2023 is truly the year of the movie about the product from our past. Air and Barbie have been the pinnacles so far, but we’ve also seen BlackBerry, Flamin’ Hot, and Tetris also get released. Now, we have The Beanie Bubble, which is about the people behind the Beanie Baby phenomenon. It’s certainly as viable a premise, that’s for sure. Unfortunately, despite an affable cast and largely cheery disposition, the film comes up short by never really investing you in its tale. The characters aren’t developed enough, too much is glossed over, and it results in a shallow feeling that the admitted positives can’t paper over.
The Beanie Bubble has plenty that works, including its performances and pleasant tone. At the same time, the plot is structured oddly, characters you’re meant to care about don’t get filled in enough, and there’s a few jarring shifts in focus. This is far from a bad movie, but it’s a disappointing one, considering the tools at tis disposal.
A look at the people behind the Beanie Baby craze, chiefly Ty Warner (Zach Galifianakis) and the three women who he collaborated with over the years. A frustrated toy salesman, Ty dreams of an under-stuffed cat company, teaming up in the 1980s with neighbor Robbie (Elizabeth Banks) began a life-changing journey. As they grow the firm, eventually spreading out into other animals, things take off, though not without stresses on their personal and professional relationship. In the 1990s, the company is growing, spurred on by the contributions of a young employee named Maya (Geraldine Viswanathan). At the same time, Ty is wooing single mother Sheila (Sarah Snook), winning over her daughters in the process. For all of these women, the oddities that make Ty unique start out as charms, with the key word there being start.
As you might expect, success leads to the deterioration of these relationships. Ty and Robbie butt heads on the direction of the company, while Maya feels her contributions are not being valued, with Ty taking all the credit. As for Sheila, she just wants what’s best for her daughters. As this is going on, the explosion of the Beanie Baby craze begins. We know it’s a bubble bound to burst, but for a brief moment, Ty’s company had the hottest commodity on the planet.
The cast is game and does their best to elevate the material. Despite the film ostensibly being about the women in his world, Zach Galifianakis gets the most screen time. Ty Warner is a ridiculous character, which suits Galifianakis well, but there’s no depth to him. He’s just a larger than life quirky figure. At the same time, he’s all in, so you’re always curious to see what he’s going to do next. Best in show is Geraldine Viswanathan, who has the closest thing to a fully formed character. Viswanathan also has the wittiest lines, which doesn’t hurt. Elizabeth Banks and Sarah Snook don’t get enough to do, but their talents help elevate characters that the screenplay sometimes seems to forget about. Supporting players include Tracey Bonner, Jason Burkey, Carl Clemons-Hopkins, and more.
Co-director/co-writer Kristin Gore, alongside co-director Damian Kulash and co-writer Zac Bissonnette, never quite lands on the right approach to the flick. There’s comedy, but it’s never meant to be too funny. The drama is light, but meant to be taken seriously. Some of it works, though too often you wish elements were dug into more. Gore and company has a strong cast, they’re just not given quite enough to do.
The Beanie Bubble frustrates it had the potential to be both fascinating and fun. It’s never boring, but the film is stuck in a lower gear than it really feels meant to be. As a passive watch on Apple TV+, you certainly can do worse, but the movie should have been more. That missed opportunity is what makes it the disappointment that it ultimately is.