A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Toy is a 1982 comedy about a spoiled 9-year-old who asks his wealthy, indulgent father to give him the amusing black man he sees playing in the toy department of his father's store. The father pays the man to stay with the child, which certainly raises questions of slavery and ownership. These are mentioned but not sufficiently to erase the movie's underlying ick factor. A large portrait of a nude woman is briefly shown. Language includes "s--t," "ass," "t-tties," and "bastard." Adults drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes. A federal indictment hangs over a rich man, presumably for corruption of some kind. To help his own interests, the man tries to trick a senator into publicly socializing with someone the senator doesn't know is a KKK leader. A woman wears extremely low-cut clothing that shows most of her breasts, boasting that her husband paid for their surgical enhancement. Jack sits on Bates' lap to show him how to demonstrate affection to Bates' son. When someone sees them, the implication is that the men were engaging in gay sex. A Confederate flag is proudly displayed in Bates' office.
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What's the story?
THE TOY refers to Jack Brown (Richard Pryor), an unemployed journalist who will lose his house to the bank if he can't come up with a job and some big bucks. He snags a position as a cleaner at a local department store just when the store's owner, U.S. Bates (Jackie Gleason), has promised his spoiled kid, Eric (Scott Schwartz), anything he wants in the store. (Bates also owns the local newspaper, where Jack can't get a job because he's black.) The kid spies Jack having fun as he dusts items in the toy department. Eric announces that what he wants is "the black man." Offered enough money by Bates' minions, Jack says yes and moves in to the mansion with the terrible tyke for a week. Jack shows the kid the kind of love that his own self-absorbed father has never done and they bond. The bond leads the two to put out their own little newspaper called The Toy, in which they print stories about U.S. Bates' abusive behavior to employees as well as just a tad bit of corruption in his business dealings. Bates gets angry but ultimately recognizes that Jack is a good influence on his son. He hires Jack as a reporter and asks that Jack stay in Eric's life as a friend.
Is it any good?
The comedy in this terrible movie is broad and stale, with Pryor grimacing and chewing the scenery to an embarrassing degree. Given his usual comic brilliance, Pryor's discomfort in The Toy isn't really surprising. But there isn't much even a talent like Pryor could have done with a script that can only be described as stupid. There's no effort in the script to show why an out-of-work journalist, who has no kids nor mentions any interest in them, is particularly goofy and playful, the kind of guy who enjoys playing all by himself in a store's toy department. The schtick is all forced and far beyond the suspension of disbelief category. The level of humor hovers between pedestrian and kindergarten, but language includes "s--t," "bastard," "t-itties" and "ass," suggesting caution be advised with regard to an audience of most young kids.
Gleason, famed for The Honeymooners and TV sketch comedy, was a dramatic standout in The Hustler, but he's utterly dreadful here, stuck with horrible lines and wearing what seems to be a different toupee in every scene. People refer to U.S. Bates as "U.S.," which often deliberately is pronounced "You Ass." When the movie tries to be meaningful, as when Jack advises the 9-year-old about true love, the change in tone from dumbed-down comedy is too abrupt for even good advice -- love with all your heart -- to be taken seriously. All attempts at serious social commentary, like Jack's nods to racism -- "things like truth, justice, and the American way just do not work for me" -- and references to corruption in business and government, in addition to the weak subplot about an anti-KKK group, fall flat.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how The Toy sidesteps issues of racism. A 9-year-old boy wants his father to "give" him a gift of a black man. Does that make you think about the hideousness of the American era of slavery? Do you think the boy should have had some recognition that buying or owning another human being isn't appropriate?
Jack is a journalist and can't get hired by the local newspaper because he says they don't hire blacks. What kind of discrimination still exists today?
If this movie was remade today, how would it be different?
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