Lace up your Air Jordan’s, grab your Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, turn off your Blackberries, and set aside your Tetris handheld game. Beanie Babies are the new craze! The Beanie Bubble is Hollywood’s latest entry in the cultural nostalgia trend. So far, the results have been mixed, ranging from major awards consideration worthy to solidly entertaining. With The Beanie Bubble, however, this trending bubble may have officially burst.
Based on the 2015 book The Great Beanie Baby Bubble: Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute by Zac Bissonnette, The Beanie Bubble attempts to tell the story of the rise and fall of one of the most successful toys of the past 30 years. Capitalizing on scarcity and the world wide web in its stages of infancy, the popularity of these diminutive plush dolls soared to atmospheric heights. When people presumably came to their senses, the bubble burst, sending the resell market prices plunging back to earth.
The Beanie Bubble explains that overproduction was the culprit of the bubble burst. It seems like an oversimplification of the cause, but without knowing the details who is to say? The film opens with a disclaimer: “There are some parts of the story you can’t make up, the rest we did.” If the disclaimer seems to be hinting at something fascinating and ludicrous, disappointment will follow. The Beanie Bubble is not one or the other.
The Beanie Bubble is in fact not much of anything. Directors Kristin Gore and Damian Kulash tell the story through the perspective of three key women who were at the forefront of the rise and fall of the Beanie Babies phenomenon. At the hub of the story is Ty Warner (Zach Galifianakis), the egocentric, misogynistic, creepy man-child founder of Ty Inc.
Robbie (Elizabeth Banks) is disenchanted with her job and husband. After befriending Ty, the two found TY Inc. and eventually become lovers. She is the brain of the operation.
Maya (Geraldine Viswanathan) is a college student who began working at TY Inc. from its inception. Her affinity for sales and marketing coupled with her knowledge of the internet and all its potential make her Ty’s “behind the scenes” partner.
Sheila (Sarah Snook) is a lighting designer who after an initial confrontational meeting, eventually becomes Ty’s romantic partner. She, with daughters Maren (Delaney Quinn) and Ava (Madison Johnson), gives Ty useful ideas and feedback on product design.
The success of Beanie Babies is tied to the work and influence of these women. Ty is smart enough to privately accept his incompetence and listen to the people in the room who are smarter than he is. He is also cunning and dastardly enough to take credit for all their ideas and work. He makes sure they all are firmly placed in the backseat while he basks in the glory of their achievements.
The inequalities women face in corporate culture are more than worthy to be explored. However, The Beanie Bubble shies away from fully exploring the subject. Moreover, The Beanie Bubble fails to fully commit to anything. It struggles to find a key tone, resulting in a meandering, oftentimes boring affair. The film juggles timelines in a failed effort to layer a superficial film. When all three eventually converge, the results are unremarkable.
Furthermore, a movie that is supposed to be about the Beanie Baby craze, fails in giving audiences a sense of how intense it was. Short archival footage that shows shoppers ransacking shelves adds little context to a singular moment in toy history. In an awkward attempt to remind viewers of the toy craze, earnings figures are mentioned throughout. Much like Ty, the film dismisses the consumer perspective in favor of the corporate perspective. Adding both would have helped to fully capture the Beanie Baby sensation.
What parts were made up and what parts filmmakers could not remain a mystery once the credits started rolling. The biggest mystery is why this movie exists in the first place. A failure to commit to anything of substance renders it a skippable event. Even after supposed embellishments, the story, much like its subject matter, holds little to no value.