Beanie Babies hype gets out of control in comedy-drama The Beanie Bubble
The year in movies in 2023 has been a fascinating collision of art and commerce. It has contained more films than any other in recent memory about the rise (or rise and fall) of a particular business/product, including Air, Tetris, BlackBerry, and Flamin’ Hot. And that’s not even counting the big movie based on a video game and the other big movie based on a doll.
The latest to jump on that train is The Beanie Bubble, which chronicles how the strange ‘90s obsession with Beanie Babies stuffed toys came to be. The story revolves around Ty Warner (Zach Galifianakis), the founder/owner of Ty, Inc. (side note: Who knew that the name of the company was just the founder’s first name?), but the filmmakers are more interested in three women who played big parts in his life.
Robbie (Elizabeth Banks) is a friend/love interest of Ty who is instrumental in launching the company in the 1980s. Maya (Geraldine Viswanathan) joins the fledgling company and helps with innovations like creating a company website (a rare thing in the early 1990s) and encouraging resale of the toys on Ebay. Sheila (Sarah Snook) becomes his love interest after he and Robbie part ways, with her and her daughters providing inspiration for some of the first Beanie Babies.
The story, told by co-directors Kristin Gore and Damian Kulash and co-writers Gore and Zac Bissonnette, is one of a man who proclaims to value the input of all of these women, but who lashes out in variety of distasteful or unethical ways when their power threatens his. The fact that each was at least partially responsible for turning the company into a billion-dollar venture makes his decision-making easier to comprehend, since greed is a time-tested fault for people even stronger than Ty.
The filmmakers do an effective job of alternating between the three women’s arcs, and even colliding them at various points. Ty’s enthusiasm for the company’s products is what draws them all in, and it’s not until each has become fully invested that they understand his unwillingness to share the spotlight and the vindictiveness that comes with that reluctance.
If the above makes the film sound super-serious, it’s far from it. The film is light on its feet because of the way it explores how something so frivolous became so coveted. An opening scene showing a trailer truck crashing and spilling thousands of Beanie Babies on a highway sets the tone, and the filmmakers never stray too far from that. Ty toys are, naturally, omnipresent, and just the sight of them – as well as some flamboyant wardrobe choices and other elements – lightens the mood even when a scene itself is darker.
Galifianakis is impressive in a role that allows him to go to places he’s rarely touched as a straight-up comic actor. The type of acting he does here makes the character much more than just a punchline. All three main women are great, with Banks and Viswanathan both bringing depth to their individual roles. Viswanathan is especially good at making Maya almost relentlessly positive without ever being annoying.
The boom and bust of Beanie Babies as a legitimate investment is told with panache in The Beanie Bubble, aided by a quartet of performances that sell the characters well. Your stash of Beanies may not be worth much anymore, but at least you can enjoy a movie that’s far from under-stuffed.
The Beanie Bubble opens in select theaters and starts streaming on Apple TV+ on July 28.