REVIEW: The Beanie Bubble (2023, dirs. Kristin Gore and Damian Kulash)

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 110 mins

UK Distributor: Apple TV+

WHO’S IN THE BEANIE BUBBLE?

Zach Galifianakis, Elizabeth Banks, Sarah Snook, Geraldine Viswanathan, Kurt Yaeger, Tracey Bonner, Carl Clemons-Hopkins

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Kristin Gore (director, writer), Damian Kulash (director, composer), Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Karen Lunder (producers), Nathan Barr (composer), Steven Meizler (cinematographer), Jane Rizzo (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Three women (Banks, Snook and Viswanathan) help Ty Warner (Galifianakis) create a toy empire…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON THE BEANIE BUBBLE?

To 90s kids (myself included), Beanie Babies were just cute little stuffed toys to play around with. To everyone else, including a staggering number of adults, they were so much more: hugely collectible, insanely profitable – at least, before that bubble eventually burst – and the first true craze of the Internet era. It’s quite something to look back on this phenomenon nowadays and realise just how popular they actually were, but it’s another thing entirely to reflect on how it all came from a place of scrutiny, betrayal, and inflated ego.

The Beanie Bubble, the playful new feature from directors Kristin Gore and Damian Kulash (with the former also providing the screenplay, while the latter co-composes the musical score), explores this darker side to the plushie collectible, in ways that certainly aren’t fresh but are still reasonably entertaining enough to get the job done.

The film, rather than chart the meteoritic rise of toy salesman Ty Warner (Zach Galifianakis) and his Beanie Babie empire, puts the perspective on three different women in Ty’s life; first, there’s Robbie (Elizabeth Banks), Ty’s business partner and on-and-off lover who oversees much of Ty Inc’s development; then, there’s Sheila (Sarah Snook), a single mother who becomes engaged to Ty after he finds influence for the Beanie Babies from her young daughters; and finally, we have Maya (Geraldine Viswanathan), an intern who takes advantage of the relatively new invention of the Internet to boost the company’s profile and turn it into a billion dollar industry. All three women, at some point in their stories, get coldly shafted by the egomaniacal Ty as he takes more and more of the credit for his company’s achievements, and threaten to be left in the dust as he reaps all the benefits.

You can certainly lump The Beanie Bubble into that increasingly popular category of films about the development and business dealing of famous companies and products – movies like The Social Network, The Founder, or even this year’s Air and Tetris (making 2023 a rather banner year for movies about the making of popular products) – and while it’s far from the best or the most innovative of these kinds of movies, it has a fluffy and rather bouncy feel to it which makes the storytelling feel just as jovial as actually playing with one of those under-stuffed toy animals. Directors Gore and Kulash play around with multiple timelines, going back and forth from the early 1980s, when Banks’ Robbie first set up the company with Galifianakis’ Ty, to the height of the Beanie Babies phenomenon during the 90s, all while showing just how much these three women were so won over by his effortless charm and eccentric child-like persona, before violently pulling the rug to reveal a much more vain and cruel man-child more obsessed with getting face lifts than giving the kind of wholesome joy his company represents.

Their efforts make the numerous plot strands zoom by in delicate fashion, leaning heavily into 80s and 90s aesthetic for a bit of colourful “ooh, remember this?” nostalgia for the viewer as they’re guided through, such as sparkly dresses, a synth-pop soundtrack, waiting patiently for the computer modem to kick in, and multiple TV reports concerning then-President Bill Clinton’s impeachment (which must have been a little awkward for co-director and writer Gore, whose father Al was Clinton’s VP). The performances, too, nail the lighter tone that Gore’s script is aiming for, with Galifianakis doing really well with a meatier rendition of his man-child screen persona that brought him attention in the likes of the Hangover movies, while fellow leads Banks, Snook and Viswanathan also have enough to work with to be incredibly charming and also heavily sympathetic at the same time. You certainly feel for them as they continuously get screwed over in their professional and personal lives, which in and of itself provides a commentary about women struggling in the corporate playing field that surprisingly isn’t dwelled on too much here.

However, while it’s pleasantly watchable and interesting for anyone who’s ever owned one of the many Beanie Babies from that period of time, The Beanie Bubble struggles to truly stand out from the crowd. Gore and Kulash are competent filmmakers, but there’s not a lot about the filmmaking that’s particularly noteworthy or even that stylish; it’s the kind of movie where they just pointed the camera at exactly where it needs to be, but then did nothing else to give it some personality. In that sense, it is a rather bland-looking movie, with cinematography that doesn’t exactly pop outside of the bright colours given to the prop Beanie Babies themselves, and it is also edited in about the ways you’d expect a film like this to, say going back and forth a lot without much distinction as to how far back or forward we’ve actually travelled, since it all looks like it might as well be the same point in time.

Gore’s screenplay is, once again, perfectly fine and does a serviceable job, but it sticks to plenty of standard conventions that make this rags-to-riches story feel so much more commonplace than it perhaps was in real life. Whether you like the guy or not (and this movie has a very definitive stance on that issue), Ty Warner’s company did make a sizeable difference in the world of toy manufacturing and distribution, especially in the early days of the Internet, and this film treats much of that less like a revolutionary way of doing business in the modern world and more like your average get-rich-quick scheme which so many other films like it have portrayed, and in more interesting and original ways. Of course, a lot of it is most likely fictionalised for dramatic purposes – it even says so during the opening text – but that only drives home even more how this company, as portrayed within Gore’s writing, is no different to the stereotypical big-business conglomerate that is so often villainised in movies.

It does have its qualities, like its playful nature that a slew of strong performances really help to complement, but next to dozens of other product-centric biopics – including several from this year alone – The Beanie Bubble falls well behind the competition.

SO, TO SUM UP…

The Beanie Bubble is a lively and competently made account of the meteoritic popularity of Beanie Babies that features some strong central performances, but much like the toys themselves it is slightly under-stuffed, thanks to conventional storytelling and bland cinematography.

The Beanie Bubble is now streaming exclusively on Apple TV+.

It is also showing in selected cinemas nationwide – click here to find showtimes near you!

Stay updated with all the latest reviews and previews by signing up for our free newsletter, delivered to your e-mail inbox every week!

Search from over ten years of movies here:

Other recent reviews:

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (2024, dir. George Miller)

A young Furiosa attempts to make her way home in a post-apocalyptic wasteland…

The Garfield Movie (2024, dir. Mark Dindal)

The lazy cat Garfield comes face-to-face with his long-lost father…

The Strangers: Chapter 1 (2024, dir. Renny Harlin)

A couple find themselves tormented by masked intruders…

IF (2024, dir. John Krasinski)

A young girl develops the ability to see people’s imaginary friends…

Hoard (2024, dir. Luna Carmoon)

A troubled teen begins a dysfunctional relationship with an older man…

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024, dir. Wes Ball)

Many years after the reign of Caesar, an ape-ruled kingdom comes under threat…

The Fall Guy (2024, dir. David Leitch)

A Hollywood stuntman winds up on an epic misadventure during his latest gig…

Tarot (2024, dirs. Spenser Cohen and Anna Halberg)

A group of teenagers find themselves haunted after messing with spiritual tarot cards…

The Idea of You (2024, dir. Michael Showalter)

A 40-year-old single mother begins a relationship with a much younger pop star…

Love Lies Bleeding (2024, dir. Rose Glass)

A gym manager falls in love with an ambitious bodybuilder…