The elderly boss (Donald O'Connor) of the Zevo toy factory is well aware that he is nearing the end of his life, so has decided to hand over the reins of his successful business to someone else in his family. For some reason he does not settle on his son Leslie (Robin Williams) to take up the post, but instead his brother General Leland Zevo (Michael Gambon), a man with absolutely no experience in the toy manufacturing industry, or any business nous whatsoever. Leslie and his sister have lived a happy existence in the factory for years - but all that's about to change.
Yeah, it's not a plot that makes much sense when you analyse it, but it was okay, director Barry Levinson wished to transport us with a modern fairy tale where the normal rules of life did not apply. Except some of them did, as he and his co-screenwriter Valerie Curtin (also his ex-wife by the time this was made which should give you some idea of how long production was) picked and chose which parts of the real world suited their tale, offering a curious and none to smooth hybrid of celebrating the child in us all or somesuch ageing hippy platitudes while taking down the military mind, similarly hippy-dippy but harder to take.
So while this was ostensibly a comedy for the whole family, you still had Williams employing the stream of consciousness shtick familiar from his talk show appearances, and not harnessed by such talents as the ones behind Aladdin who had done him proud. Here, his routines ground the plot to a halt as we all waited for him to get them out of his system, not that too many were enthusiastic about this continuing in the fashion it had started as it was evident more thought had gone into the impressive art design. If any good came out of this, and it was a huge flop at the time, it was that the creators of the Teletubbies were obviously watching and had lifted the visual style of Toys wholesale.
Back at that plot, the baffling premise that a general should take over a toy manufacturers was ploughed into the ground, chiefly so Levinson could batter the audience over the head with his anti-war message. Nothing wrong with being anti-war, of course, plenty of reasonable people can't see much good in armed conflict, but here the tone was naive at best as it tried to drum the moral into the viewer. General Zevo sees the factory as an opportunity to make war toys, something they have not made before as the business is obsessively nice, but then he takes it further and creates a new way of combat: make children play shoot 'em up computer games as a way of training them for actual warfare.
After all, if you can get someone to remotely control weapons systems then nobody but the enemy gets hurt (well, apart from any unfortunate civilian casualties), which was of course the way a lot of the more advanced countries conducted their battles into the twenty-first century. But in this context, the more Levinson wept and gnashed his teeth about the corruption of the innocent (underlined by a opening about kiddies celebrating Christmas so sugary it would make your fillings squeak) the more it made you roll your eyes and urge him to get over it and turn to something more constructive than a work of such forced artificiality. Yes, this was a film which put all the money spent up there on the screen, but it was so limp and wishy-washy otherwise that once the "good" toys were pitted against the "bad" and came off much the worse you were longing for something far less mithering. Music by Hans Zimmer, with involvement from Trevor Horn (not his finest moment).