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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the Toy Story-èsque Toys & Pets is a relatively fast-paced animated film from China about friendship and freedom that has quite a bit of cartoon violence. Ceramic toys and a robot risk their lives, running in front of traffic, getting flung through the air and plunged into water, being locked into a furnace, and chased through a sewer underworld by evil rodents. Their toy friends are likewise threatened, tied up, and imprisoned. The elderly toymaker's wife appears to die in an early scene. The robot Timebot is lost and doesn't know where home is. When the robot discovers where it's from, it rebels against the controlled life of a robot. Mild language includes "fat piggy," "wicked" and "stupid."
What's the story?
Nathan is a ceramic toy whose colors don't change the way the glazed coats of the other TOYS & PETS do when wet. One day a lost robot rolls into the teahouse where the toys live, and Nathan embarks on an adventure to help the robot find its way back home and also to reach a mystical, all-knowing underworld figure to ask why Nathan is different. Inside the city's sewer systems, the pair have to face the evil rat Flash, who is holding one of Nathan's oldest friends hostage. Flash sends out his minions to capture and kill Nathan and Timebot, but the pair ultimately prevail in finding the answers to all their questions. In the process, they learn the value of friendship and autonomy.
Is it any good?
This Chinese animated adventure should appeal to grade-school kids. The animated toys of Toys & Pets will feel familiar, if not redundant, for fans of the Toy Story franchise, but the storylines and fantasy worlds invented for the dwellers of a Chinese tea shop and a sewage drain netherworld might feel less familiar. Unpredictability isn't necessarily a draw for younger viewers, but for animation enthusiasts the novelty could prove appealing. This is especially true for the film's imaginative sewer world, inhabited by evil rodents and a mystical, all-knowing figure (reminiscent in several ways of The Wizard of Oz) that draws all manner of toys seeking wisdom.
The musical score is used effectively to create moments of enchantment and magic, like an underwater scene with colorful fish and a slow-motion sequence of Nathan maneuvering across a boiling pond filled with menacing toads. There's also an intriguing subplot in Toys & Pets, especially considering the film was made in a country with strict censorship rules like China, that involves the robot Timebot refusing to be "controlled" or condemned to a life of following orders. The two main characters here learn the value of both individualism and being free from outside control.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Nathan is so concerned about being different from all the other ceramic pets in Toys & Pets. Why is it okay to be unique?
Timebot doesn't want to live the life of a controlled robot who must constantly follow orders. Why?
This film was made in China. What aspects of Chinese culture did you glimpse in this film?
How does this movie compare with others starring animated toys, like the Toy Story series?
- On DVD or streaming: January 14, 2020
- Cast: Guanlin Ji, Jason Kesser
- Director: Gary Wang
- Studio: Light Chaser Animation Studios
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs, Robots
- Character strengths: Teamwork
- Run time: 98 minutes
- MPAA rating: G
- Last updated: January 16, 2020
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