Plot: Why did the world suddenly treat stuffed animals like gold? Ty Warner was a frustrated toy salesman until his collaboration with three women grew his masterstroke of an idea into the biggest toy craze in history. “The Beanie Bubble” is an inventive story about what and who we value, and the unsung heroes whose names didn’t appear on the heart-shaped tag.
Review: Everyone likely knows what a Beanie Baby is. The tiny plush toys were an insane fad in the 1990s, predating Crypto and NFTs by decades. But, unlike many fads, Beanie Babies became a lucrative financial market during the early days of the World Wide Web and marketplaces like eBay. While the crash reduced toys valued at thousands of dollars to just pennies, the toy’s creator, Ty Warner, remained a multi-millionaire. Despite a felony tax conviction, Warner remains extremely wealthy thanks to his revolutionized plush idea. Or did he? The new film The Beanie Bubble dramatizes the events surrounding the rise and fall of collectible toys by giving it as much credence as Adam McKay’s The Big Short. Funny and bizarrely fascinating, The Beanie Bubble is a solid cautionary tale for anyone putting their nest egg into Bitcoin or other up-and-coming investment ideas.
Like Jay Roach’s 2019 FOX news expose Bombshell, The Beanie Bubble looks at the women around a powerful corporate leader and how their contribution added to the rise and eventual demise of the company they were a part of. While inspired by Zac Bissonnette’s book The Great Beanie Baby Bubble: Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute, the film version fictionalizes the three women closest to Ty Warner (Zach Galifianakis). Elizabeth Banks plays Robbie (inspired by Warner’s early partner, Patricia Roche), a mechanic and neighbor of Ty’s in the early 1980s whom he goes into business with selling high-end Himalayan stuffed cats. Geraldine Viswanathan plays Maya (based on Lina Trivedi), a college student who revolutionized the online presence of Ty, Inc. Succession star Sarah Snook plays Sheila Warner (inspired by Warner’s fiance Faith McGowan), a single mother of two who gets closest to Ty. All three women are great in their roles as the film shifts back and forth from the early 80s through the late 1990s.
While it should come as no surprise that all three actresses are excellent, given their recent filmographies, Zach Galifianakis is the most impressive part of The Beanie Bubble. Typically relegated to comedic roles, Galifianakis balances the over-the-top parts of Ty Warner’s personality with an impressive dramatic streak mixed in. Warner, a notorious recluse in real life, is clearly fictionalized to a degree. Still, his obsession with performance, presentation, and physical appearance belies a level of insecurity that Galifianakis exudes perfectly. Clean-shaven and sporting long hair and dark frames, Galifianakis commands the screen as the Napoleon-esque Warner as he amasses wealth and celebrity while preventing those around him from sharing in any of the glory or recognition. The film comprises many sequences pitting Galifianakis against Viswanathan, Banks, or Snook, often one at a time.
While The Beanie Bubble is told non-linearly, the three-time periods intersect in various ways that help anchor the viewer. On-screen graphics roll back and forward the year so that we can better follow which era of Ty’s success we are focusing on, which can be distracting. But, it works to better balance the paths of Robbie, Shiela, and Maya in Ty’s life. All three women follow similar paths of falling for Ty’s enthusiasm and attention before their success gets in his way. The film hints at the eventual bursting of the titular bubble, but most of the story reveals the rise of Beanie Babies and how the world reacted. The cast is fairly small, with Tracey Bonner and Carl Clemons-Hopkins in key supporting roles and Zach Galifianakis in virtually every scene of the entire movie.
The Beanie Bubble is the directorial debut of Kristin Gore and Damian Kulash. Gore, the daughter of former Vice President Al Gore, is a seasoned writer who wrote the screenplay. Her husband, Damian Kulash, is best known as the lead singer of the band OK Go. Both do impressive work balancing the film’s three narrative threads while giving the production an edge I did not expect from a story about stuffed animals. The Beanie Bubble is Rated R, primarily for language. Gore and Kulash intersperse a minimal amount of footage from the period, opting instead to recreate elements from the period, including an infamous highway crash that spread the plushies across multiple lanes of an interstate. The most pop culture we get is period-appropriate music and shout-outs to figures like Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey. Overall, the movie is focused on Ty and his three compatriots.
The Beanie Bubble is a solid look into a niche period of recent history that will resonate with those who were there when it happened while shocking those who have no recollection of the event. Anchored by three strong performances from Geraldine Viswanathan, Sarah Snook, and Elizabeth Banks, alongside an impressive dramatic turn by Zach Galifianakis, The Beanie Bubble is a cautionary tale worth checking out before purchasing anything on the blockchain. Funny when it needs to be and dramatic where it counts, The Beanie Bubble is a solid directorial debut for Kristin Gore and Damian Kulash that will have anyone who invested in Beanie Babies slapping their heads, wondering what the hell they were thinking.