Remember when you were a kid, before the wired generation, when the most you had to entertain yourself with were toys and board games? Simple, non-electronic action figures, without needing Wi-Fi to use and only imagination to power them. Those days are gone but we still have our nostalgia. Friday nights playing Monopoly with the family, that inevitably turned into a riot, and playing with Play-Doh at nursery school, that you probably ate once or twice. Memories that are priceless… Then why is Hollywood so intent on ruining them?
Since the success of The Lego Movie, everyone is jumping on the bandwagon to reinvent much loved toys and board games for the silver
screen. This June, everyone’s favourite blonde bombshell, Barbie, will be hitting the big screen for her first live-action film. This is just one in a series of upcoming toy and board game film adaptations in production including Meccano, Play-Doh, Playmobil and Risk. There were even rumours of a Hungry, Hungry Hippos film.
Once we might have rejoiced about reliving our favourite childhood moments, but Hollywood now has a hefty track record of ruining our cherished memories with crappy movies that do them no justice. GI Joe, Battleship and Trolls are among those guilty, all of which have been torn apart by critics and fans alike. Not surprising, given that they turned the classic, creepy Troll dolls into musical, little cutie pies and Battleship into an alien action film starring Worst Supporting Actress ‘victor’ Rihanna. In fact, the only such adaptations that weren’t battered by critics were The Lego Movie, Ouija: Origin of Evil and Transformers, although the latter’s sequels were soon hung, drawn and quartered.
Taking something so personal to so many people and changing it into a film is a bold, somewhat stupid and often costly move. But why is it so important to us? Simply put, nostalgia makes up a huge part of our identity. It’s a yearning for the return of past circumstances or events. That, however, does not mean that we yearn for someone to take something we love, butcher it and give it back to us, like lending another kid your favourite Power Ranger, only for it to be returned missing a limb. The author Alan Hirsch suggested that nostalgia doesn’t relate to a specific memory but an emotional state. We remember how we felt interacting with a certain object and then use that item to reminisce later in life. So, when you think of your He-Man doll, you don’t reminisce about the doll but instead how it made you feel. How
can a film possibly capture that?
This is not the only reason that childhood-rooted films fail. It is not simply down to a poor director or cast; sometimes they just stray too far from their inspirations. Battleship, for example, was a massive box office flop, and for obvious reasons: the only similarity between this soulless action film and its more considered, slow-burn strategy source material was the appearance of a battleship. This disloyalty to the original naval board game automatically ensured audiences were emotionally disconnected to the film.
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons toy and board game films fail is because they forget the importance of magic and imagination. These key components have kept Disney films popular for decades, especially their fairy tale adaptions like Snow White and Cinderella. People remember being read these stories at bedtime and then Disney brought them to life on the big screen in a powerful way that many of us still cherish into adulthood and pass on to our own children. Fairy tales spark creativity in children and adults alike as well as the belief that magic is real and anything is possible. They keep childhood innocence intact. In today’s cynical, technology-ruled world, many films are losing this sense of magic and wonder. On top of that, some of the films in production seem like a real stretch. It will take a lot of creativity to create scripts for Tonka Trucks or Meccano, or to do the Monopoly man justice in his greatest comeback since he became the wet dream of poor students at McDonalds by offering them free meal tickets.
So, is it possible to make a film about something that people hold so dear to their hearts, such as childhood toys, and do it well? The Lego Movie managed it, but how? According to Lego statistics, over 400 million people around the world have played with Lego bricks with more than 400 billion Lego bricks being produced since 1949. That’s a lot of pressure and a lot of people to please. However, the creators clearly cared about what they were doing and wanted to release a film that would appeal to adults and kids alike, a film the toy deserved. What we got was a brilliantly satirical and self-aware movie that didn’t take itself too seriously and appealed to everyone’s inner child. They came up with an original and funny script and threw in enough jokes for the older Lego fans in us all to be satisfied.
We cannot talk about toy films without mentioning the most cherished of them all: Toy Story. These timeless classics have broken records aplenty, with the third being the first animated movie to pass $1 billion at the box office and a fourth chapter set for 2019. But what makes them so popular? For starters, they feature familiar childhood toys such as Mr Potatohead and Etch-a-Sketch. Each toy has its own personality and characteristics that reflect its function, like the Etch-a-Sketch expressing emotions through sketches. Perhaps the series’ most important aspect is how it tapped into children’s secret belief that toys could come alive. As a child, I remember pretending to be asleep so that I could catch my Cabbage Patch Kid in cahoots with Polly Pocket. Toy Story understood its audience, never patronising them and, like The Lego Movie, frequently using humour that could appeal to both adults and children, which resulted in three very successful films.
Film adaptations of toys and especially board games are usually last-ditch attempts to make some money out of dying franchises. The Lego Movie gave Lego a huge sales jump and it’s likely that the same effect will occur when these other monstrosities, such as Barbie and Meccano, hit cinemas. It’s all about money after all. New film releases mean new toys, board games, video games and other merchandise. We may have to begrudgingly share our nostalgia with today’s youth, pass the torch and so on, but honestly, I would rather watch Fifty Shades of Grey with my grandmother than see Hollywood butcher Stretch Armstrong.