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
Comments2 comments posted
They used Mindless Self Indulgence? Awesome.
Okay, well, I've now had a chance to watch this movie twice. The first time, I found it tolerable. The second...got a lot harder to watch. Fortunately, I had Nekrodave and my girl to buffer my rage the second time around! ;)
First, I actually like how most of the folks mentioned that large toy companies like Hasbro and Mattel exist to cross-promote gargantuan licenses to maximize profits. As such, their priority is clearly license acquisition, focus groups, marketing, etc. Creative design takes a bit of a backseat in the boardroom. At the same time, you have small outfits like MaxToyCo, run by folks like Mark Nagata who have no desire to grow into such a large corporate entity simply because creative control (i.e., their art) is more important than absurd profits.
Of course, that said, even Frank Kozik, himself, warns that as soon as you start making money off of your "art", you're IN teh MARKET. "Artists' integrity" suddenly becomes a hazy thing. I'm not saying all folks who run any kind of toy business would sell out in a heartbeat to make the multi-millions Hasbro and Mattel do, but there definitely is a blurring of the lines once profit becomes involved.
And I guess that's where my biggest annoyance comes in. I can respect Frank for being honest like that, but there's more to be said. The whole (30-minute!) film exudes an attitude that the "art" is what makes designer vinyl better than the "crap on a stick" that Hasbro, Mattel, and the like put out. Are you serious? Just because you make only 30 of the umpteenth colorway of such-and-such mold, and charge people $100 for it, that makes it "better" than some Batman figure the Four Horsemen designed for Mattel that *kids* will actually play with?? Hubris.
C'mon...Skullbrain's own Glenn Pogue mentioned a lack of "pretense" when referring to designer vinyl. Yeah...maybe in the "art collector's world", but in the toy world, that's a little hard to swallow...especially right after Patrick Ma talks about how great designer vinyl is because there are so few units made. The implication, of course, is that if more are made, the stupid masses who could never understand such "high ART" would start to buy these things. Congratulations, you're classist, buddy. Pretense, anyone?
The other part of the movie I found laughable was the inclusion of people like Tara McPherson and Nathan Jurevicius. I mean, these are fine artists in their own right, but they're introduced in the film as "Toy Creators". Again...a little hard to swallow. Some sculptor in a factory in China (who gets NO props) took one of their paintings and sculpted a statue of it...and that makes them "Toy Creators"? There's even a scene with Nathan Jurevicius talking to a fan about how there "might" be a glow version of one of "his toys". "Might". "MIGHT"? I'm sorry, but if you don't even know what versions exist of the toy based on your artwork, you're hardly the toy's "creator".
Then there are a few people like J Neth who are artists first, designers second. People like this actually seem to exert real control over the products that get sold under their names. The thing is, how can you call these things toys? Neth, himself, talks about his creations as art sculptures for decorating your home. How in the hell do you define a "toy" as an art sculpture for decorating your home!? I mean, fine...they are what they are, and that's fine. But toys, these are not.
Still...despite what anyone may think about the designer vinyl world, there IS some good stuff in this movie. And it's probably not the music (which, I'm told, is "hipster punk"). Basically, any interview with Mark Nagata is great. Little nuggets here and there from Brian Flynn and Frank Kozik were on point. And Steve Agin's appearance in the extra about vinyl toy history was surprisingly excellent, as Josh mentioned.
Overall, I think it's worth seeing just for the sake of educating yourself about designer vinyl toys (if you're into toys at all, that is), but if you have strong feelings either way about the "scene", this movie is only going to reinforce them.