Charlie: A Toy Story (2013)
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Charlie: A Toy Story is about 10-year-old Caden, along with his golden retriever, Charlie, protecting his dad's toy shop and greatest invention from the bumbling town bullies. Despite the title this is not a "Toy Story" rip off by any means. It's more in the liking of "Home Alone", but even that's being too generous. Whereas "Home Alone" while juvenile was fun through and through understanding it shouldn't attempt to be anything it's not. In "Charlie: A Toy Story" that's not the case. To the film credit it contains elements that could have made a decent movie; young child protagonist dealing with parental issues, childlike dad learning to grow up with his son, neglectful bully father-son relationship, and a message on family values. All these elements in context work to an extent. Firstly you have a child like dad who always presented as the fun one while the mother is always presented as the serious one. Both parents despite lacking depth are both painted in a positive and negative way. Neither is purely good or bad, but that won't excuse how cliche their arc turn out. The married couple mostly are shown on uneven grounds, but neither ever become elaborated on. A basic idea that remains basic with a predictable outcome. While a lesson in growing up and realizing your responsibility is a good one so are showing realistic problems with realistic solution.
The second element are the bullies. Now these bullies follows all the rule of being family friendly bullies (an idiot and the leader) resorting to such horrible name calling like dog boy, moron, loser boy, and two usage of the word frickin. VAN DAMME it squeaky clean dialogue! This movie is too innocent in that department. Bullying has become more of an growing issue in recent years and the film representation is too by the numbers. Bullies in this film have lousy name calling, are incredibly inept (I know their kids, but what bully feels actual pain when getting shot with small marshmallow and confetti), and the only solution presented is too set simple traps around the small town. Sounds cool for a climax right? Well once again the film lacks inspiration in that department. Throughout the film the usage of traps have no real pay off even comedically these traps are rather pathetic. As for some backstory at least one of the bully gets somewhat justification for his action. That reason being a neglectful which the film spends far too little time on. Sure it sends the message of doing bad deeds is not the way to get a neglectful parent attention, but does not bother to show the hardship in fixing a family relationship.
The third element I left out intentionally deal with the more supernatural and hinted religious overtone. Wait....what about Charlie? Isn't he after all the main character? Nope, in the film the name Charlie belongs to a dog who plays no major part in the story. I thought the dog would have come into play as a metaphor for the child protagonist to learn about taking care of another living creature, but it's just a side kick with no significance in the story. So baring with the film the magical elements are never justified to exist. These magical elements are only here because according to this film "all you gotta do is believe". Now in the film the child like father creates the ultimate toy. It's basically a chest (called the "Wondermation") with the power to create any toy with the power of user imagination. This unexplained magical chest logistics gets a free pass from me since I have to face it how would anyone reasonably explain that working in a real world scenario. However, one thing that is not excusable are the usage of Angels. Yes, a film whose Christian undertone remain subtle comes out of left field with angels. Angles are never hinted at or even mentioned in the film. Not to forget the ending of this scene including angels tonally fits a psychological horror.
Director Gary A. Brown execution of the film is too simple. Everything from its lightning, one note visual style, and acting screams low budget limitations. There is not interesting shot as every shot is either a medium shot, medium long shot, or a close up. Occasionally cinematographer Chuck Hatcher will choose different shot sizes and his lack of effort makes for one dull looking film. Most of the dialogue is delivered awkwardly, either in a halting, tentative manner or in an over-enthusiastic rush. I blame bad direction for the uneven dialogue delivery. Rheagan Wallace for example emotes the right emotion for her one note role speeds through her line delivery. Almost of as if someone just wanted to end filming as soon as possible. The adult actors are fine in all respect. They don't add much personality to their roles, but do an adequate enough job that it doesn't feel lazy. Children actors on the other hand are bad. Not on bad direction, but simply because the child actors don't have any ideas they're filming a movie. Performance wise they look like they're having fun filming or bored not doing anything exciting. If you're the kind of person who can't stand bad child actors stay away from Raymond Ochoa in this film as his face never seems to change. Music of the film ranges okay to huh? According to the credits actor Tanner Fontana provided a song for the film. Of course I'm going to point out some bad lyrics. It goes like "It's nap time. To celebrate all the good time. I put it all on the line every day that I'm alive." I'm utterly speechless with those lyrics.
Charlie: A Toy Story has some heart, but all emotion all lost in a generic execution. While the end result just turned to be generic it wasn't as bad originally expected. For a straight to dvd family picture its not entirely insulting, its bearable thanks to some solid ideas, and has enough sustain itself to the end. True you could do a lot worse when it comes to family films, but why settle for less regardless of the audience intended.
Charlie: A Toy Story is pretty much everything that audiences have come to expect from Engine 15 Productions with one obvious exception. That exception is the movie's title. While the movie bears the name of the family's dog, the movie is less about him and more about his young nine-year old companion, Caden (Raymond Ochoa). It is a fitting film for any group of younger church goers with its obvious religious undertones. And while its production values aren't exactly Hollywood caliber, the positive messages of faith and family make up for that, and make it a piece that is worth at least one watch.
Charlie: A Toy Story is a rather misleading title for this feature, considering that the story is less about the dog, Charlie, than about his young companion, Caden. Engine 15 isn't the first studio to ever use such a tactic. So considering that, it can be forgiven. That's because what's most important about this straight-to-DVD release isn't who is the real star, but its messages of faith and family. The message of faith isn't an entirely overt one, but neither is it covert. Caden's message to his father-who is divorced from his mother, who is ironically named Faith-is to always believe, even in the midst of a divorce and struggling o come up with a toy that could change Jack and his family's life forever. This message is meant to be construed both in a secular and non-secular manner. That it was able to incorporate the message without being too preachy helps the movie an easy watch both in a living room and in a Sunday school classroom.
The message of faith is just one message that families and religious institutions will appreciate from Charlie: A Toy Story. As noted already, the message of faith is linked directly to the family situation of Jack, Caden and Faith. Jack and Faith are divorced, and Caden is caught in the middle of the pair. Despite this, Caden has faith in his father, both in terms of his father's drive to invent a great toy and as a father. This isn't the only family issue to which audiences are introduced. Along with dealing with a broken family, Caden also has to deal with a bully named Scooter. It turns out that Scooter is a bully because he has his own family problems. As he has gotten older, he and his father Chip (Matthew Tompkins) have grown increasingly distant from one another. Of course, being a family movie, both of these family situations are resolved thus leaving audiences with that standard warm, fuzzy feeling.
Both the messages of family and faith are integral to Charlie: A Toy Story. They are messages that can be used to teach life lessons in the living room or a Sunday school classroom. They are messages that can be related to any young viewer. They are that relatable. It's because of that ability of young viewers to relate to the movie's themes and messages that this will turn out to be a feature that will be worth watching by families at least once.
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