In the absurdity of the Beanie Baby craze, filmmakers found a rich tale about America

July 18, 2023   -Economic bubbles come in all shapes, sizes and levels of insanity, but the Beanie Baby craze was easily one of the most absurd.

The cuddly $5 toys, under-stuffed for maximum hug-ability, stamped with cute names on their Ty, Inc. tags, and given limited edition runs ignited a surreal frenzy in America in the mid-1990s as regular people collected, traded and sold the toys with the hopes that their value would just keep going up at the dawn of the e-commerce age. It made some people money, and the founder, Ty Warner, a billionaire in three years.

When it burst, it also left many in the red. But unlike most bubbles, this one ended with piles of under-stuffed animals in the attic.

Personal feelings about or even knowledge about the Beanie Baby moment have everything to do with your age between the years of 1996 and 2000. For screenwriter Kristin Gore and OK Go musician Damian Kulash, Jr., around college age at the time, it couldn’t have been less exciting.

“We were perfectly situated to not care,” Kulash said. “We were too old to be the target demo and too young to be in the investing class, but also snotty and contrarian enough to be like, this is crazy. It was exactly the kind of thing we were rolling out eyes at at the time.”

But a few years ago Gore was given the book “The Great Beanie Baby Bubble: Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute,” by Zac Bissonnette, as a possible adaptation. In it, she found a riveting story of dreams, greed and corruption in the stories of three women around Ty Warner— one of his earliest business partners, a girlfriend whose two daughters help inspire some of the toys, and a young college student in a minimum wage position who literally put the company online. Not only did she want to write the screenplay, she wanted to direct it with Kulash as their debut.

“The only drawback was that it appeared to be from the outside about a product,” said Kulash, who is also married to and shares children with Gore, the daughter of former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.

But within this wild, contained story, they both saw big, relevant themes about the culture, cycles of inequality and the female relationship to the American dream. In other words, “The Beanie Bubble” is not a story about a toy.

To play Ty Warner, the enigmatic founder of the company, they went to someone they knew: Zach Galifianakis.

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