Three decades ago, a ferocious little doll named Chucky became a bonafide horror star when he debuted in 1988’s Child’s Play. He was “your friend to the end,” a nightmarish spin on the fads of the era — Cabbage Patch Kids and Teddy Ruxpin, among others. That’s a small reason why a remake in 2019 makes no sense. Nobody’s playing with creepy dolls at the moment.
A big reason why Child’s Play 2019 makes no sense is nobody wanted it. Creator and franchise steward Don Mancini refused to be involved. Actors Brad Dourif and Jennifer Tilly voiced their opposition. But the rights belong to MGM/UA and they had a script by the Polaroid team of writer Tyler Burton Smith and director Lars Klevberg. So the story behind the film is better than the film itself. Remakes are rarely made without some kind of blessing by the original creator.
As Chucky fans grapple with the ethics behind seeing this traitorous new Child’s Play, they can take solace in a few things: Mark Hamill voices Chucky and animatronic dolls are used in the film. Everything else is different, however. Andy is now 14 years old which makes his toy doll a pathetic companion. And Chucky is a psychotically jealous broken robot — a cross between Alex Forrest and the T-800.
In the original, a serial killer uses voodoo to transport his dying soul to a “Good Guys” doll, but the remake is less ambitious. A disgruntled factory worker tampers with a lone “Buddi” doll before committing suicide somewhere in Vietnam. The doll, of course, makes its way into the home of Zed-Mart clerk Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza) and her son, Andy (Gabriel Bateman). They just moved and Karen’s new boyfriend is the worst so life sucks for Andy, but he likes his new doll, who names itself “Chucky.”
Andy and Chucky become buds and Child’s Play is at its best in these early scenes. Teaming the kid and the doll, which never happens in the original, is more in the spirit of the increasingly ridiculous sequels, which lean into Chucky’s sense of humor. Chucky is way more likable in 2019. He wants Andy to like him so it’s endearing to watch him learn curse words and take normal tasks in weird and very wrong directions while trying to win Andy’s heart. Chucky’s behavior gets increasingly severe and violent as he becomes more attached. The film goes off the rails by the end, but getting there is pretty fun. Horror fans won’t be scared much, but the gore factor is high, even if the thrills aren’t.
Fear of technology has been done to death. The original Child’s Play remains a much scarier, straight horror movie than the 2019 remake/reboot. Chucky fans can also take solace in that fact. The new one started out as a rogue cash grab, but it’s worth checking out if you love the franchise. The casting of Hamill (who once voiced Chucky on Robot Chicken and won fans as the Joker on Batman: The Animated Series) was a savvy, fan-neutralizing maneuver. He’s great as the new Chucky, funny and wicked. The story leaves much to be desired but that’s to be expected.
It never really made sense to remake Child’s Play. The one reason would be to revamp Chucky completely behind the vision of a true artist. (Where’s H. R. Giger when you need him?) That doesn’t happen here. The new doll isn’t much different from the original, and certainly not as scary. In the end, MGM/UA probably should’ve put their trust in Mancini. That was the original plan, but the studio went another direction. This new reboot only makes me wonder what the original team could’ve pulled off with the same budget.