Review: The Beanie Bubble Charts a Toy Phenomenon and Its Founders’ Epic Rise and Fall

You can add Beanie Babies to the growing list of cultural phenomena of a particular era that are getting a film origin story. Or, in the case of The Beanie Bubble, a birth-to-death story. On the surface, the movie looks something like a biography film about toy creator Ty Warner (Zach Galifianakis). In fact, this is the story of three important women in Warner’s life, whose ideas he stole or took advantage of, giving them almost no credit, and eventually disposing of them, much to his own detriment. In other words, The Beanie Bubble is a waiting game—waiting to see Warner’s billion-dollar toy empire blow up in his face because he didn’t listen to the smartest people in his world.

I believe somewhere in this movie, a statistic comes to light that at one point in history, 75 percent of all Americans owned at least one Beanie Baby, and I’m guessing there are entire generations who have no idea what this silly toy even is. But by producing limited runs of many of these stuffed animals with cute names, Ty Inc. made them collectables. And by having one of the first corporate websites in history, the company also made it possible for collectors to communicate and trade or sell Beanie Babies like stocks, creating a secondary market that fueled the growth of the primary one. And most of the ideas that made all of this rampant growth possible came from one of three people.

Elizabeth Banks plays Warner’s first partner, Robbie, who had enough great ideas to get the company off the ground and expand it at a reasonable, but still blindingly fast, rate. Eventually, Robbie also became Ty’s romantic interest, but as a business partner, they began as equals, until he thought she was getting a little too big for her britches and he reorganized the company while she was on a business trip, gutting her salary and her responsibilities. We quickly learn that Ty Warner could not only tap into the imagination of children to help his creative process, but he had the temperament and emotional maturity of an infant. He could be jealous, vindictive, and beyond petty for no other reason than he didn’t want to share the spotlight or let anyone think that his company’s best ideas didn’t come from him. But Ty was also weirdly charming, and people stuck with him well beyond the expiration date of their usefulness to him. 

The film jumps back and forth between the company’s early days in the 1980s and its boom years in the 1990s, although cleverly, the timelines do overlap toward the end of the movie. The women of the 1990s who dominated Warner’s world were single mother Sheila (Succession’s Sarah Snook), whose daughters were instrumental in creating some of the first top-selling Beanie Babies; and intern-turned-marketing powerhouse Maya (Geraldine Viswanathan), who is the highlight of The Beanie Bubble, unquestionably. Her explanation of the interview to Warner is an awards clip waiting to happen, and her thoughts about making Beanies collectable changed the face of business on several levels.

You kind of had to be there to really get the Beanie Baby era in history. The film opens with a road accident in which a semi-truck full of Beanie Babies spills out onto the highway, and people leap out of their cars to scoop up as many of the toys as possible without any regard for safety. I remember that story vividly, because I never owned a Beanie Baby, and I couldn’t fathom moronic behavior like that.

I don’t think I’m spoiling anything to say that eventually Ty Warner gets what’s coming to him. No, no one kills him; he’s still very much alive and very much still a billionaire, even after tanking his company by producing too many of every line of Beanie Baby, flooding the market, and making the collectors’ market worthless. The Beanie Bubble is a fascinating and utterly predictable story of greed, ego, and fragile manhood. But on the darker side, it’s a tale of taking women for granted, and these three (and probably many more) women put up with more than any humans should. They found ways to get their revenge to varying degrees, and the film presents these storylines in colorful, specifically structured segments, courtesy of husband-and-wife co-director Kristin Gore (making her directing debut) and Damian Kulash (the lead singer of the band OK GO, who also directs the band’s wildly creative videos). This is the true story behind the heart-shaped tag, and it’s more fascinating than one might expect.

The film is now streaming on Apply TV+.

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Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.