Remember Beanie Babies? Soft little limited edition plushies with seemingly endless resell value. The cultural icon at one short point in time was on top of the world before spectacularly and inevitably the craze died almost overnight.
Based on Zac Bissonnette‘s 2015 book, ‘The Great Beanie Baby Bubble: Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute’, The Beanie Bubble is written by Kristen Gore and is directed by Gore with husband Damian Kulash. The film follows the story about a product burning out due to an oversaturated market ironically releasing amongst countless other 2023 ‘true story’ titles about similar products.
There’s an old saying “Behind every great man is a great woman”. Well in the case of children’s toy manufacturer and billionaire Ty Warner (Zack Galifinakis), there were three. In 1983, Ty is befriended by his firecracker neighbour Robbie (Elizabeth Banks). The two bonded both romantically and in business, culminating in the creation of Ty Inc.
The business thrives throughout their tumultuous relationship until 1993 when Ty meets the next woman in his life, Sheila (Sarah Snook), single mother of two young girls who is swept off her feet by the eccentric Ty. In providing for her daughters (and with their input), Ty designs what we now know as the Beanie Baby. But how to sell such a niche creation? This is where Maya (Geraldine Viswanathan) comes in. As his ground level tech guru, she spearheads tactics in marketing, sales, and web management in the dawn of the Internet. Taking Ty Inc. from millions to billions in revenue yearly.
But if there’s one thing as predictable as ‘what goes up must come down’, it’s that “pride goeth before a fall”. These three women learn that Ty is little more than a grown child selling children’s toys and is someone whose shadow they will need to find the strength to leave if they hope to shine bright themselves.
The most unique thing about The Beanie Bubble would be its ambitious multi-protagonist dual timeline story. This seeks to show how the at first silver tongued and loveable Ty had a cyclical habit of exploiting the women in his life. The story leapfrogs backwards and forwards between the 80s and 90s as the women’s early adoration and eventual disillusionment with Ty run parallel. The problem is that Gore‘s screenplay just can’t pull it off and the film fails to build any steam before we’re yanked into a separate storyline or time frame. Three talented actresses are forced to give blatant exposition on how happy or sad they are instead of allowing us to gather that information for ourselves.
Galifinakis playing up to his usual comedic style isn’t given much to work with. Ty as we see him is portrayed as obnoxious, vain, greedy, and cruel. Yet in attempts to make him as pathetic as possible, he inadvertently comes off as the only character with depth and is the sole member of the four leads to ever show weakness and question their own brilliance.
The film’s repetition grows stale after we see the same story beats play out more than once. The multi protagonist approach may have played out better had the actual story of Ty Inc. been handled more honestly. Perhaps a story of the two real life romantic interests in Ty‘s life during two separate phases of Ty Inc. (pre-Beanies and after) and how they influenced him before they’d had enough?
Instead, the film opens with the glib “we made a lot of this up” cop-out where these true stories fall back on too often. Because of this, it makes it hard to take many aspects of this empowerment story seriously with the sole character of Maya apparently standing in for every person whose innovations Warner ever exploited. From marketing to web design, to seeing a downfall was imminent. I wonder what everyone else at the billion-dollar corporation did when this character wasn’t calling the shots?
The Beanie Bubble’s costume design by Renee Ehrlich Kalfus does an admirable job of portraying the change in time periods. Ty‘s dazzling wardrobe matches his motto of style over substance. Unfortunately, the execution is dampened by characters who talk more like millennials than Gen X’ers, the era the film is set in. Or Sheila‘s young children who don’t appear to age over a half decade.
I can’t say I was disappointed as I wasn’t expecting much from a Beanie Babies movie. But with such a talented cast and a capacity for real drama and comedy, The Beanie Bubble feels like wasted potential. A shame when films like ‘Air’ have shown what magic can lay in these unconventional true stories. Gore’s attempt unfortunately feels as understuffed and lifeless as the cute plushies which inspired it.
The Beanie Bubble is available exclusively on Apple TV+ now.