Child’s Play is an institution. The series that began with the seminal, Tom Holland-directed 1988 flick is still chugging along to this day with the latest installment, 2017’s Cult of Chucky, showcasing there’s life in the old doll yet with a truly bizarre, gender-swapping finale shocker as serial killer Charles Lee Ray finally gets the body he’s been wanting for 30 years (hilariously, it belongs to voice-of-Chucky Brad Dourif’s real-life daughter, Fiona). With the ultimate killer doll in such good health (a spinoff T.V. series is also in the works), the timing is particularly off for a reboot.
It was no surprise series creator Don Mancini, along with star Jennifer Tilly and basically everybody else involved, reacted very badly to news their beloved Chucky was being repackaged for a whole new audience — and with more money or studio support than they could ever imagine (Slate has a great rundown of all the behind-the-scenes drama that’s taken place; it’s well worth a read). Towards the end of last year, Mancini spoke out on the Flickering Myth podcast about how hurt he was to see his creation stolen from him, reiterating he’d nurtured the franchise “for three f*****g decades.”
Both he and producer David Kirschner refused the offer to executive produce the Child’s Play remake or to give it their blessing, with Mancini arguing, ”The producers of that movie are the producers of It. How would they feel if there was some legal loophole that allowed David Kirschner and I to swoop in and make our own It movie with our own version of Pennywise and say, ‘Hey guys, we would love to put your names on it?’ I imagine they wouldn’t like it.” Considering we’re just a few months away from IT: Chapter Two, the comparison stings that much worse.
Of course, none of this would matter if Child’s Play 2019 was either a decent installment in the ongoing Chucky franchise or if it did something new and different with the concept and set the series off on a new, completely different route. As we learned in Cult of Chucky, the more Chucky dolls there are in rotation, the better. Sadly, this so-called reboot bears so little resemblance to the 1988 original, or indeed anything that’s come in the subsequent three decades, it’s insane the film even carries the moniker in the first place. It may as well be an Annabelle installment.
First and foremost, in keeping with our new, tech-obsessed society, Chucky 2019 is a robot, and a bloody ugly looking one at that — like Denny from The Room with worse hair, or a rubbish, bootleg Chucky you buy from a shouting woman on Mary Street, sold next to the 3-for-a-fiver strawberries (only Dubs will get that, sorry). If you need reminding of how Chucky should look, check out FX maestro Tony Gardner’s Kickstarter for the Seed of Chucky doll of our dreams/nightmares. It boggles the mind why anyone would purchase this new doll for their kid, and yet single mom Aubrey Plaza just has to have one.
Even weirder, her emo tween kid has clearly grown out of toys and has no interest in this walking Alexa operating system, or anything else for that matter (a supposed interest in drawing is introduced but never comes up again). Whereas the original Andy was a sweet, well-meaning kid, this older version is a total brat. It’s impossible to imagine him putting an entire tub of butter on his mother’s toast, or even making her breakfast in the first place. He’s annoying and whiny throughout. A third act suggestion Andy will be implicated in a murder makes zero sense as it’s impossible to imagine him having the balls to do anything besides sit in the hallway and sulk (it also, again, goes nowhere).
Chucky himself is a sad, pathetic character we’re bafflingly expected to empathize with, whose switch has quite literally been turned from good to evil by a disgruntled Taiwanese factory worker who codes in English (so we know what’s happening — the commands are like “turn off all safety protocols,” “make doll murder people,” etc.) and who kills himself immediately afterwards for no apparent reason. There’s no voodoo involved, no serial killer, no “give me the power, I beg of you!,” just a borderline offensive sojourn to Asia, a flick of the switch and bam! Chucky is a bad guy rather than a Good Guy (though he isn’t called that, just Buddi, which is another odd choice).
Mark Hamill, whose casting in this remake was, to many, a signal the film was on the right track, simply sounds like The Joker throughout. He’s a talented voice actor, no question, but gone is Brad Dourif’s menacing snarl and in its place a faltering, insecure little whimper more suited to a sniveling puppy than a vengeful doll. I kept waiting for Hamill to let loose and give us the real Chucky but even when the blood starts flowing he remains strangely passive in the role, as though voicing a killer toy requires dramatic prowess rather than a knowing comedic flair.
