Review: ‘The Beanie Bubble’ shows the rise and fall of Ty’s Beanie Babies empire

WTOP's Jason Fraley reviews 'The Beanie Bubble' (Part 1)

We’ve all seen the little, red, heart-shaped tags that read “Ty” attached to those cute-as-hell Beanie Babies.

Little did we know they sported the name of a manipulative, egotistical billionaire who stole countless ideas from the women in his life — and their creative children — on his way to the top before it all came crashing down.

At least, that’s the premise of the new Apple Original Movie “The Beanie Bubble,” now streaming on Apple TV+.

The film charts the rise and fall of Chicago toy manufacturer Ty Warner, who founds Ty Inc. in 1986, shifting from large stuffed animals to more malleable, travel-sized Beanie Babies in 1993, exploding into a $1 billion business. Along the way, he screws over his lover and partner Robbie (based on Patricia Roche), takes advantage of new girlfriend Sheila (based on Faith McGowan) and constantly undervalues his intern Maya (based on Lina Trivedi).

Since his hilarious breakthrough as Alan in “The Hangover” (2009), Zach Galifianakis has become a beloved bastion of comedy with his mock interview show “Between Two Ferns” (2008-present). He shows a completely different side as Ty Warner, receiving routine face-lifts to symbolize his superficial phoniness and bugging his offices with paranoia. The slimy role is a reminder that Galifianakis can play any part that he puts his mind to.

Elizabeth Banks similarly started in comedies such as “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” (2005), “Zack & Miri Make a Porno” (2008) and “Role Models” (2008) before showing versatility as the flamboyant Effie Trinket in “The Hunger Games” (2012-2015). This time, she evolves from Ty’s business partner to scorned lover, launching the toy empire in an ’80s timeline of hope that becomes a ’90s timeline of betrayal by reading the fine print. Robbie gets robbed.

The ’90s timeline also allows Sarah Snook to shine as Ty’s new girlfriend Sheila, a single mom of two kids who falls for his charms. Her first scene recalls the sarcasm of her cutthroat Shiv Roy in HBO’s “Succession,” but mostly the film shatters any typecasting by showing a lighter side of love and laughter before her imminent heartbreak. It’s a totally empathetic character, unlike Shiv, who we wanted to win for two seasons before making us hate her guts.

The most promising newcomer is Maya, played by Geraldine Viswanathan (“Bad Education”). As a hungry college student and inventive intern, she is the character we root for the most because she comes up with the most creative ideas: building a cutting-edge website, leveraging eBay sales, writing poems on the inside of the heart-shaped tags and making certain characters “Limited Editions” to drive up demand as collectors’ items.

Screenwriter Kristin Gore (“SNL,” “Futurama”) has produced before (“Foxcatcher”), but this marks her directorial debut, codirecting with husband and D.C. native Damian Kulash, frontman of the rock band OK Go. The married filmmakers strike the right tone of Ty’s creative romances, and just like Kulash’s Grammy-winning music video for “Here We Go Again” (2007), Gore finds dynamic ways to intercut timelines, shifting between the ’80s and ’90s.

At times, the jumping around might be confusing for casual viewers, but it also creates clever cuts such as a character opening a door only to shift to a different timeline of another door opening. While “The Godfather: Part II” (1974) remains the king of parallel timelines, it was recently done superbly in Bill Pohlad’s Beach Boys biopic “Love & Mercy” (2014), which is still my favorite Banks role as she convinces Brian Wilson: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?”

Ultimately, “The Beanie Bubble” loses a few points for not using the real women’s names, thus taking a few liberties like Hulu’s “Flamin’ Hot” about the Frito-Lay janitor inventing spicy Cheetos. It will also be unfairly compared to this year’s other making-of-product movies such as “Air,” “BlackBerry” and “Tetris,” not to mention the surprise phenomenon of “Barbie,” which could soon dethrone “Mario” as the year’s top-grossing flick.

Still, its uplifting feminist finale gives men their comeuppance, similar to “Promising Young Woman” (2020) or “She Said” (2022). Toward the end, Black secretary Rose (Tracey Bonner) tells Maya, “Your problem is that you don’t know you’re playing a rigged game, but at least you had the privilege of believing in the first place.” President Bill Clinton appears on TV during his impeachment as Ty quips, “He looks terrible. Look at the bags under his eyes!”

And just like that, the film captures the hope of a booming ’90s America that was about to come tumbling down.

3.5 stars

WTOP's Jason Fraley reviews 'The Beanie Bubble' (Part 2)
Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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