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Posted at 12:05 PM ET, 08/13/2009

Will Hollywood Players Get Addicted to the 'Year of the Toy'?

By Michael Cavna

This is more than a tin-soldiered skirmish. Hollywood has committed a bold and clear act of regression.

"Transformers." "G.I. Joe." And now, this week, perhaps, the wee and humble LEGO. The producers who bankroll many of our blockbusters have long rummaged through our childhoods, looking to repackage anything that has cultural "pre-awareness." They have filched our favorite TV shows and comic books, then co-opted our former pop icons. If a pre-existing product isn't nailed down, many a Hollywood exec will shamelessly poach it like a cheap bank pen.

If it continues for long, though, I might take my toys and go home. Except for one catch: This year, in particular, these same L.A. producers have purloined my toys, too. How can I leave with warm thoughts of, say, my grade-school Super Soaker when some filmmakers are holding my memories hostage at watergun-point. They have my childhood and are not afraid to use it.

Thing is, this isn't just about buying the rights to whatever a generation or two has heard of and, ideally, embraced like a Muppet. The troubling aspect is that the next crop of films to swamp the multiplex and the record books, both domestically and overseas, might increasingly consist of sparkly-but-shallow toy-based projects. (Have Red Ryder BB gun, will travel.) Because so far, the audience response only encourages them further.

We mostly like it when the film industry pilfers our comics books and fantasy novels, where some depth and true character development often already reside. The more intelligent and artful of these films -- from "Batman" to "Spider-Man" to "Lord of the Rings" -- draw on intelligent and artful source materials, so in the best cases, they don't surrender gray matter as a tradeoff for the green screen.

Hollywood, take our comic-book heroes (as in 1989's "Batman") but NOT our blessed toys. (Herb Ritts -- AP)

But a movie made entirely, as it were, out of LEGOs? I can just see the empty-plotted progression -- or digression -- from there. (What's next: The Magic 8-Ball? Starring in the big-budget flick: "Ask Again Later! A Tale of Liquid Rejection.")

Don't get me wrong: Hollywood is one smart cookie. The toy-happy producers have got to (a) cover their costs; and nothing is riskier than (b) original content. And so studios exhume and autopsy and pick clean so many stories and products familiar to generations of yore -- and in Hollywoodland, "yore" typically means at least 20 years ago. It was "Field of Dreams" that told us -- 20 years ago, in fact -- that most adults long for escapist connections to a simpler time. Which helps explain why Hollywood this week signed a deal to turn the LEGO into a red-carpet star. Pre-awareness makes the deal a snap.

But as we buy our tickets, we should be well-aware that Hollywood -- like some kind of Freudian therapist -- is savvily going farther and farther back into our childhoods, till someday soon, a $200 million film is built entirely around a Speak 'N' Spell. (Don't know it? With Speak 'N' Spell, you can correctly spell "Google.")

So farther and farther back the grownups go. Hollywood ramps us the regression toward our shared generational playthings, and we cinematically time-travel as if getting younger and younger. Call it "The Curious Toycase of Benjamin Button."

But really, I don't know how much I can abide. I wonder how to derail this Tyco train of a trend.

What's that? You say "Toy Story 3" is due soon, and that it will hark back not only to Slinky, but also now to Ken and Barbie? Welll, now THAT I can't wait for. Because when something is made with heart and craft and soul, I'll happily surrender my entire childhood's toy chest.

My Super Soaker? By all means, douse with me that memory. As James Earl Jones intoned in "Field of Dreams," speaking to those simpler connections: "It'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters."

By Michael Cavna  | August 13, 2009; 12:05 PM ET
Categories:  The Holly Word, The Riffs  
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The only way to derail the money train trend is for people to wake up to the fact that Hollywood is shamelessly exploiting childhood emotions for profit. Don't hold your breath - that's like expecting people to realize that 90% of everything shown on TV is garbage. Neither is likely to happen soon.

P.S. What if Hollywood held a sequel and nobody went?

Posted by: kilby | August 13, 2009 4:29 PM | Report abuse

So Michael, if they make a Red Ryder movie are they gonna include a Little Beaver?

Posted by: jimbo1949 | August 13, 2009 7:43 PM | Report abuse

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