In 1988, Don Mancini and Tom Holland teamed up to create a horror-comedy about the insanity of capitalist mayhem. Grabbing inspiration from the popularity of Cabbage Patch dolls and the “Talky Tina” episode of The Twilight Zone, Mancini created a staple in the horror franchise and launched Chucky, the killer doll, to the pop culture stardom. The success of the first Child’s Play spawned seven sequels, each growing increasingly campy and embracing its ridiculousness. The Mancini franchise has been continuing quietly with mainly straight to video releases but still maintaining consistent quality over 23 years.
The 2019 reboot of Child’s Play is the first installment without Mancini or the original cast involved. There has been quite amount of drama surrounding the production and Mancini’s openly distaste with the remake. Even the original cast (who are also not involved) supported Mancini and his annoyance with the studio’s move.
No offense to Mancini, but the reboot really isn’t that bad. In fact, it seems to adapt Mancini’s principles into a film for this era. Instead of Cabbage Patch dolls, people are going nuts over the latest Alexa-esque technology. And with recent reports about Alexa recording people’s conversations or randomly laughing, it makes sense that it would eventually evolve to kill us all. So why not make a film about our inevitable doom?
In this new rendition of Child ‘s Play, the Kaslan Company reigns supreme over all households. The company makes roombas, televisions, phones, and other nifty appliances. Its new product is the Buddi doll, which is like a cotton-filled Siri and helps with chores around the household. Due to a disgruntled factory worker in Vietnam (which provides a surprising commentary about worker conditions under big time companies), there is a “manufacturing error” on one of the dolls that gets shipped out.
The unlucky receiver is Andy (Gabriel Bateman), a lonely 13-year-old who is having a hard time adjusting to a new life. His mother, Karen (Audrey Plaza) works double shifts at the local Zed Mart to keep a roof over their head. In an effort to cheer her son up, she gives him a malfunctioning Buddi doll that a customer returns. The gift seems to work and Andy and the newly named Chucky become best friends. But once Andy starts to become friends with kids in his building, Chucky starts to become more sinister and will do anything to make Andy feel better, even if it means resorting to violence.
Despite being Rated-R, the film itself is very safe when it comes to the kills. It takes a while to kick into action, with the first 30 minutes taking the time to build a relationship between Andy and Chucky. There is a warm, comedic montage of Andy teaching Chucky how to brush his teeth, play board games, and even play pranks on his mom’s abusive boyfriend, Shane (David Lewis.) Once Chucky actually starts to kill, you feel more of a sense of impatience rather than shock. And out of the few murders he actually gets to commit, only one stands out as being particularly memorable. However, once the third act hits, the film goes completely bonkers, combining Dawn of the Dead with Five Nights at Freddy’s.
Tyler Burton Smith’s script keeps a lot of the dark comedy that the original franchise held so dear. There are jabs at the obsession with technology and people’s dependence on phone apps. It may be a little too on the nose at times but, combined with a killer doll, you can’t help but laugh at the absurdity.
Which brings us to the most disappointment feature of the film: Chucky himself. Brad Dourif’s Chucky had a distinct personality that only got more foul as the franchise went. Despite bringing on Mark Hamill to replace Dourif, his voice talents are utterly wasted. Chucky starts out as a happy-go-lucky doll, eager to please Andy in any way possible. His voice eventually starts to evolve into something more crazy but we don’t get Hamill’s deliciously villainous voice until the final act of the film.
Child’s Play is not a bad film per se, just not particularly memorable. Smith and director Lars Klevberg keep Mancini’s jabs at capitalism a prominent theme of the film, but they fail to capture what made the original franchise stand out in the first place: Chucky.