The Violent Blue blog***Comics, Horror and Pop Culture***Updates Tuesday through Friday (and occasionally at random)

The Toymaker (Robert and)

Robert and the Toymaker marks a new direction for the franchise and is the first of what would ultimately become a trilogy of prequels, focused more on the creator of the Robert doll and the mystic book he derives his power from.

It starts with a parade of black and white stock footage from World War II, and the caption Nazi Germany in 1941. We shift to a dark woods and somebody is fleeing. His pursuers are hot on his trail, with flashlights piercing the darkness and search of him.  He finds shelter at a small cabin in the woods, and hides from the Gestapo as the soldier search for him. He promises only to stay a couple of days before moving on to barvaria with his special cargo, a mysterious looking book.

Of course, the Nazis are not fools, and they return in the morning with a cruel master of interrogation. He toys with the family, certain that they have knowledge of the fugitive. Hidden in the attic, the fugitive knocks over a snow globe, revealing his position, the soldier fires right through the ceiling before killing the others. He looks out the window and sees the daughter of the family running away with the book. He fires again, but the distance is too great. She’s wounded, but not dead yet.

 

I might mention, that at this point we’re 23 minuets and I have seen neither Robert nor any other kind of toy. That’s fine for the World War II buff‘s, But I’m here for a killer doll.

Finally, we dissolve to the shop full of dolls, half made toys and doll parts. The toy maker, in a terribly unconvincing bald cap, answers the door and the daughter of the family, escaped with the book dies at his door, handing off the forbidden tome. In the village outside his door, Nazis search for her. Disturbed, the toy maker turns to the book, and reads from its passages while standing over the Robert doll. “Corpus Levitas Diablo Dominium Mondo Vicium” (latin; “Bodies rise, devil dominion, world change”). He chuckles to himself, amused that he even considered believing in its promises of life from death… And then, the doll rises, and looks at him.

As the Gestapo rampage through the village, book Roberts sneaks out, hiding in a toy shop. The toymaker intervenes just in time to keep Robert from stabbing the shop clerk… and I’ve got to admit, it’s the first time the doll has really creeped me out.

The Toymaker then relates a story about Robert past… He didn’t make Robert, he found him. After reading in the newspaper about a young boy whose father had killed him, toymaker found the doll, redid the face and strengthened the limbs and then named him Robert… After the boy who died.  The doll only learned malevolence. And so, the toymaker decide what Robert needs his family, and begins to bring other dolls to life; a clown doll with makeup inspired by serial killer John Wayne Gacy, and a girl doll, based largely on the Talky Tina doll featured in the 1963 Twilight Zone episode Living Doll.

In the meantime, the shopkeeper that Robert attacked rats the Toymaker out to the Nazis. Of course, they come to investigate. The toymaker is removed for interrogation, and it’s up to the dolls to come and liberate him.

The prequel direction with its heavy WW2  focus was a dramatic departure from the previous two films, but after two different distributors approached writer/director Andrew Jones about possibly doing a World War 2 film, something clicked in the back of his mind.

“It came from something I read about the real-life Robert the Doll”  Jones said in a 2018 interview. “Apparently the doll was originally made by a German toy company, so a World War II backdrop immediately came to mind. Obviously I love the Puppet Master films – I’ve been watching them since I was a kid, and I enjoyed the prequels set in Nazi Germany, so I was happy to take that direction for the Robert series.”

It’s an apt comparison. This entry feels more like a Puppet Master movie then either of the popular killer doll focused films. Perhaps it’s the setting. After all, more and more, the Puppet Master films are increasingly set in World War II, and the juxtaposition of hard plastic, eccentric scientists and Nazis… Well let’s face it, that’s Charles Band’s current formula for Puppet Master in a nutshell!

“There’s a World War II trend going on in the industry right now” states Jones, “so this new direction for Robert made total sense”. It also helped  that Jones signed the Toymaker as part of a multi film deal which allowed him more flexibility in the budget. “In industry terms we’re still operating at what would be considered the micro end of the budget spectrum, but that little bit more enable us to be a bit more ambitious with our stories. We could never have attempted a Nazi Germany setting a few years ago! So while nothing has really changed from a business perspective, we do now have the ability to raise our game from the single location, character-based stuff that we were doing in the early days”.

Robert’s two new doll friends in this film are both based on other haunted dolls with Germanic origins.  The girl doll, Isabelle is based on an antique doll made in Germany between 1910 and 1920 and named Mandy. It’s said that the doll was possessed by the spirit of a young girl who  had been locked in the basement of her home  and tragically perished in a fire. The doll passed through several hands before being donated to the Quesnel & District Museum in British Columbia. Her final owner swore that you could hear the doll crying at night.

Otto The Clown doll, is based on the Pulau Ubin doll. In 1914 a man from Pulau Ubin had a recurring  dream featuring  a little girl who had died while being chased by the Army. In his dream she led him to a specific toy store and pointed at a doll that was put up for display in the store window. The dream kept recurring. Every night, the same little girl, the same toy store, the same doll. He had to find it. One day he sought out the toy store and to his shock  he saw the doll that the dead girl kept leading him to in his dreams. He bought the doll and took it to her gravesite. At that moment he felt that the soul of the girl pass in to the doll and finally found peace. To this day locals and tourists alike come from everywhere to see the doll in its shrine, bringing it offerings and gifts hoping that the spirit of the girl will grant them luck and health.

If I have any complaint with the film, it’s that with this entry, the series is no longer about Robert. He’s always flanked by other dolls, but it’s not even that. This movie is about the Toymaker and the book. The dolls are really just windows dressing, an afterthought. Indeed, that renewed focus is reflected in the the original title; simply The Toymaker. When it was released in the US, it was rebranded Robert and the Toymaker to give it better brand recognition and a firmer connection to the rest of the series rather than just being the sidequel it should be considered.

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