It doesn't happen often, but once in awhile there's a head-scratcher that arrives here at Rock Father HQ. The new film, CHARLIE: A TOY STORY is a prime example. Out on DVD April 2, 2013 through eOne Films, CHARLIE: A TOY STORY was produced by Engine 15 Media Group, the folks behind the embarassingly terrible A CARS LIFE movies (four so far) that shamelessly target Grandparents and budget-concious consumers that might be tricked into thinking they're picking up the latest installment of the popular Disney-Pixar franchise. They were also behind CHIHUAHUA: THE MOVIE, which I'm sure was meant to look absolutely nothing like the Disney-released BEVERLY HILLS CHIHUAHUA, which of course is why my Mom accidentally picked up a copy of the former much to the disappointment of the grandkids (not mine, but others). See a pattern here?
Now comes CHARLIE: A TOY STORY, a live-action movie which no doubt hopes to cash in on the part of it's title borrowed from yet another Disney-Pixar franchise (even the font and color scheme is similar), but by selling a movie that actually has very little to do with the story advertised on it's own box. Even weirder? I've met the Director.
I didn't put all of this together until after my daughters and I watched CHARLIE this afternoon, but when I noticed the name "Garry A. Brown," I had to look him up to verify it was who I thought it was. Garry Brown was a producer of the FOX television series PRISON BREAK - a show that I worked on for six episodes during it's first season here in Chicago. I'd actually met Garry on a few occasions (always nice), and even had lunch with him in the crew tent once. It was he that pushed for PRISON BREAK to relocate to his home state of Texas for it's second season. Texas... where CHARLIE: A TOY STORY was filmed. Mr. Brown has been involved with some quality material in the past (according to IMDb he's on the MARVEL series S.H.I.E.L.D. right now), which makes it even stranger that CHARLIE is such a mess. It's directed perfectly fine, but the script by Natalie Dickinson (interestingly, an actress that appeared on a single episode of PRISON BREAK) is terrible. Another oddity? While Dickinson is credited online as the writer, there is absolutely no writer listed on the "billing block" on the DVD packaging. On the film itself, Brown has a story credit alongside Robert Paschell Jr., while Dickinson gets the "written by" alongside "story consultant" Brennan McMahon (who did props on PRISON BREAK for a bit).
CHARLIE: A TOY STORY started bugging me from the get-go, when Caden (played by young Raymond Ochoa) wakes up on his ninth birthday and rushes downstairs as if it's Christmas morning to find a pile of gifts waiting for him... just like Christmas morning. His parents let him open them right away (WHO DOES THIS FOR A BIRTHDAY?) and then he gets a dog and names him "Charlie." Then, in one camera move down a set of steps in the backyard, it's "One Year Later." In yet another oddity connected to this film, the "trailer" that was recently posted to YouTube is actually nothing more than the scene I just described. See for yourself:
Despite my initial reaction, my 3½-year-old was enthralled by the movie for a bit, and I had to mentally take myself back to a similar time. In a way, the look and feel of the movie reminded me of those made-for-TV movies that would run on The Disney Channel after school in the 80s. While I wanted to like this, I really wanted Addie to like this. She didn't. 37 minutes in and there was still no HOME ALONE-style showdown at a toy store. Instead we're treated to parents with marital issues, neighborhood bullies, corporate assholes, and... angels?
Yes, amidst the jumbled pile of a story, Caden's dad (a toy inventor) makes a cross-country trip to try selling his "Wondermation" (revealed in a sort-of-PULP FICTION-style "golden glow" from a box) to a toy company. It's on this journey that he stops at a mysterious gas station where the pump jockey is named "Gabriel" and the old man behind the counter is "Charlie" - like the dog. They glow, give some "nothing is random" babble, and send Jack on his way. Then he realizes he's sitting in a boarded-up, out-of-business dump.
Yes, there is a bit with some traps that Caden and Charlie spring upon some bullies that really are trying to break into the Toy Store, but it's such a minor part of the movie that any message of "imagination" and "belief" is just lost in the shuffle.
The Christian organization known as "The Dove Foundation" gave this movie their seal of approval, which isn't really surprising since they also gave THE ADVENTURES OF SCOOTER THE PENGUIN a rave as well: "The animation in this awesome movie is bright and vibrant and colorful, especially of the adorable blue penguin known as Scooter." SCOOTER is another "classic" marketed by Engine 15 Media, with animation that anyone with eyes will tell you is either two decades outdated, or just plain crap.
CHARLIE: A TOY STORY touts itself as "hilarious" (it's not), "fun-filled" (it isn't), and "laugh a minute" (no laughs were had). In fact, if you want to see some real showdown-in-a-toy-store action, go track down SMALL SOLDIERS instead.
Knowing how hard it is to pull off a movie, I really feel bad when I have to point out just how bad something is.
The Rock Father Rating: .05/5 Stars
FTC Disclosure: A copy of this movie was provided to The Rock Father by eOne Films for the purpose of review consideration.
About James: A work-from-home Dad with a pair of daughters (Released in 2009 and 2012) - James Zahn is THE ROCK FATHER™.
Bringing over two decades of experience in the entertainment industry into the family realm, Zahn is an Illinois-based Entertainment Writer, Media Personality and Commentator.
He serves as a PBS KIDS VIP (Very Involved Parent), has made guest appearances as a member of the Sprout Kindness Crew, was featured in the Father's Day issue of Lake County Magazine, and is a former contributor to Chicago Parent.
Creatively, James has directed/edited music videos, lyric videos, and album trailers for the likes of FEAR FACTORY, DIRGE WITHIN, PRODUCT OF HATE, ARCANIUM and others, has appeared as an actor in feature films and commercials, written comic books, and performed in bands.
James and/or his work have been featured in/on CNN, NBC, G4, The Chicago Tribune, Blogcritics, Fangoria, Starlog, The River Cities' Reader. Slowfish, Oil, and more. He's appeared as a music expert on CNN's AC360, and in 2013 he's been quoted on CNN, Babble, The Huffington Post, and The Good Men Project, in addition to making appearances on ABC News and WGN.
Learn more here.