Growing up in the 90s, it was virtually impossible not to get caught up in the Beanie Babies craze. Adorable little understuffed creations with big personalities may seem commonplace today, but that was certainly not the case back then. Moms scoured store shelves to swoop up big-lipped fish and long-legged frogs like they were rare gold—mine included. An always-cute inscription inside each animal’s TY tag even served to give them a unique sense of self well before Build-A-Bear came onto the scene. Apple TV’s Beanie Bubble transports us back to the late 80s and early 90s, to the impetus of the Beanie boom for a fun slice of female empowerment. At the center of it all is not billionaire toy creator Ty Warner; instead, Beanie Bubble laser-focuses on three strong female figures orbiting Ty who helped shape the Beanie Babies brand.
In a rather baffling narrative choice, the script from Kristin Gore (who also co-directs with Damian Kulash) focuses on three different segments at the same time. The connective tissue tying them together is significant, but still feels a little off. In the earliest timeline, circa 1983, Robbie (Elizabeth Banks) throws around ideas about starting a business with her eccentric apartment neighbor, Ty Warner (Zach Galifianakis). Would anyone really want to buy stuffed cats? The other two stories both occur concurrently, beginning in 1993, and obviously finding Ty at a completely different stages of his company. Maya (Geraldine Viswanathan), who starts as a meager temp position while attending school, becomes something of a creative genius when it comes to the online portion of the TY brand. Separately, Sheila (Sarah Snook) is wooed by Ty when he starts sending stuffed animals for her two young girls to enjoy in spite of her initial reservations.
Beanie Bubble would make a perfect double feature with HBO Max’s documentary, Beanie Mania—both movies approach the phenomenon from different perspectives. For Beanie Bubble, we get a front row seat to the behind-the-scenes machinations of Ty Inc., whereas Beanie Mania explored the rabid collectors and suburban moms that helped fuel the explosion in popularity. Still, both feel slightly incomplete in their retellings, yet make a convincing companion piece whole. I would have loved further exploration of different iterations of the stuffed creatures, marketing deals, and perhaps even seeing one made from start to finish.
All three of the aforementioned storylines wonderfully set up different aspects of the overarching Beanie Babies story. Robbie represents the company’s beginnings and initial inception, whilst Maya is the marketing guru, and Sheila’s children are the creative muses. Behind the curtain of Ty Inc. proves to be complicated and eye-opening; though the film claims to have parts that are “made up,” the portrayal of Ty himself seems just as despicable as the real thing. Despite presenting as someone positive and bubbly on the surface, Warner was constantly taking credit for the ideas of others, and imposing terrible decision-making that would lead to the eventual Beanie downfall. Galifianakis delivers one of his best performances to date, while the trio of Banks, Snook, and Viswanathan is unbeatable. Beanie Bubble doubles down on messaging about building one’s own path, and not relying on anyone else to become your authentic self.
Burst the Beanie Bubble when the dramedy debuts in select theaters on Friday, July 21st, followed by a global release to Apple TV+ on July 28th.