The first and most noticeable difference between the 2019 CHILD’S PLAY reboot and 1988 original is that the new Chucky is but a menacing doll with the safety features turned off rather than a doll hosting the soul of a madman. It removed Chucky’s soul. And isn’t that the perfect way to describe what the 2019 version does to the series? It removed the soul.
There were a lot of reasons to fear a remake of a series that has been kept fresh since the late 80’s, but I had hoped this newest iteration would bring something new to the table. Unfortunately, it was a hollow story populated by a laundry list of one-dimensional clichés. It starred the “different” kid with trouble making friends, his hardworking single mom, his mom’s mean boyfriend, the black cop, the cop’s cute mother, the funny fat friend, the girl, the sociopathic neighbor kid, and the creepy maintenance guy.
CHILD’S PLAY had the opportunity to say something about these familiar characters types but tripped on itself not doing so. Was Chucky seeking revenge on terrible men? Felt like it for just a second. Was it telling us something about the 2019 version of a ragtag gang of kids? Could have. Was it a comment on smart homes and ever-present “smart devices”? Almost danced with that.
The thing the film got right, for me, was the relationship a kid can have with a toy and that we have with artificial intelligence. We all cringed at the scene in Chappie when the bot is hurt and confused by the harassment of some tuffs. Many of us remember feeling sad or guilty when we sold our toys at a garage sale or packed them up in the basement. The parts of CHILD’S PLAY that struck me the most were the pity I felt for Chucky when he was put in a closet or felt betrayed by his friends. That was pure horror.
Intentionally or not (though I’d venture to guess intentionally based on its nod to Robocop), the first act of CHILD’S PLAY feels like a perverted take on Terminator 2. The lonely kid befriends a loyal bot, comedically failing to teach him facial expressions, and ultimately scolding him for hurting someone because “you can’t just go around killing people!” (My John Connor impression is flawless, I know).
Though the film ultimately felt hollow, it did have its moments. The kills are bigger and better and make me want to talk about them the way we talk about the best Jason or Freddie kills. Aubrey Plaza, Gabriel Bateman, and Brian Tyree Henry bring the most they can to their one-dimensional roles. The kills are truly ruthless and seem to accidentally trick you into being team Chucky before reminding you they’re cruel.
But what about the pièce de résistance? The voice. Did Mark Hamill bring his incredible vocal acting chops, ones that cemented The Joker as one of the greatest animated characters of all time, to create an unforgettable Chucky? In a word, no. His work here cements that he is not a one-trick voice pony. Though famous for his voicing of the Clown Prince, Hamill has voiced a host of animated characters, and the voice of the psycho doll is a brand new take on the character and a brand new voice for Hamill. The voice was fine and suited the character, but Chucky had no personality. His motivations were a shallow take on Misery and the character didn’t have the “pizazz” we expect from the original. He never spilled over being a doll-like Siri, never giving Hamill the ability to give a scowl, a laugh, an impassioned monologue or even a groan. As I said, this Chucky had no soul.
I wasn’t bored, and the run time felt just right. On its face, CHILD’S PLAY is a fun slasher with some cheap scares. But, as a remake of a beloved franchise in 2019, it should have and could have been so much more.
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