2023 has been filled with films about popular ‘80s and ‘90s products and the human stories behind them. AppleTV+’s The Beanie Bubble joins films like Tetris, Air and Flamin’ Hot in telling the previously untold story behind an iconic product.
Rather than tell the story of Ty Warner (played by Zach Galifianakis in the film), The Beanie Bubble focuses on the three women central to the rise of the Beanie Babies, the wildly popular stuffed teddies that rapidly grew in popularity thanks to their growing status as a collectible.
Robbie (Cocaine Bear director Elizabeth Banks) frolics around with Ty in the ‘80s and creates the company and the eponymous Beanie Babies with Ty. Maya (Geraldine Viswanathan) is a plucky student who quickly proves to be an asset for the company and Sheila (Succession’s Sarah Snook) is Ty’s newest beau, with two daughters who inspire Ty in the creation of new toys.
All these women, who only briefly encounter each other, are on a collision course with Warner. The old saying “behind every great man is a great woman” applies here, but by dividing the film’s focus into all three women, we never really feel the magnitude of any of their stories. The premise begs the question of how did a mechanic, a student and a single mother become the silent forces behind such a huge craze? But the film never really answers that question.
The story unfolds mostly in two timelines; in the ‘80s when Robbie and Warner are setting up the company and in the ‘90s at the very height of the Beanie Baby craze. Yet, The Beanie Bubble never really digs into the meat of the story, making it a thoroughly frustrating film. The dual timeline only works to unnecessarily convolute a straightforward narrative.
The film opens with the words: “There are parts of the truth you just can’t make up. The rest we did.” Unfortunately, the Beanie Baby craze seems more interesting than the behind-the-scenes story of it. How regular people could make thousands of dollars of these stuffed toys. The Beanie Babies weren’t just toys, they were investments.
Directors Kristin Gore and Damian Kulash inject plenty of humour into the script, and the charming, talented cast work wonders on the material, but The Beanie Bubble plays it safe. The film lacks edge, both narratively and visually, although an early sequence of a truck-load of Beanie Babies exploding on the road is a glorious one.
Galifianakis plays Warner as a man-child with far too much power. Warner seems more lucky than he is innovative, leeching-off other people’s creative ideas. His immature, but precise performance is counterbalanced by the trio of women, all of whom are commanding forces on the screen. Banks’ character feels the most thoroughly explored, while Viswanathan has little to work with. Snook comes across the best here, with a character who is the most relatable out of these women.
It feels like a complete misfire not to bring all these women together more. Since creative licence has already been taken, by their own admission, why not give the audience something more exciting, especially as you have such sharp performers? The Beanie Bubble wants to be audacious and funny, but never goes the distance. The soundtrack is full of ‘80s bangers, but the filmmaking itself feels particularly dull.
The Beanie Bubble is entertaining enough, but there’s a nagging feeling there was either a more focused film or a longer, more detailed miniseries in the premise. Despite charming performances, The Beanie Bubble is unlikely to start another Beanie Baby craze.
The Beanie Bubble will premiere globally on Apple TV+ and cinemas on July 28, 2023