Film Review – Child’s Play (2019)
The fact that I’m reviewing Child’s Play proves that I’m a horrible sell-out.
When I first heard about this movie, I flat-out refused to see it. Not just because it’s a remake of one of my favorite slasher films, not just because of my immense affection for the still ongoing Child’s Play/Chucky franchise but because I wanted to stand by the series brainchild Don Mancini, who was open about his dejected feelings concerning this remake.
MGM basically did the same thing to Don Mancini as Disney did to George Lucas: by saying “thanks” but “no thanks” when he wanted to give his creative input to the remake. They had their own plans and couldn’t care less about his three-decades-long commitment to the series. His executive producer credit was all they were interested in. The rights belonged to MGM so Mancini just had to take it. The remake was going to happen whether he liked it or not.
I think I even commented on a few posts, stating that: “I refuse to see this movie!” I didn’t even watch the trailer on YouTube. When I was finally forced to see the trailer in the movie theater, I made the most self-righteous shrug you can possibly imagine.
But here I am, just back from the theater. So why did I see it? Okay, when I heard that Mark Hamill was voicing the character, I couldn’t help but feel a little intrigued. Mind you, there’s only one Brad Dourif in the world and only one definitive Chucky. But anyone familiar with Mark Hamill’s work knows that his vocal talents far exceed his abilities with a lightsaber.
So apologies to Don Mancini. I hope he will still allow me to see the upcoming Chucky TV series on Syfy. I’m really excited about that one!
Oh yeah, I’m supposed to talk about the Child’s Play remake. Well…I guess it was okay.
The following review will be spoiler free.
Directed By: Lars Klevberg
Written By: Tyler Burton Smith (based on Child’s Play by Don Mancini)
The Kaslan Industry is a tech company, headed by CEO Henry Kaslan (Tim Matheson), known primarily for their manufacturing of Buddi dolls. Buddi Dolls have an advanced AI, making them perfectly hospitable companions for children who haven’t yet reached puberty. They can also connect themselves to any Kaslan tech in its vicinity.
As can be expected, the manufacturing of these dolls is outsourced. In one such factory in Vietnam, a disgruntled employee removes the Buddi safety features before committing suicide.
Through a turn of events, the doll comes in the hands of single mom, Karen (Aubrey Plaza), who gives it her son, Andy (Gabriel Bateman), as a consoling gift as he struggles to fit into the new neighborhood they just moved into.
The alienated young boy becomes quite attached to the little robotic doll, who calls himself Chucky. But he soon figures out that this particular Buddi doll isn’t like the rest. Besides his capability to swear profusely, he is also showing some violent tendencies. When Chucky goes too far in trying to appeal to Andy’s good senses, Andy begins to distance himself from Chucky.
Chucky, therefore, tries desperately to reclaim his friend’s affection, by getting rid of anyone standing in the way of their friendship.
The Child’s Play/Chucky Franchise
I won’t delve too deeply into the original franchise, as I’m planning to write a retrospective about it in the future, but I consider it one of the most qualitatively consistent slasher franchises in horror history. It experimented with its mythos and reinvented itself when necessary, while also correcting its mistakes.
The first Child’s Play was a straight-up slasher/thriller, but with its fair share of comedic moments. The sequel, Child’s Play 2, was as good, if not be better than the original with a delicious blend of gory madness, thrills, and humor.
The third one, Child’s Play 3, is considered derivative but I still think it’s a lot of fun. Things get even crazier with its fourth entry, Bride of Chucky, which, as you can guess from its title and tagline (“Chucky get lucky”), ventures into full-blown zany horror comedy and puppet sex (yes, really).
If you dug the humor but felt it needed more meta-references, you’ll love Seed of Chucky, which I personally love but is an acquired taste because of its wacky tone — it features a cameo by John Waters, so that says enough. Don Mancini directed this one and he would direct the following two entries too.
The fifth entry, Curse of Chucky, dilutes the humor and returns to its roots, though it does stay faithful to the original canon. Many consider it a return to form — though as I’ve stated, I never felt the Chucky series ever lost its touch.
Its follow-up, Cult of Chucky, might actually be my favorite and features some excellent visual flourishes.
Its success lay partly in the character of Chucky himself, brilliantly voiced by Brad Dourif, who manages to be both creepy and hilarious at the same time. The upcoming TV show will continue the continuity of the original franchise. Don Mancini is heavily involved so you can bet it’s going to be something special.
Mark Hamill as Chucky
Recasting such a character was always going to be the hardest part. It’s partly the reason why so many fans hated the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street, not because Jackie Earle Haley isn’t a great actor, but because Robert Englund is the face and voice of the infamous dream demon. Dourif might not be the face of Chucky, the killer doll, but his vocal talents have been essential to the success of the character.
Regarding that obstacle, the filmmakers did make an inspired choice with Mark Hamill. Even though most people will know him as Luke Skywalker, he’s had quite a glorious career in voicing numerous animation characters, the most noteworthy being The Joker in the Animated series. His voice as the Joker was so popular, that he voiced the character countless other times, including in the famous Arkham Asylum video games.
