Today sees the release of Ted, the movie about a teddy bear who grows up and gets foul-mouthed along with his owner — and we're pretty sure anyone who still loves stuffed animals will be scarred emotionally. But no matter what, Ted can't be one of the most soul-wrenching toy movies — because so many other toy movies have already gone so much further.
Here are 10 movies about toys that will tear the hearts out of your kid's chests, and leave them in bitter shreds on the floor.
Labyrinth is a great favorite among kids and young adults. Sarah goes through the Labyrinth to rescue her baby brother, who's been captured by goblins. All through the story, she encounters goblins and they all bear strange resemblances to the fantasy-themed toys that she has in her room. When she goes back, she begins to put away childish things and become a woman. That's the story. Here's the problem: most of her toys represent the heroes in her quest — but there are a few that don't, including the Fireys, a group of grotesque puppets that felt her up, harassed her, and then tried to yank her head off. No child needs to lie awake nights thinking, "Wait a minute. Which one of my toys is a groper? Could it be the one that I sleep with every night?"
9. The Velveteen Rabbit
How many stories have you watch a bunny realize their lack of social standing in every world, desperately vie for the love of someone fickle, and then weep in despair as they face being burned to death? How many? This is a brutal story about a toy rabbit who is mocked, throughout the story, by other toys and also by real rabbits. He learns that once he is loved by someone, he will become real. He becomes the favorite plaything of a little boy, who eventually gets scarlet fever and forgets about him when he's sent to the seaside to recover. And what happens to all the toys the boy touched? They have to be burned. At the climax of the movie, the abandoned toy cries a real tear, at which a point a fairy turns him into a real rabbit — leaving all the other toys to be burned to death, for the crime of the boy not loving them enough. This movie teaches children two important lessons: 1) Your entire value lies in people liking you, and 2) The only solution to your problems is silent despair.
8. The Nutcracker
Remember kids — you're never too young to have a bad acid trip! Movie versions of this classic story vary, but almost all of them have at least two of the following elements: a creepy uncle, abusive brothers, and a heroine who is being threatened by monster rats. In most versions of The Nutcracker, a little girl loves the Nutcracker so much, she trades all of her toys and candy to the Mouse King to save the Nutcracker from being torn to pieces. Unfortunately, her parents don't believe her plight, and the girl's family slaughters all the Mouse Queen's babies. The story ends with the doll not only coming to life, but marrying the girl and taking her away to the Doll Kingdom. You read that right: The kid is young enough for a nutcracker to be her favorite toy — and at the end of the story, she's getting married. Go ahead, kids, take a look around your room and decide which of your toys you'd like to marry.
7. The Christmas Toy
In this world, toys come alive whenever people are out of the room. There's just one problem. If anyone notices that a toy is out of place, that toy gets frozen in place forever. And I thought other films were out out to mess with kids' heads. At least other movies allow kids to hope that one day they'll see their toys moving around, and they'll become friends. This film lets kids know that their toys are alive and conscious — but if they actually make contact with their beloved toys, they'll murder the thing they love most. There's nothing like instilling in a person a sense that they must blind themselves to the quirks of the world, or they will ruin everything. Or the idea that they might have killed their toys forever by thinking, once, that they might have changed their positions on the bed. I'm willing to bet that this movie prompted more than a few stays in institutions.
6. Indian in the Cupboard
In this movie, when a boy shuts a toy figurine in a cupboard and opens it the next day, the toy comes to life. When he shuts it in the cupboard again, it goes back to being a figurine. Fine. Except it turns out that the toys were people — possibly. They have memories of their entire lives, up to that point. This includes a Native woman who is painted with new colors, suddenly causing her to belong to a totally different tribe. It includes a medic, who was in the middle of World War I. This means that anything and everything about your life can be changed around, if some kid wants to do some customization work on your figurine. They hack off an arm, your whole life changes. They paint you to change your race, your hair, your nationality — someone could make you a Nazi soldier tomorrow, because they have to make a diorama, people. (Although that would be an amazing defense for murder: "I can't help being a criminal, your honor! Someone painted old-timey jailbird stripes on my outfit!")
