It’s hard to overstate the value that the Child’s Play series has had. Yet it often goes underappreciated because an evil doll is seen as just silly. In some respect, the naysayers are right. A doll, possessed by the spirit of a serial killer, through the use of a voodoo ritual, is silly. However, though the cinematography, music, and above all the character that actor Brad Dourif gives to Chucky elevated the original films to pop culture immortality. So then one has to ask: can a reboot, which changes so much, come close to matching the original? Well…
Child’s Play (2019) is directed by Lars Klevberg (Polaroid) and written by Tyler Burton Smith (Sleeping Dogs, Quantum Break). It stars Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation, Legion), Gabriel Batemen (Lights Out, Annabelle), and Mark Hamill (Star Wars: Episode IV, Batman: The Animated Series) as the voice of Chucky.
The premise of the original Child’s Play was that a serial killer, to escape death, used voodoo magic to transfer his soul into a doll. Chucky would come to find that the only person he can transfer his soul to is that of the first person he revealed himself to: six year old Andy Barclay. A ridiculous premise, certainly, but a unique one. For the 2019 reboot of Child’s Play, there is no evil killer’s soul, there is no voodoo magic, there isn’t any real malice at all. All Chucky is is some crossed wires and faulty programming. A defective Buddi (changed from the Good Guy brand of the originals) comes into the possession of Andy (Gabriel Batemen), a tween living with his single mom, Karen (Aubrey Plaza).
The doll imprints on Andy, wishing for nothing more than to spend time with him and be his best friend. This is the same programming behind all Buddi dolls, but what makes Chucky (Mark Hamil) special is having all those learning and violence limiters taken off. This causes Chucky’s prime directive of love and friendship to become warped and corrupted. The doll operates on a lot of absolutes and literal interpretations. The children are seen laughing while watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre (which Chucky does learn some moves from), so Chucky interprets this to mean that killing people will make Andy happy. Anyone who stands between Andy and Chucky, be it an abusive boyfriend or angry cat, is someone Chucky must remove.
But it falls apart
Child’s Play does a good job of setting up stepping stones to get Chucky from being glitchy and defective to being deranged and murderous. It’s all in the name of Andy’s best interests, as far as Chucky can determine, so Chucky is never really evil. He does evil things, but he doesn’t do it with the delight and thrill that the original Chucky did. This Chucky is just technology run amok, making use of its cloud connectivity to control things from drones, to TVs, to table saws. Why a table saw has cloud connectivity is a mystery. It’s one of several gaps in logic the movie has, unfortunately.
In fact, Chucky doesn’t get to do much with his “power” of tech connectivity. He primarily uses it to taunt and scare, and rarely to kill. Honestly, it’s a missed opportunity. It felt like an inserted plot device, existing to make the doll “scarier.” Often, when talking about Chucky, people scoff at the idea of being scared of a doll. “Just kick it away!” they’ll say. But if a doll can control your electronics, from your phone to your lights, then it’s more like dealing with a super powered doll. It’s never really taken to that extreme, though.
There was skepticism in casting Aubrey Plaza as Karen, the single mother of Andy, in this remake. The actress is very young, certainly in appearance, so it was assumed an odd choice to have her play the mother of a teenager. However, the film does explain this away by saying she had Andy when she was very young. At another point, a character remarks that Andy’s “sister is hot.” So, even the film knows that Aubrey Plaza may be too young for the role. Though she does an excellent job, as the actress often does (seriously, go watch her in Legion), she doesn’t do a great job as a mother. Her behavior is more akin to an older sister than a mother.
The rest of the players
The child actors do a fine job playing believable kids. They are never annoying or unbelievable in their roles. Often, children act too innocent, regardless of age, in movies. However, this movie is one of the rare cases where the kids are clearly trying to act like adults, but falling short because they’re still, well kids. They curse, they watch gory movies, they make crass jokes. General real kid behavior. It’s refreshing. Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta, Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse) also does a bang-up job being an authoritative but fun detective. He knows when to joke around, but also when to get serious and take action. Of all the actors in the film, he was the most enjoyable.
The real star of the show
Of course, we have to discuss Mark Hamill as Chucky. There is no denying that Mark Hamill is an accomplished voice actor. He’s voiced hundreds of characters, but his most notable one is the Joker. So, though many were upset that Brad Dourif would not be returning as Chucky, hearing that Mark Hamill would be stepping was a nice surprise. Hamill can easily do menacing voices and evil laughter, two tenants of the original Chucky. However, in this film, he really doesn’t get to do either. Chucky’s voice is always at a soft and high, albeit somewhat creepy, tone. Chucky’s usually happy, even when killing. Perhaps it was an attempt to distance themselves from the original, to avoid comparison. But it’s impossible to not compare him to Brad Dourif, who knocks it out of the park while Mark Hamill’s performance simply gets him to first base.
Yes the gore is good. There were some interesting kills early on. However, by the end the kills became dull and uninteresting. Some CGI is used for when Chucky needs to be more mobile. Thankfully, the CGI is rarely used, because when it is, it’s bad.
Most of the special effects you’ll see are for Chucky himself. The original Chucky basically had two faces to him: the original doll, and Chucky himself when he revealed he was alive. There was a stark contrast between the two, and your mood changed depending on which you saw. Being able to look like a cute doll was part of Chucky’s arsenal. He could lure in victims who wanted to pick him up, while also dispelling suspicion that something so wholesome could ever be evil, much less alive. The Buddi doll in Child’s Play (2019) is creepy from start to finish.
In one of the movie’s few intelligent moments, Andy tries to teach Chucky how to look creepier to scare his mom’s boyfriend. Yet, in reality, Chucky just has to stand there to appear creepy. Even other characters remark on how creepy Chucky is. It’s never really believable that anyone would want this doll outside of the novelty of it connecting to their devices. Chucky doesn’t go through a physical change, either, to his appearance. The only marking to know that Chucky is in his “evil mode” is when his eyes glow red. Glowing red eyes is some absolutely lazy visual storytelling.
Look, Bear McCreary, the movie’s composer, is great at his profession. From God of War (2018) to Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009), he’s done some fantastic work. His work here, however, left much to be desired. That’s not to say he did a bad job. However, again, it’s impossible not to compare to the original’s score. The best way to sum it up is by providing two videos.
The first is the original main theme from 1990’s Child’s Play:
It’s a haunting melody, somberly eliciting the feeling of menace and innocence. There’s a dread that envelops the listener almost immediately. It comes from an era of amazing horror film theme songs. Now, for comparison, here is that theme, but covered by Bear McCreary for Child’s Play (2019):
It sounds like a joke. Either it’s a failed imitation or a mean spirited jab at the original. Even the main theme made for this 2019 remake has the same laughable uses of “la la la.” Then around the 50 second mark it tries to go harder, as if to say, “The original Child’s Play was too weak! We can do it better.”