Toys Are Us – A Revolution in Plastic is a new DVD from X-Ray Films. Produced, written and edited by Brian Stillman, Toys Are Us is a look into the world of designer vinyl toys, and look at their creators.
If you are a regular CDX reader, you will notice that we don’t cover a lot of “designer” toys, but we do cover a fair amount of vinyl. Where most designer toys are more art than toy, we like to focus on things that are actually meant to be handled and played with.
That being said, the designer toy movement is responsible for bringing a lot of awareness to the toy collecting scene in general, so it is something that begs further investigation.
Toys Are Us is a nice primer into this world, a world that can’t really make out its mind about what it is. The entire film is shot documentary-style, with interviews with various creators and collectors. On one hand you have toy designers like Brian Flynn and Mark Nagata, who clearly love toys, for toy sake. Yes, you can put great design into them, but their creations retain a toy-like quality. On the other hand, you have designers like Kozik who are much more focused on the art aspect than the toy aspect. That’s not really my bag, but the movie really lends a great insight as to where these people are coming from.
To me, most designer toys have always had a certain attitude, a sense of “cooler than you” that really turns me off from the scene. I love a well-designed toy, and some of those toys are designer toys, but most designer toys I see are just platforms for an artist. Several artists are profiled in this DVD had never even thought of making toys before until someone mentioned it. People like Nathan Jurevicius and Tara McPherson are clearly artists first, and the toys are just another canvas. One guy in the DVD, a toy collector, has a set of KAWS toys and he hits it on the head by calling them “Sculptures”.
That’s not to say that I don’t think it’s a good idea for artists to branch out into other media, but lets call a spade a spade – they are not toys. So the DVD covers both actual toy makers, and then artists who have had toys made of their work, and I think it is great that the gamut of toys is explored. But when the movie starts with a rant about “Cheap, mass produced, mass market products that aren’t for US”, I got kind of on the defensive There are some awesome toys out at mass market retail right now, and here is where the designer toy elitism rears its ugly head. These are cool toys for cool people who shop in cool stores and wear cool clothes. There was one scene where all these hipsters crowd in a Kidrobot store for a dunny signing and I thought to myself – this is exactly what I DON’T like about the “scene”.
The redeeming quality of the movie though is that with every bit of designer toy pretentiousness, there is an insight into the mindset of the collector, and the influence toys have had on people’s lives. It seems everyone remembers fondly the toys of their childhood, and that fuels the creation of these new items. I even thought it would be great to show my wife this DVD and say “See?! I am not the only one!”
Also cool was a lot of footage from the San Diego Comic-con, ground zero for most of these artists and toys.
From a technical standpoint, the movie is really well done. The picture is crisp and clear; the editing proficient, and the soundtrack is fantastic. (Kudos on using Mindless Self Indulgence in the movie). The featurettes are really nicely done shorts on a few different aspects of the movie, and in my opinion are actually more interesting than the movie itself.
First off is Toy Making 101, a nice primer that goes into the manufacture of the toys themselves. One thing that never really hit home until watching this is that fact that most artists don’t sculpt the toys themselves, they send them out to a third party whose job it is to capture the 2 dimensional image in 3d.
The second featurette is what I consider the best of the DVD – “An Ancient Vinyl History”, tells the story of Japanese vinyl going back to the release of the original Godzilla movie. Considerable time is spent with Mark Nagata (with breathtaking views of his collection) as well as with Steve Agin, veteran Japanese toy dealer. Fantastic stuff.
If you want to know what this whole designer toy movement is about, this DVD is a good place to start. What I would love to see is a movie made like this, but about toy collecting in general, and not so narrowly focused onto one specific sub genre.
For more information on Toys Are Us – A Revolution in Plastic, check out the films homepage at http://xrayfilms.net/
If you want to purchase your own copy of the film, head on over to Filmbaby