Hamill does a great job in the role, though the script is unfortunately deprived of any of the quips Dourif’s Chucky had. This Chucky is also frankly an entirely different character. He’s not the product of the supernatural, but a product of science gone awry. He’s not a serial killer possessing a cute doll, he’s a science fiction menace.
In the original film, Chucky’s goal was to put his soul into the body of Andy. In the remake, Chucky’s programmed affection for Andy turns psychotic. Both are interesting characters in their own right but the original Chucky was far scarier and threatening, despite the enhanced abilities of the remake Chucky, who can also control any gadget that his operating system allows him to connect to.
It’s hard to say what the reason for this is. In the original, there’s a build-up to seeing Chucky prance around and murder people. It’s even hinted that it’s perhaps Andy’s doing.
We know from the beginning that the remade Chucky will be a psychotic killer, so you’re just waiting for the inevitable. The ride is certainly entertaining, but not very surprising.
A Likable Group of Potential Victims
Andy is also an entirely different character than in the original. Instead of being a doe-eyed six-year-old, he’s a teenage boy nearing puberty. Gabriel Bateman does a good job in the part, even if he isn’t as cute as Alex Vincent. The film does hint at some unresolved resentment at his father’s absence, however, which could have really added to his dramatic pathos especially in his final confrontation with Chucky. I have a feeling there was more of it in the script but was unfortunately cut out. It’s a shame as Bateman services the more dramatic aspects of the story quite well.
Plaza is reliably likable as the easy-going mother even though her character is a little inconsistent. She’s a caring but sometimes ridiculously oblivious about her son’s state of mind.
Andy eventually befriends some neighborhood kids, the most likable being the kick-ass Falyn (Beatrix Kitsos). Brian Tyree Henry has the Chris Sarandon role, as the detective who starts investigating the murders, and who also happens to be Andy’s neighbor and lives with his humorous bingo-playing mother Doreen (Carlease Burke), a very enjoyable supporting character in her own right.
The Modern Chucky
Besides the casting of Hamill, its second virtue is the extensive use of animatronics. Chucky is mostly moving around through good ol’ animatronics instead of CGI. At times it’s clear they used CGI to enhance his facial expressions, however. For certain action scenes, he’s entirely digitally-rendered, which is unfortunately very noticeable. But we have to applaud the filmmakers for using mostly practical effects.
The design, however, does feel a little uninspired. It’s obvious that they are emulating the original Chucky design but his new face isn’t as expressive as it should be. Often times the most menacing aspect of him is when he occasionally turns his eyes glowing red.
It’s not a bad design and the practical effects do make it work but I wish they veered more from the original design and focused on an original one. Which brings me to the sole issue of the film: it should have just been its own film.
A Remake in Name Only
I have the sneaking suspicion that this film was never meant to be a remake. I might be very wrong about this — though I rarely am — but the storyline diverts enough from the original film that it could have been its own entity. It wouldn’t surprise me that the original screenplay was a self-contained, science-fiction-horror tale, but was modified into the remake in order to increase its market value. In other words: money, money, money!
It simply didn’t need to be a remake. If you changed characters names, redesigned Chucky, you can have yourself an entirely different ‘killer-doll‘ movie. It might a case of Catch-22: If it’s too much like the original, there would be no point, but if it’s unlike the original, then why call it a remake in the first place?
Yet there are horror remakes that do something special with the original property. Maniac, the 2012 remake of the grindhouse classic, stays faithful to its original conceit yet its unique style makes its existence warranted. (It’s actually an incredible horror film that deserves more attention.)
On the one hand, I can applaud Child’s Play for doing something different. God knows we didn’t need a scene-for-scene remake –Gus van Sant I’m looking at you. But it’s hard not to feel a little tricked.
Child’s Play 2019 only has the modified Chucky design and some character names, and a few lame callbacks — especially at the end — to remind you that this is a remake. It didn’t need to be; It could have stood on its own.
From a technical perspective, there’s a lot to admire. The film features some stellar animatronics, and it also has a great cast and an effective soundtrack to go along with it. It’s great seeing Mark Hamill voice a killer doll and I wouldn’t mind seeing him do this again.
But as expected, it’s not as good as the original and the comparison wouldn’t have been necessary if it scrapped the “remake” aspect. The film is different enough that they could have pulled it off.
Having said that, on its own, it’s an entertaining if not a very memorable experience. If you are aching to see some gore, you will be satisfied. If you’re aching for some laughs you’ll be satisfied too. If you’re aching to see an animatronic puppet walking around, you will also be satisfied.
But if you’re a horror veteran, it’s all very predictable. You know what to expect, you know who dies and the film never subverts any expectations. I needed more gonzo elements to Child’s Play 2019.
There are also some thematic elements that should have been explored more. Andy’s loss for his father could have tied in better with Chucky’s need to be alongside Andy. A little more satire for humanity’s dependency on technology would have been welcome too.
In other words: it’s okay. I had a good time, but I’ll probably forget about it in a few weeks.
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