5. Small Soldiers
Okay, imagine if the Punisher were suddenly transferred into the body of your G.I. Joes, and he was convinced that you'd done something very, very bad. That's more or less what Small Soldiers is about. Army toys gain sentience, and do battle with a set of monster toys, called Gorgonites. The trouble is, those monster toys are just looking for a way home, and are perfectly harmless. When a kid decides to shelter the poor Gorgonites, the army toys do things like kidnapping the girl he loves, and threatening to kill her unless he turns over the innocent monsters. It's pitched as a comedy — but it gets really dark, with the toy soldiers willing to do anything to carry out their genocidal mission. The kid responds by slaughtering all of the soldiers. He then sets the Gorgonites adrift in Yosemite National Park, on a toy boat, letting them believe that they'll be able to find their homeland. Somehow. In short, the toys are both despicable and pitiable.
This, like The Nutcracker, is another nightmare turned into a film. Again, it's not so much the concept of the toy that traumatizes children (although at least no one has to marry Pinocchio), as the world the toy inhabits. It's a world of horrific dangers, abusers around every corner, and cruel moralizers. The proper penalty for a boy who cuts school to play a game of pool with his friend and eat caramel apples? Getting turned into a donkey, and sold as a slave to the operator of a salt mine. The penalty for telling a lie? Permanent nasal disfigurement. The penalty for wanting a career in show business? Being trussed up, threatened, and made to perform in a degrading stage show. Any time Pinocchio isn't directly on the path of righteousness leads to protracted disasters. The world is a terrifying, horrible place, according to this movie. And people should be afraid all the time. Do the wrong thing? Your parents will be swallowed by a freaking whale.
3. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the Island of Misfit Toys
As its title suggests, this movie includes a visit to the Island of Misfit Toys. Do you want to go there? Hell no — not unless you're a bigger Tim Burton fan than Tim Burton is. This is a movie in which the shoddiness of the animation adds to the overall creepiness of the movie. There's the same theme as some of the above films: Lost and rejected toys pine for the cruel children who abandoned them, only here they do it en masse. There's also a junkie element. The toys need children to make them feel good. The children will, inevitably, grow up and leave the toys behind. The toys suffer terribly. Do they change their habits? No. It's on to the next kid, knowing that as soon as the kid gets big, it'll be time to bring on the heartbreak again. Where is toy rehab when we need it?
2. The Last Mimzy
Imagine a story that's Twelve Monkeys for children, and you'll have a pretty good grip on The Last Mimzy. Toys come back from the future, when the world is a polluted wasteland, to bring present-day DNA forward in time, to rebuild the post-apocalyptic world. In this movie, there's a lot of woo-wooness, as kids learn to levitate things and communicate with insects (really), but it never soars into childhood wonder and excitement — because the end of the world is nigh. Even at the end, when it's implied that the DNA of one of the kids has saved the future — creating, I suppose, a bunch of severely inbred people — there's still that pesky apocalypse that the kids may very well have to face, without those friendly toys. Have fun!
1. The Toy Story Films
Oh god. This. It just keeps getting worse, doesn't it? In the first movie, it just starts with a toy's heartfelt song of love and devotion to a child, only to see the toy cast aside, ostracized, tortured, and nearly murdered. We also see toys, which we already know are sentient beings, tossed to dogs, blown up, and vivisected. But at least we get the joy of plausible deniability at the end, when it showed that the kid still loves his toy. The next movies rip that sense of security away. It turns out, nearly everything we do with our toys hurts them. We can't ever cast them aside, because that breaks their hearts. We can't avoid buying them, because that turns them bitter and mean. We can't play rough with them, because then we're torturing them. And we can't put them in toy chests, because those are like tiny toy prisons. Throughout the trilogy, the humans create what seems like Hell on Earth for those toys, over and over. And the toys take it, because they love humans in a totally codependent fashion — and because they have no choice. Every child is a toy abuser. Every adult is a nonentity, as far as toys are concerned. Every relationship ends in heartbreak. By the end of it all, you realize that that soldier that the evil kid blew up with a firecracker got off easy — at least it was over quickly for him. Pixar's most beloved series teaches kids that all their most beloved toys are trapped in a nightmare world that's not worth living in. Those movies should be banned, I tell you. Banned.