Friday, July 28, 2023

The Beanie Bubble, on Apple TV+

In the mid-1990s, Ebay became the place for collectors. Everyone who was buying LPs largely have seen their purchases hold their value, because the music in the grooves has intrinsic value. That has not been the case for Beanie Baby collectors. Crypto cannot compare, yet, to the boom and bust of the little “under-stuffed” plushies. Directors Kristin Gore and Damian Kulash show how it happened from the perspective of three women who had the mixed fortune to be close to the company founder in The Beanie Bubble, which premieres today on Apple TV+.

Ty Warner sort of had the original vision for more “posable” stuffed animals, but he was also a manipulative user. At least that is the conclusion his former “partner,” “Robbie” (based on Patricia Roche) comes to. For a while, he manages to replace her with Maya Kumar (transparently modeled on Lina Triveti), who literally joined the company as an intern answering the phones. However, she had an inkling of the potential for internet marketing way before it was a standard thing.

Kumar also has the brilliant idea to play up the limited nature of the mini-sized plushies. Fortuitously, some of Warner’s designs were starting to catch on, especially those he developed with input from the woman he is romancing and her two daughters. In fact, from Sheila’s perspective (sort of Faith McGowan), her girls did most of the work. However, he sufficiently dazzles them with extravagant gifts, so they do not think about things like rights or credits.

Beanie Bubble
is much like Matt Johnson’s BlackBerry, in that both persuasively and dramatically show what each company did right and what they did wrong (though BlackBerry is definitely the superior film). On the other hand, Beanie Bubble is a far more entertaining and more up-tempo viewing experience than the HBO doc Beanie Mania. Regardless, it is fascinating to see how the Ty company rode the original internet wave. Yet, it so conspicuously stacks the deck against Warren, it cries out for an epilogue from his perspective, to give some sense of balance.

Gore and Kulash constantly flash backwards and forwards, for the sake of being hip and stylish. They always immediately identify the year, so it is confusing, but it sometimes fractures the flow. However, it is certainly an aptly colorful production, suiting its subject.

Frankly, this could be Zach Galifianakis’s best performance. He is almost unrecognizable playing it largely straight as the eccentric Warren. (He seems to have a taste for boom-and-bust movies, having also co-starred in the disappointing
Tulip Fever.) He plays off his co-stars quite nicely, particularly Elizabeth Banks as Robbie, who is definitely his most formidable confidant-turned rival. Sarah Snook shrewdly tacks a more reserved course as Sheila, but Geraldine Viswanathan’s Maya often comes across as a sitcom character from a show like The Office.

Although the film positions itself as a partial fictionalization of Ty’s rise and fall, it hews reasonably closely to the historical record. Despite the temporal lurches, Gore and Kulash keep the tone and pacing snappy. Recommended as a mostly true business case study and a cautionary tale for collectors,
The Beanie Bubble starts streaming today (7/28) on Apple TV+.