Jack Brown's not playing around anymore…at least not the way he used to!
In 1982, a film of such epic proportions came together that hardly a theater in the world could house its comedic power. Starring two of the biggest stars ever to grace the silver screen, this movie went on to break box office records, spending an unparalleled 38 weeks at number one! This movie was…not The Toy, which starred Richard Pryor (See No Evil, Hear No Evil) and Jackie Gleason (the TV classic The Honeymooners) in one of Richard Donner's (The Goonies) first directorial efforts. Columbia opens up its toy chest and brings out The Toy on DVD!
Facts of the Case
Jack Brown (Pryor) used to be a journalist. These days he's down on his luck. While working as a janitor in filthy rich U.S. Bates' (Gleason) upscale department store, Brown is accidentally seen by Bates' obnoxious son Eric (Scott Schwartz, A Christmas Story) who is in for his yearly visit with his dad. Promised anything he sees in the toy store, young Bates picks Jack ("I want the black man!" the young boy quips) as his toy of choice. At first Jack is appalled…until he realizes that this could mean big bucks that will help pay off a mortgage he and his wife owe on their house.
And so Jack sets off for the Bates' manor to be Eric's personal plaything. At first, Jack can't stand Eric, who is spoiled, snotty and plays devious tricks on the hapless Jack. However, after spending some time together the two find that they are becoming fast friends—and soon Jack sees that Eric's reasons for his behavior are due to his father's indifference and neglect. Jack has one week to earn his money as Eric's new best friend, and maybe even do some work in the little boy's life. In the end everyone will learn that it's not how big your bank account is…but how big your heart is (everyone as a collective…"awwwwwwwwww").
I think all this was a lot funnier in the 1980s. Once again, I'm faced with the sad task of watching a movie that I really liked as a kid, only to realize that time is not on its side. The Toy is a mildly funny movie at best. I can say that with confidence, for any film that employs the age-old gag of speeding up the film for comedic effect can only stretch its comedic arm so far.
Richard Pryor is a funny guy. He was sort of the dirty version of Bill Cosby. Pryor was great at twisting his face into angst-ridden frustration and anger to the point of hysterics. However, those features in a comedian can only take you so far. The Toy is living proof of this fact. It seems as if every other scene Pryor was wincing and whining about how much he hates the job of being Eric's toy. This is funny at first, but not so much the sixteenth time around. A few of the supporting characters add an extra touch to the film, including Ned "I was in every movie in the late '70s and early '80s" Beatty, and the bosomy Teresa Ganzel as Gleason's ditzy wife Fancy.
The Toy also marks the end of Jackie Gleason's career in show business. Gleason would go on to make only three more feature films after The Toy. While it's a welcome addition to see Gleason in top form here (doing his typical pompous shtick), he alone can't save this movie. The screenplay just ends up being to contrived and forced. Some of the moments between Eric and Jack are well done—a discussion about sex is humorous, discussed while the two sit on top of a large metal cannon (hmmm…is this some kind of a symbol?). And I laughed out loud when Pryor got so excited about a cash offer from Gleason that he invited the messenger to join him and his wife while they made love. However, the sad fact remains that the bulk of this movie just isn't a lot of fun. It's not that the movie is bad—just somewhat boring. The Toy is much more family friendly than many of Pryor's other films (while his work with Gene Wilder is funny it's certainly not for kids), and the message buried inside of The Toy is a good one. It's just too bad that it couldn't have been put inside of a funnier script.
The Toy is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Columbia has done a fairly decent job on this title, making sure that the black levels and colors are all even and well rendered. While I did spot some grain and dirt in the image, overall this is a nice looking print with only a minimal amount of edge enhancement and digital artifacting spotted. Also included on side B is a full frame version of the film.
Audio is presented in what I think is Dolby Digital Mono (The case doesn't specify), and it's a fine mix for the film. All aspects of the dialogue, music, and effects are clear of any distortion or hiss. Unfortunately, the track lacks depth and fidelity, not surprising since it's a typical mono soundtrack. Also included on this disc are subtitles in English, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Spanish, Korean, and Thai, as well as a Dolby Mono track in French.
The Toy is a subjective move: if you remember liking it in 1982, you may still like it now. However, be warned that nostalgia can be a very deceptive beast. I wasn't half as impressed with The Toy as I was when I was ten years old. For the right price this isn't a bad buy, though the lack of supplements will leave DVD fanatics with a bit of a sour taste in their mouths.
The Toy is slapped with a minor fine for being mediocre entertainment at best. Columbia is free to go on bail. Case dismissed!
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