of creative dream murdering that Krueger mastered the was lost on the modern remake. I have a small replica of the Freddy doll that came with my “Movie Maniacs” Freddy Krueger figure a long time ago and it’s a brilliant little homage to one of the more creative deaths of the series before he was tarnished with a remake.
When the clay puppet face turns into Freddy’s, animator Doug Beswick used stop-motion animation. Filming began with a clay Freddy face that was made plainer in each frame. The result was then run backwards, and that is what appears in the final cut of the film.