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MAKING FUN: THE STORY OF FUNKO Is a Tribute to Fan Diversity (Review)

MAKING FUN: THE STORY OF FUNKO Is a Tribute to Fan Diversity (Review)

The biggest revelation in Making Fun: The Story of Funko is one that seems unbelievable until you learn the reasoning behind it. When the company first introduced the Pop Vinyl–their now-signature style of block-headed and cutesified renditions of pretty much every familiar pop-culture character ever–loyal fans hated it.

Why? Because the Funko fanbase at the time was mostly men who liked the company for its nostalgic properties inspired by ’50s commercial mascots like Bob’s Big Boy and Quisp, and didn’t see the need for Batman characters based on plush toy designs. And why are they in every store everywhere now? Because, crucially, women and children loved them.

A change of management also may have contributed. Original founder Mike Becker went by a rule of thumb to never design anything based on perceived demand, but rather on what he personally liked, which was primarily vintage-styled items. When he felt burned out after seven years and sold the company to pal Brian Mariotti, expansions to big-ticket licenses like Star Wars started happening. As such acquisitions grew the company larger, there were simply more people liking more things as possible products.

Making Fun is partly about this success story, but like a cross between Netflix‘s The Toys That Made Us and Trekkies, it also focuses on the hardcore fans in many walks of life. This is an easier split to do with Funko than some other companies, as many of the earliest hardcore fans ended up working for the company anyway. The movie sells, in a big way, the notion that Funko is more about community and fun than actual toys, and this is one instance where the viewer can actually believe it might be true and not just a corporate line. One is also left wondering how long that can sustain if the company keeps growing–official website message boards where fans interact in a friendly matter are far more feasible on a small scale than when business picks up. McFarlane Toys, for example, no longer maintain a message board on Spawn.com as they did in the early days when they were mostly in the Spawn and Movie Maniacs business.

However, if you do collect a toy line that isn’t Funko, you may emerge from the movie wanting to find a similar community of your own (any fellow fans of 18-inch NECA figures out there?). The evolution in which nerd collectibles now build group friendships rather than ostracize you from them is a beautiful thing, as you already likely know if you’re reading this website. Celebrity fans spotlighted include Alice Cooper, discussing the customs fans make for him, and Tony Hawk, who has many suggestions for tweaking a proposed co-branded figure.

As with The Toys That Made Us, it’s impossible for hardcore toy fans not to spot omissions we wish would have been covered. How do they get the licenses for movies like A Clockwork Orange that would never have gotten toys before? At what point did they realize that stylization means you don’t have to pay for actor likeness rights? Are there fan-friendly solutions to the fact that it’s near-impossible to even approach their booth at Comic-Con without waiting all night for a wristband? And couldn’t we talk at all about ReAction figures, Funko’s version of the vintage Kenner Star Wars style? The likely answer on that last point is ReAction figures as a style are also owned by Super 7, another “by the fans, for the fans” small company that might have induced brand-confusion in viewers. But the real answer is that this is more love letter than business biography; it’s a movie meant to make the intended audience feel like part of something larger, and merely by treating them with basic respect, it succeeds. It’s also the rare happy story of a nerd favorite that didn’t suffer petty, immature backlash when the fanbase diversified from being primarily older dudes.

Non-fans may come away with a better understanding of the desire of grown adults to own toys; actual fans will want DVDs so they can freeze-frame scenes in the Funko offices looking for hints of future releases (there are a few). We were told this was a “director’s cut” and not necessarily the final release version; it sounds like more footage may be added if certain unspecified events come to pass, and existing scenes may be trimmed to make room. It’s hard to imagine, though, that any such changes would or could spoil the heart of what was shown at the premiere.

Four bobble-headed burritos out of five.

Images: Funko

Luke Y. Thompson is a film critic and toy reviewer who also seeks a larger collector community to be part of. Talk toys with him on Twitter.

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