Director Barry Levinson has had a substancial and impressive career, with a streak of hits throughout the 1980's that were both commerical successes and positively reviewed. Unfortunately, the 1990's were rather mixed for the director, with a few films that were well-reviewed but not widely seen ("Liberty Heights", "Sleepers" and the outstanding "Wag The Dog") as well as two big-budget misfires (the adaptation of Michael Crichton's "Sphere" and 1992's "Toys").
"Toys" was widely well-regarded for the film's terrific production design (by Ferdinando Scarfiotti), but nearly every other element seems to come up short. The film opens with the head of Zevo toys passing on. Instead of leaving it to fun-loving and eccentic Leslie (Robin Williams), he decides to leave it to the General (Michael Gambon), who wants to change the output to war toys instead. Thus begins a fight with Leslie and his sister (Joan Cusack) attempting to gain control of the factory and use it for good.
Looking at "Toys" again after several years, I still think that a different filmmaker should have been involved. Levinson's screenplay is rather weak at points and the film often relies rather heavily on visuals instead of pushing along the story, which drags more often than it should, especially in the second half. A different filmmaker would have likely been able to push the fantasy world that's been created a little stronger and add a more enjoyable edge to the proceedings. Maybe Burton, Spielberg, or someone else - Levinson simply seems more suited to character-driven dramas than something of this nature.
Yet, while the script remains lacking and the movie's visuals remain more interesting than the story, the performers at least do try fairly well. Williams presents an enjoyably restrained performance while still keeping the character's eccentric elements strong. Gambon is a rather basic villian; the performance really isn't bad, but he also is hardly given anything to work with. Neither are several of the supporting performers, such as LL Cool J or Joan Cusack.
"Toys" remains a dissapointment, but a frustrating one, simply because the elements are there for a better picture.
VIDEO: "Toys" is presented by 20th Century Fox in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality certainly is enjoyable, but there are several concerns that take this presentation below the usual standards that the studio often seems to uphold. Sharpness and detail are not entirely consistent; some scenes tend to look rather soft, if not to the point of haziness.
Some flaws appeared that didn't cause heavy distraction, but were still noticable. The picture did display some print flaws at times - some minor speckles were noticable as well as a few marks and scratches (such as at the begining of chapter 2). Some slight edge enhancemnet and a couple of traces of pixelation also appeared.
Colors were generally pleasant, as the film's colorful sets came across as bold and fairly rich. Black level did appear slightly on the weak side, although flesh tones remained natural. An okay transfer.
SOUND: "Toys" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. Although there were elements of the sound presentation that I appreciated, I was mixed on others. As a comedy, the majority of the audio for "Toys" does stick to the front speakers and the focus often remained on dialogue. There were a few scenes though where the surrounds chimed in nicely for sound effects, such as a scene late in the movie where Leslie observes kids playing video games.
My only irritation with the film's soundtrack is the way that the music is presented. Although I've never been fond of the film's score, it didn't help that the music often came in suddenly and loudly from all speakers. I had to turn the volume down on a couple of occasions. Other than that, the audio remained enjoyable, with a fair amount of activity and otherwise respectable quality.
MENUS:: Being a catalog title, I was suprised to find that Fox has presented animated menus here. Although certainly nothing complex, the light animation is an enjoyable touch to open the DVD.
EXTRAS:: 8 minute featurette, 4 trailers for "Toys", 2 TV spots for the film as well as trailers for Fox's "Mrs. Doubtfire", "Miracle on 34th St.", "Home Alone" and "Jingle All The Way".
Final Thoughts: Many find "Toys" to be an underrated film that deserved larger success; I still find it to be a rather messy feature that needed more energy and imagination than it has. Fox's DVD is just average - although fans of the film will be pleased with the package's low price, the audio/video quality is just average and there really isn't much in the way of supplements.