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The movie ‘The Beanie Bubble’ depicts people who make toys into a phenomenon

Remember Beanie Babies? The cute plush toys with adorable names like Legs the Frog, Squealer the Pig and Patti the Platypus that made people crazy in the 1990s?

They sell for only $5. But in the meantime you can resell plush toys on eBay for a lot more. Patti the Platypus in pristine condition once sold for $6,000. Brownie the Bear in pristine condition sells for $20,000.

Topping the charts: Princess the Bear, a Beanie Baby made in memory of Princess Diana after her untimely death in 1997, once sold for $500,000.

The Beanie Bubble burst in 2000. Before it burst, however, it was possible to make a killing by buying and selling Beanie Babies on the secondary market.

Things get weird around Beanie Babies: a truck carrying a toy that crashes and is mobbed by drivers stopping to pick up spilled Beanie Babies on the highway, the madness at a McDonald’s restaurant when Teenie Beanie Babies are offered in 1997 with Happy Meals. (One McDonald’s reported someone ordered 100 Happy Meals with Teenie Beanie Babies but asked the counter clerk to leave the food.)

Beanie Babies sitting on Chicago store shelves in 1999.

Beanie Babies and the chaos that surrounds them is the subject of the new movie “The Beanie Bubble”, releasing July 28 in theaters and on Apple TV+.

Directed by Kristin Gore (“Accidental Love”) and husband Damian Kulash Jr. (co-founder of the Chicago rock group OK Go), this is an account of the craze and the people behind it: Ty Warner, founder of the toy company Ty Inc., which created Beanie Babies (played by Zach Galifianakis), and three co-workers, each playing a major role in the Beanie Baby boom: Robbie (Elizabeth Banks), Sheila (Sarah Snook) and Maya (Geraldine Viswanathan).

Maya introduced Warner to the internet and eBay. He also created and maintains the Beanie Baby website. (Ty Inc. was one of the first companies to use a website to promote sales.)

Robbie, Sheila, and Maya are fictional characters, based in part on three women in Ty Warner’s life: Patricia Roche and Faith McGowan (Warner’s ex-girlfriend who was involved in his Beanie Baby business) and Lina Triveti, described by Zac Bissonnette in his book “The Great Beanie Baby Bubble” as “the $12 an hour sociology major that made Ty Warner a billionaire.”


Beanie Babies creator Ty Warner meets fans during the 2003 America’s International Toy Fair in New York City.

Chris Hondros/Getty Images

This film is adapted from Bissonnette’s book, but “The Beanie Bubble” is not a documentary. This is fiction firmly attached to the truth. Here’s how Gore and Kulash put it in the title card that appears at the start of “The Beanie Bubble”: “There’s a part of the truth you can’t make up. For the rest, we do it.”

Beanie Babies was born in Chicago in 1993, the brainchild of Warner, nicknamed the “Steve Jobs of plush.” It was Warner who came up with the innovation to make his stuffed animals less squishy, ​​packing them with just enough plastic beads so they fall in your hand when you hold them, but also making them highly poseable. What kids love. Before Beanie Babies, plush toys would regularly be packed so full of stuffing they looked like fluffy Thanksgiving turkeys.

The film depicts Warner as the narcissistic manipulator that many have portrayed. Galifianakis’ Warner will do anything to give her babies a mystique and make them stand out in the dense world of plush toys.

Warner created an artificial shortage by limiting the number of Beanie Babies any store could buy and by “retiring” some Beanie Babies over time. This creates a demand for retired babies that exceeds supply, increasing the toy’s value and encouraging people to buy Beanie Babies and then resell them at high prices.

One of its secondary markets is eBay, an e-commerce site started in 1995. Beanie Babies mania and eBay were made for each other. In 1998, Beanie Babies accounted for 10% of all sales on eBay. The average price for eBay Beanies is $30 — six times their original price.

There was a “sense of community created around these toys,” Banks said in an interview before the actors’ strike halted the stars’ promotional activities.

“No one in my family that I know collects it for money,” said the actor whose younger brother is a fan of Beanie. “It was about FOMO, the emotional and psychological connection to objects that people decide has value. So this is a ritual that humans do all the time.”

Beanie Babies mania would make for an interesting movie. But Gore’s script also made “The Beanie Bubble” a story about how Robbie, Sheila and Maya were changed by their relationship with Warner.

As someone who grew up in a working-class family, Banks said he was intrigued by how Gore’s script captured Robbie’s toughness.

“She had to cope with the very male-dominated world that she was in, to be innovative and manipulative and smart and wise,” Banks said. “And she has to be emotionally supportive of this partner, who isn’t doing the same for her.”

Robbie, like real-life Patricia Roche, helped found Ty Inc. with Warner and then made his fortune running the company’s UK branch.

“It’s a story that inspires me,” said Banks, “and I think it can inspire audiences.”

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Maya (Geraldine Viswanathan) introduces Ty (Zach Galifianakis) to the internet and eBay, important components for Beanie Baby marketing.

Similarly, Viswanathan said: “I thought the script was absolutely brilliant, it was a fun and upbeat packaging with dark truths in it. I’m also in touch with [Maya’s] many characters, just like someone trying to make it in the world and fighting for its value or fighting to be seen because of its value. Yes. And being kind of the underdog in this situation.

Robbie, Sheila, and May were each essential to Warner’s success, but Warner didn’t see it that way. He took the lion’s share of the credit for Beanie Babies’ success.

Warner’s dependence on and exploitation of women fascinated Banks.

“I’m really confused about this,” he said. “I read a lot about this, how Robbie was schooled by Ty in the story and about the psychological part of a woman playing a supporting role in a man’s world.

“I have played many supporting roles for men. As a woman, you are constantly trying to negotiate people’s egos and have ambitions of your own as well. But it’s not attractive to have a woman. So you’re negotiating that. And I really feel like all of those things are also things that this Robbie character is negotiating. And I think Kristin Gore, who adapted this, did an amazing job of instilling all of those ideas.

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Kristin Gore, a novelist and daughter of former Vice President Al Gore, wrote “The Beanie Bubble” for the screen and directed it with her husband, OK Go co-founder Damian Kulash Jr.

Former collector Andi Van Guilder once described Beanie Babies as “something so cute that brings out the worst in humanity”.

But “The Beanie Bubble” suggests the opposite too, in that the era brings out the best of the three women at the center of the film. Each one finds a skill to develop after the Beanie bubble.

Viswanathan’s message from the film is: “Just know your worth, and don’t give your power to someone who doesn’t see or value you the way you should be valued. Ty is brilliant in so many ways. And their partnership did produce some amazing things. What [Maya] learn from Ty? I think he’s got a lot of experience and business insight and being part of something from the ground up, I think that probably equipped him with a lot of skills that he’s going to use later on.”

Banks said: “The thing that inspires me the most about Robbie is that, when everything was taken from him, everything he thought he had built turned out to be nothing. But he didn’t lie down and took it. He got back up. And he found a way to stand on his own two feet.”

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