Friend to the End: Child’s Play Reboot Wants to Play

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) announced the Child’s Play reboot almost two years ago, prompting instant backlash. Not surprisingly, series fans balked at the idea. First, creator Don Mancini and Brad Dourif, the voice of Chucky, had no involvement with the project. Even stranger was the fact that Mancini had recently revived Chucky with two well-received movies – Curse of Chucky and Cult of Chucky – along with an upcoming SyFy TV series. Then initial promotional shots of the updated Chucky inspired social media mockery. But the announcement that Mark Hamill would be voicing Chucky went a long ways to repairing the remake’s image. Now critics actually seem mildly pleased with the reboot.

Synopsis

Poor Andy Barclay. New home. No friends. And he can’t stand his mom’s boyfriend. To cheer him up, his mother, Karen brings home an early birthday present – a refurbished Buddi doll. Andy’s new best friend, Chucky, is an AI toy that can sync with any of a long line of compatible smart home technology. After his software programming short circuits Chucky goes to increasingly dangerous lengths to ‘protect’ Andy. Best friends to the end.

Child’s Play Remake Deftly Mixes Its Humor and Gore

The Child’s Play reboot gets a lot of things right. Arguably, the remake gets more right than it gets wrong. Lars Klevberg and Tyler Burton Smith, director and writer, respectively, have limited credits to their names. You may recall seeing trailers for Polaroid a year ago – Klevberg’s feature length debut still hasn’t been released. But the duo have a good handle on the concept and its inherent silliness. Child’s Play is a self-aware reboot boasting a surprising amount of dark humour. While Klevberg takes his time unleashing Chucky, the director doesn’t hold back. This Child’s Play embraces its slasher roots with some nasty gore. And Klevberg doesn’t turn his camera away from the stabbing and face-ripping.

Child’s Play is a self-aware reboot boasting a surprising amount of dark humour.

Where the Child’s Play reboot further succeeds is with its smart updating of the concept. No more serial killers, voodoo, and soul-stealing this time around. Burton Smith has upgraded Chucky to an AI doll that can sync with all your smart home technology. Yes, it’s a Chucky upgraded for a Siri and Alexa generation. Not only does this change make sense, it gives the 2019 Child’s Play its own identity. Additionally, the concept allows for some fun twists in the action and suspense. Unfortunately, Burton Smith’s screenplay doesn’t explore the dangers of smart home technology and connectivity enough to make Child’s Play a truly clever satire.

Reboot Doesn’t Always Sync Its Concept Successfully

Not everything with the Child’s Play reboot works. One of the more glaring problems concerns Chucky’s origins. While the voodoo angle may not have worked as well in 2019, a serial killer possessing an inanimate doll did have a certain creepiness factor. Most importantly, Charles Lee Ray’s inhabiting ‘Chucky’ organically drove the original movie’s story. In the remake, Chucky’s origin has something to do with a disgruntled employee in a Vietnamese sweatshop. It’s a lazy throwaway assembled before the movie’s title graces the screen.

It’s a lazy throwaway assembled before the movie’s title graces the screen.

As much as Chucky’s updating makes sense, the Child’s Play reboot does miss Charles Lee Ray’s personality in the plastic terror. For much of the movie, Chucky is a confused AI doll with its safety features turned off, imitating what he’s seen and told. Klevberg does give us on cleverly tense scene inspired by Tobe Hooper Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2. Chucky eventually shows off familiar menace and snark. But the movie’s early characterization may frustrate long-time Child’s Play fans.

Mark Hamill Capably Steps In For Dourif

Let’s face it, Brad Dourif will always be Chucky for a generation of horror fans. Nevertheless, if you had to substitute someone for Dourif, Mark Hamill was the best option. Outside of the Star Wars franchise, Hamill has made quite a career in voice casting. His work as The Joker has garnered him a lot of praise. In Child’s Play, Hamill slowly ramps up the performance, giving fans a truly nasty Chucky by the reboot’s fun climax. However, in a nice twist Hamill also inspires a little sympathy for his Chucky.

The Child’s Play cast is rounded out by a capable cast. Gabriel Bateman (Lights Out) makes for an excellent Andy Barclay. He gives us a character with whom audiences can identify and empathize. The other child actors – Beatrice Kitsos (Falyn) and Ty Consiglio – breath a little needed humor into the movie. Sadly, Child’s Play largely wastes Aubrey Plaza as Karen Barclay. Plaza is best when she’s playing eccentric characters, and her role is too conventional to stand out. If Child’s Play has another stand-out, it’s Brian Tyree Henry who’s fantastic in his supporting role.

Child’s Play Reboot a Worthy Update of a Classic

The Child’s Play reboot is by no means a perfect horror movie. Yet it’s also undoubtedly a surprise in the quality department. This is what a remake or reboot should do with its source material. The 2019 Child’s Play takes the basic premise and takes it in a fresh direction. As a result, the reboot stands on its own two feet as a distinct movie experience. Ultimately, Child’s Play is gory fun for horror fans.

THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: B+

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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