Even the name, Chucky, comes about by way of a dodgy Star Wars joke self-consciously signaling both Hamill’s high-profile casting and the fact this film has to work extra hard to connect itself to the earlier films. Why even make it Chucky? Why not just do a brand-new killer doll, like Annabelle or Brahms or Molly Dolly or whoever. Call it Buddi, make it an A.I., but why refer back to a beloved property purely for caché? Referencing superior films is another issue with Child’s Play 2019, from a lawnmower gag recalling Sinister (which did it better and nastier, in spite of the movie’s other issues) to tangled Christmas lights harking back to every Christmas horror ever.
The weirdest flex, which I cannot get my head around even days after seeing this wretched film, finds the group of annoying kids New Andy has attached himself to sitting around enjoying The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Whose bright idea was it to include footage from a superior movie when anybody who’s seen it before knows this new film will not, and could never, compare? Why would they be watching this particular film in the first place anyway? Do tweens watch TCM2? Subsequently, a face is torn off a body and stuck on a watermelon (with teeth and eyes intact — huh!?). Presumably, this is an attempt at homage, but it further solidifies that Child’s Play 2019 cannot play with the classics.
None of the kills are original or innovative, from the face-off to one involving the teeniest buzz-saw in history which the victim, by all appearances, could’ve avoided by jumping backwards away from it (there’s no money shot either, which defeats the purpose entirely). The flick is only 90 mins long but there’s absolutely no murder for a good…60? I wasn’t checking my phone because I respect the cinema but it felt like it was all goofy and fun for an hour and then suddenly a blood fest. That’s fine if the murders are fun or gory or well-executed but here they’re just plain boring. There’s the usual over-reliance on jump scares to contend with, too, which jars considerably.
Pet Sematary, which came out earlier this year, was boring as all hell but it didn’t shit all over the legacy of the original film. Child’s Play 2019 feels like little more than an uninspired, spiteful cash-grab meant to claw a big name Horror Icon away from the people who really care about it, presented by a group who seem to understand nothing about what makes the franchise so good in the first place. It’s super goofy, rather than darkly funny, so the one is off from the outset. The real Chucky is scary and a dick; he’s not dumbly hiding behind a fridge door to scare people (just to be clear, the real Chucky would’ve stabbed that dude to death and stolen his beer, all while laughing maniacally).
Real Chucky looks both cute and menacing. This Chucky just looks cheap. His powers aren’t clear, either, whether it’s controlling all the appliances around him or recording audio and video to stir the pot at a later stage. There’s this weird B story-line about an obviously pervy dude spying on Andy’s mom and it strays into particularly nasty, exploitative territory for no discernible reason — why wasn’t Chucky the one spying? Why does everybody have to be a horrible person to drive home the point that this doll is doing something dodgy in the background?
There are a couple nice adults in the movie, namely Brian Tyree Henry’s kindly neighbor/cop and his (possibly alcoholic!?) mother, who give Andy the attention he so desperately craves. Aubrey Plaza does the best she can in a thankless role as his irresponsible, philandering mother. The head of the supposedly evil corporation making Buddi dolls is presented like Ted Danson in The Good Place (unintentionally, I’d imagine) but, unlike either that character or even Bill Nighy’s in Detective Pikachu, this guy isn’t revealed to be anything other than a boring-ass white dude on a screen. This decision is emblematic of how little thought and consideration went into making this drivel. Ideas are introduced and then dispensed with quicker than Chucky doin’ murders.
There’s an argument to be made that Child’s Play itself hasn’t aged that well. It’s very obviously a small child, or little person, walking around whenever Chucky has to move, even in the most recent installments, but that rickety little walk and his strange puppet body look way more effective than the modernized robot Chucky does. Consider when his head was mounted on a plaque by grown-up Andy and how well his mouth moved, and how many expressions Chucky had. The new guy can barely manage a smile (he never does that evil Chucky grin either, which is blasphemy as far as I’m concerned) and looks completely fake no matter what the scenario.
Simply put, no good kills, no good jokes, and no good Chucky do not a decent Child’s Play reboot make. Most annoyingly, this so-called Chucky is defeated via the medium of song(!?) and also bashed with a cheap-ass Orion Robocop car (LOL, references). He’s incredibly easy to outwit and poses no real threat so it’s unclear why Andy doesn’t just…chuck him out the window any chance he gets. The people behind this movie don’t even like the character as much as they’re expecting us to, so what’s the point? Giving Chucky a brand-new, sleek, modern makeover is a fun idea in theory but there’s a reason this series has survived for three decades, and why it’s still so beloved.
Some things are sacred and, as much as I never thought Chucky was one of them, on this evidence, clearly it is. Come back, pot farmer Jason! All is forgiven!