Last week, 20th Century Fox announced they were developing a Play-Doh movie with Paul Feig. I quickly rushed to my underground shelter, certain that the end times were approaching far sooner than I’d expected. ‘But wait, remember The Lego Movie’, journalists and commentators encouraged. ‘It could be great!’ Upon reflection I realized movies based off toys are nothing new. When Transformers and G.I. Joe can develop multimedia franchises based around action figures it makes sense that studios would want to find other properties to develop. But it’s one thing to form a movie around action figures that already have a story laid out, and another to develop one from scratch. Enter The Lego Movie, a reminder that we can still be surprised by ideas that don’t necessarily sound good on paper. But that film’s successes of course means we’re going to be looking at imitators over the next decade, movies that not only appeal to kids, but adults as well, with twist-filled stories that offer commentary of the nature of entertainment and existence. With Trolls, Monopoly, Magic-8 ball, and a Diablo Cody penned Barbie (yes, you read that right) all in development, producers are clearly just digging through their kids’ toy chests at this point. I’ve seen the future, and I know what they find in there. In an effort to meet the expectations created by The Lego Movie’s intelligence, prepare for your childhood memories to be slammed together with some the philosophic and religious concepts you kind of understood in school. Welcome back to the darkest timeline.
5. Lite-Brite: Age of Darkness– Directed by Jon Favreau
The idea of Lite-Brite is amazingly simple and yet it has occupied countless hours of playtime for decades, at least until they lose the majority of the pegs and can’t form a complete picture.
In a world of darkness there is a lowly class of citizens known as the Pegs. They’ve never witnessed the light, having always been told that their unseen masters require them to live a life in darkness so that they may truly appreciate the brightness of the next world. But one Peg, number 26, doesn’t believe that any master would require such a life of hardship and fear. Fueled by stories from her grandmother, Number 26 believes that there exists a power source, an ultimate spark plug to light the world. And so she gathers her most trusted companions and sets off across the dark world in an epic Tolkien-esque adventure filled with secret paths and looming figures. When 26 and her band reach what they believe is the legendary power source, they turn it on and nothing happens. After trying everything they can think of, 26 and her companions begin the journey home, defeated and surely damned for their attempts. Not far from home, 26 and her companions begin to glow, becoming brighter and brighter and each one a different color. They realize that it was the journey, the pilgrimage that gave them power and that only they have the ability to light their lives. And so sets up an epic trilogy of the ensuing war over the light as those willing to take the journey clash with those afraid to do so. The light of the entire world, and the question of their masters’ existence all hang in the balance.
4. Kelly, the Moon Shoes, and the Shop at the End of the Universe-Directed by Joe Dante
At some point, every kid of a certain age wanted a pair of moon shoes. I mean they’re like “mini-trampolines built for your feet!” or so the ads exclaimed. My size-14 feet prevented me from ever having the luxury of moon shoes, so I just watched with envy as all the other kids dared to touch the sky.
When 14-year Kelly steals a pair of experimental moon shoes from a seemingly abandoned toy shop, she finds herself on an adventure through time and space. The moon shoes take her on adventure across the known and unknown galaxy, and give her the ability to survive in the vastness of space. Each time Kelly jumps, she finds herself further and further from Earth, surrounded by new planets and new forms of life, some benevolent and some dangerous. But like a proverbial Icarus, Kelly flies too high, loses consciousness, and finds herself falling outside of our universe. When she regains consciousness, she finds herself in darkness. Light slowly creeps in and she sees a giant figure above her, a looming man with one glass green eye. The giant man takes her in his hands and as she’s pulled out of the darkness she sees all the beings she came across in her travels, only now they are lying still. The giant man walks her over to a purple cardbox box, closer and closer until she can see the writing on it. “Kelly! Now with Moon Boot Action!” She realizes she’s in the same toy shop she first stole the Moon Shoes from. As the man with the green glass eye, places her inside the box she is left to wonder if she is a girl who dreamt she was toy, or a toy that dreamt of being a girl.
3. Koosh World in 3D– Directed by Michael Snow
I’m pretty certain that every kid has at least one of these growing up and I have no idea why. Koosh balls don’t do anything, they don’t bounce, they don’t roll, they’re just reminders of that one time you went to Discovery Zone and didn’t have enough tickets to get anything cool.
