Movies that are based on toys are often viewed as nothing more than shallow commercials for products, but can they be more?
Movies that are based around toys or other consumer products often get a bad reputation. They are typically viewed as glorified commercials were selling specific items is more important than story and character. These films are often viewed as a lower form of art or, by some, not seen as art at all.
To a certain degree, I can see where this is coming from. Like video game movies, this sub-genre (if you can call it that) often proves that mentality right time and time again with duds like "The Emoji Movie" or any of the Michael Bay directed "Transformers" movies. While this sub-genre often has more duds in it than gems, it's the mentality that any film based on toys or consumers can never be "high art" is one I disagree with.
Some see the problem as one that is inherent to these "toy films". Isn't basing your film off of a toy/product what turns it into a commercial in the first place? When you create a film around an existing product currently being sold, and you have to agree with the terms set by the company that owns the product on how to present it, are you not compromised artistically? These questions lead to the idea that any film based on a product cannot be "high art" do to the inherent nature of basing a film around that corporate product.
They would have you believe that there are no good films based on toys/products, which is just not true. One of the best examples of a great "toy film" is "The Lego Movie". The film is literally named after the toy it's based on and yet it feels like anything but a glorified commercial just trying to sell a product.
This film features great characters, hilariously absurd gags, and a touching story. Interestingly enough the product that the film is based around actually enhances the story. The story revolves around themes such as creativity and nonconformity and what better way to express that than using a toy like Lego. Being able to create whatever wild thing pops into your head from plastic blocks is the main appeal of Legos.
While I used the Michael Bay directed "Transformers" films as a negative example earlier, the recent spin-off "Bumblebee" looks like it might be a good film. While I have not seen it yet, and cannot make full judgement, I saw more likable characters, emotion, heart, creativity, and sincerity in that trailer than in all of the Michael Bay "Transformers" films combined. That trailer, alone, has done something I never thought possible over the last decade, it made me genuinely excited for a "Transformers" movie.
While these films are often the exception to the rule when it comes to "toy films" they do prove that making an engaging and emotional film based around existing products is possible. Art based on certain products should not just be dismissed out of hand. Decades ago nobody thought anything good could come from films based on seemingly "low" material like comic books, and look at where we are now.