Richard Donner's 'The Toy' aspires to be a socially conscious comedy exploring such topical concerns as racism, the desperation of the working class, and the uncompassionate nature of the wealthy. Given our current economic state, the movie should ideally be embraced by contemporary audiences. And on some level, the themes do hit home, especially comments on the underemployed selling their labor along with their dignity and self-respect for any paying job. In the case of unemployed newspaper reporter Jack Brown (Richard Pryor), this means being humiliated as a child's plaything in order to keep his family home.
For the most part, Carol Sobieski's script, which is itself based on the 1976 French comedy of the same name by Francis Veber, works overtime at delivering the laughs, while also shedding light on some troubling political issues. An educated Brown takes a demeaning job as a house cleaner for wealthy business mogul U.S. Bates (Jackie Gleason), a man so feared that his underling (Ned Beatty) willingly pulls down his pants when asked. His spoiled-rotten son, Eric (Scott Schwartz), home for a week from military school, sees Brown and demands to buy the employee so that he can play with him. Out of desperation, and after some understandable protest, he accepts the utterly mortifying job.
The one immediately apparent problem with the whole situation — one having to do with the purchase of an African American man — is quickly avoided with a few direct jokes addressing it, and then somewhat insultingly swept under the rug, essentially forgotten for the remainder of the movie. The story tries to make up for this by revolving much of the comedy around the all too obvious relationship of the child and adult, weirdly reminding this viewer of Twain's 'Huckleberry Finn.' Many of their heart-to-heart conversations are actually fairly sweet as the well-to-do kid becomes aware of his father's heartless greed, learns that friendship can't be bought, and understands what he really wants is a father to love.
After some time though, seeing Brown continually treated like an object literally purchased at the mall, the story's clever insights are suddenly pushed aside and taken over by a desire to express a single moral. The entire second half, in fact, loses all sense of humor and focuses only on hurting the boy's boorish but affluent father. The switch in gears is so abrupt and unexpected that we almost feel like we're watching an entirely different movie. From Donner's direction and the editing, the narrative is noticeably clumsy and seems pasted together at the last minute. One gag, in particular, showing a luncheon with a Senator and the Ku Klux Klan, comes out of nowhere and feels completely out of place.
'The Toy' does feature some amusing moments, mostly involving Bate's flighty trophy wife (Teresa Ganzel) and Eric's live-in German nanny (Karen Leslie-Lyttle). Still, these small instances at humor are far from enough to salvage this mess of a movie. Pryor and Gleason attempt to give their best performances, but their talents are relatively wasted in stereotypical, boring roles. Besides, the problematic plot of having a man purchased for the entertainment of the wealthy, especially the Southern elite, makes for a very strange viewing. The 1982 comedy is a bizarre oddity worth checking out at least once, and then forgetting it as one of Richard Pryor's cinematic low points.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Image Entertainment releases Richard Donner's 'The Toy' to Blu-ray on a Region A locked, BD25 disc and housed inside a blue eco-vortex keepcase. At startup, viewers are taken straight to the main menu with the normal selection of options, music and full-motion clips.
'The Toy' arrives with a strong, terrifically-improved picture quality that easily bests previous home video releases.
The AVC-encoded transfer comes with bright contrast levels which give the movie a rejuvenated appearance and allow for great visibility into the far distance. Fine object and textural details are rather amazing for a thirty-year-old comedy, displaying well-defined lines in foliage and around the Bates mansion. There are, however, a few moments of poor resolution, which ruin shadow delineation and expose a bit of noise around edges. The rest of the 1.85:1 video frame shows a bold color palette where reds and greens tend to look only a tad exaggerated but good overall with natural skin tones. Blacks are also deep and accurate for a majority of the movie's runtime.
This high-def presentation offers an excellent upgrade over previous home video releases.
Much like the video, the audio also comes with a noticeable improvement with plenty of audible activity going on in the background.
Presented in uncompressed PCM mono, the track delivers excellent clarity and detail of several atmospherics, giving the lossless mix an appreciable sense of space and presence. Many scenes with ambient noise provide the soundstage with a decently wide image while the mid-range remains clean and sharp, allowing the few action sequences plenty of intelligibility. Most surprising is a hearty low-end adding to the music and the several discrete effects used throughout the movie. Character conversations are precise and perceptible in the center of the screen.
This Blu-ray edition offers fans an enjoyable high-rez track of a Richard Pryor favorite.
This is a bare-bones release.
'The Toy' is a 1982 socially-conscious comedy starring Richard Pryor and Jackie Gleason and directed by Richard Donner. Sadly, that's about the best thing that can be said of the movie as the plot is really rather insulting and not all that funny, even if the script excuses it as some weak attempt at being a commentary of contemporary economic struggles. The problematic material does touch on issues of the working class and their objectification by the wealthy class, but that also becomes much too blatant and heavy-handed to enjoy as a comedy. The Blu-ray comes with a very good transfer and strong audio, improving upon previous home video releases. Unfortunately, there are no bonus features, making it worth the price only if you're already a fan.