The movie is set in our world, millions of years in the future. But our world is now entirely populated by a multi-colored race known as the Koosh. They live out their lives doing nothing. Set entirely to ambient music, the film is shot from an overhead camera that moves ominously over the Koosh, billions upon billions all crammed together. During the film’s runtime, sentences flash across the screen at seemingly random intervals: “Is this new, or are we caught in a loop?” “What if we were created without purpose?” “The truth behind the grand design is there is no grand design.” The camera tilts as every new sentence hits the screen, until eventually the picture is upside down. The color slowly drains until it is replaced by black and white and the camera rights itself as new sentences appear: “Are we seeing what we’ve seen?” “What if this is it?” “What if this is all there ever was? “What if it’s something worse?” “What if this is evolution?”
There is no ending to film, it plays continuously. In the theatre, puzzled parents check their watches, children fall asleep or cry, someone shuffles his family out of the theatre in a hurry, a woman screams. The choice to leave is theirs, but only a few can tear their eyes away. Avant-Garde films have hit the kiddie circuit and there’s no going back!
2. Creepy Crawlers– Directed by Drew Goddard
The best toy I ever had as a kid was my Creepy Crawler oven. There were few things I enjoyed more than carefully filing the metal molds with goop to make rubber insects and monsters. There was a brief television show in the mid-90s based on the property, but I don’t remember it. What I do remember is when the machines stopped being made, probably some silly, overprotective parent complained their kid burned themselves on the metal tray. The instructions clearly said to wait for it to cool. I’m still not over this.
Ten year old Ian receives a Creepy Crawler machine for his birthday from his uncle. By this time, the machine is a relic, but Ian’s uncle, being a collector of hard to find objects, has obtained the last one. Ian becomes obsessed with the machine, with creating the rubber creatures. But then the heating bulb breaks and the machine is useless. The kid scours the internet but he can’t find a replacement. He tries to contact his uncle but the man has seemingly vanished. Instead he reaches a man who claims to be a dear friend of his uncle’s. This mysterious man with one green, glass eye (Oh my god, it’s a cinematic universe!), provides Ian with a new bulb. Ian rushes home, repairs the machine, and begins filling the molds. When he takes them from the oven, the insects crawl out on their own, very much alive.
Cut to 20 years later, and Ian, now a mad scientist of sorts, lives in a house all by himself, a house filled with insects and animals he’s created in his Creepy Crawler machine. But he desires human companionship, and sets up to build a bigger version of the oven, a God-Machine. Ian soon finds himself overwhelmed by his power to create life. When his secret is revealed, there are those that come to him for aide while others fear him. By the time the U.S. government becomes aware of what’s going on its too late, a modern-god has established himself right in the middle of America.
1. Bop It or: Your Complete Inability to Follow Simple Instructions– Directed by Christopher Nolan
Hasbro had the brilliant Idea to take Simon Says to the next level with a toy where players are required to “bop it, twist it, pull it.” Because I’ve always had the motor skills of an infant, I seriously suck at this game.
Jesse walks into a toy shop in search of a gift for his sister’s birthday. He asks the man at the counter if he recommends anything for a 9-year old girl. The man sizes him up squarely with his one good eye and tells him he won’t have to worry about his sister’s birthday because the world will end in 16 hours unless he can stop it. The man tosses Jesse an oddly shaped device. “Bop it,” the man shouts. “What?” Jesse stares at the man blankly and hears a timer counting down. The room begins to fade from view, “Don’t screw up kid,” the man says. Jesse finds himself floating in space, a girl wearing Moon Shoes passes by him. “Bop it,” the device in his hands says. Jesse moves towards the girl, mouths the word sorry and bops her across the head. He watches her lose consciousness and the device vibrates in his hands. Jesse finds himself back in his world, but it isn’t how he remembers, it’s a world ravaged by lifeforms he’s never seen before. People are praying in the streets, while others are fighting back against the creatures. Torn posters hang from buildings and read, Ian Glass: Messiah or Madman?
Jesse’s journey eventually leads him to Ian who has abandoned his God-machine and is hiding in an abandoned diner. As Jesse approaches, the device says “Twist it.” Ian looks at Jesse and nods. “Do it, he says. Jesse closes his eyes and places his hand around Ian’s neck, but he can’t do it. When he opens his eyes again he finds himself in darkness. At first he thinks he’s been blinded for not killing Ian, but as his eye adjust he can see shapes in the darkness. He stumbles along, reaching out in the darkness until he touches something that feels like a giant plug. “Pull it,” the device says. He does as he’s told and finds himself back in the toy shop face to face with the man with one green eye. “You saved the world kid. Now how bout that present for your sister?” Battered and beleaguered Jesse scans the shop until his eyes stumble on something small and innocent. “I’ll just take whatever that is.” The man smiles. “The Koosh ball. Good choice.”