The trend for cinematic capitalist navel-gazing continues apace, with this adaptation of the nonfiction book The Great Beanie Baby Bubble: Mass Delusion And The Dark Side of Cute by Zac Bissonnette, which documented in detail the rise and fall of the nineties’ strangest fad. Beanie Babies were not especially remarkable toys, were it not for the scarcity of their supply runs, which — helped by the then-nascent online marketplace — created a huge surge in demand, some toys being resold for thousands. At one point, it was thought that half of the American population owned at least one Beanie Baby.
The temptation with these sorts of films is to focus on one brilliant but troubled man at the top, so it’s to the filmmakers’ credit that The Beanie Bubble wisely opts not to take the perspective of Ty Warner, the mercurial and eccentric founder of the Ty company (named, rather arrogantly, after himself).
Instead, it chooses to take three competing perspectives, from three key figures in the Beanie Baby story: Robbie (Elizabeth Banks), who co-founded the company, only to be pushed aside, The Social Network-style; Sheila (Sarah Snook), whose children were instrumental in the design of many of the toys; and Maya (Geraldine Viswanathan), whose ahead-of-the-game insight led the company to be the first to sell products to customers online.
The performances — especially from Geraldine Viswanathan, so frequently the best thing in a stacked ensemble — are peppy and fun.
The film makes sprightly leaps between these three, flitting between the ‘80s and the ‘90s with plenty of energy and gusto. It’s directed by Kristin Gore and Damian Kulash, the latter of whom also happens to be the lead singer of OK Go, and the film shares some of the visual poppiness that made that band’s music videos go so viral, from the slow-motion (literal) car crash of the opening credits onwards.
They do a decent job of keeping things watchable, and the performances — especially from Geraldine Viswanathan, so frequently the best thing in a stacked ensemble — are peppy and fun. That’s important, because the narrative does not always feel like one that needs to be told. Like a lot of corporate origin stories, the film has its work cut out finding a compelling angle: it tries very hard to make toy technology (“His big idea? Make them softer!”) more exciting than it actually is, and there’s an entire scene about projected sales metrics on bar graphs that feels drier than toy stuffing.
So it’s a testament to the flashy filmmaking and thoughtful turns from the cast that The Beanie Bubble isn’t a complete dud; against the odds, they have turned a not especially interesting corner of ‘90s juvenilia into a kind of cautionary tale on capitalism’s worst excesses. “That’s the whole point of America,” says Elizabeth Banks’ Robbie: “work hard, build something good, get yourself in the right place at the right time — and boom.” The only thing certain about booms, of course, is that busts are not far behind.