“I think people are used to seeing a specific format when they watch movies and a specific way everything should look. This movie is not like that, and it’s going to make people feel a certain way.”
Nostalgia is a fun exercise, but its dangers lie in adopting our fondness for childhood into an impossible worldview. After all, you can daydream about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles all you want, but no amount of “Turtles Undercover” figures will ever reverse time. Move on.
In Super Toy Run, moving on is the hardest part. Director Aaron Brigman’s mockumentary is low-rent and intentionally so, revisiting the “history” of its faux subject Elias Lavalightning Thunda’cloud (Brigman, in a riotous wig) years after missing out on a Nickelodeon-sponsored shopping spree as a child. Now burned out, thousands of beers deep and hanging with his best bro (the affectionately nicknamed “D-Bag”), Eli gets a chance to redeem himself 20 years after his ill-fated toy run.
Dinging sitcom tropes in last year’s Squirts the Talking Pink Eye, Brigman has created another gruff, side-splitting send-up of genre and media that mixes “home video footage” with real photographs and a very earnest love of the 90s. Super Toy Run steps on its rose-colored sunglasses, only to wear them anyway before cracking a few cold ones.
For “5 Questions,” I talked with Brigman and his filmmaking partner Rogelio Garcia, who shares creative, screenwriting, and producing credits, in addition to starring in Super Toy Run:
1. You’re riffing on documentaries, home movies, and comedy, but it looks like you’re pulling from actual family photos, too. Did you insert any autobiographical elements in this?
Aaron Brigman: Yes, the pictures of Elias and “D-Bag” when they were younger are pictures of myself, my brother, and Matthew Finnigan, who played “D-Bag.” Also, the dates on the newspapers are my whole family’s birthdays.
2. You have so many weird, crude, colorful characters that feel very improvised.
Rogelio Garcia: I feel like the characters we had were the type you would expect to see in an actual documentary, [but] the pre-existing roles were colored by the people playing them. We are extremely lucky that our friends are really funny. This project in particular was very loose, and everyone involved had lots of room to play around with the basic ideas we gave them. So yeah, lots of improv.
AB: Rogelio had came up with a really funny idea years ago about a grown man who can’t get over the missed opportunity of a “Super Toy Run” 20 years ago. The first character we came up with was Elias. Then the best friend, who started out as just a coach, but Rogelio had the idea that “D-Bag” should be riding Elias’s coat tails. We knew we needed a mother [who] didn’t have to do much except not be the best at being a mother. Jacqui Wilson played her and did an absolutely amazing job. The Ricky Gonzales character came from the idea that somebody was going to have to take Elias’s spot. I didn’t have too many ideas for Ricky but the wonderfully talented Patrick Brhely nailed it. We thought it would be funny to have a Mike O’Malley but not that Mike O’Malley.
3. There’s an obviously disreputable element to your “subject,” but I’m curious about your aesthetic choices. His hair looks like a wig. Title cards are in on the jokes, introducing and then re-introducing characters with new nicknames. “VHS footage” looks grainy. There’s that shot where the lens is comicly out of focus. You seem to double-down on that slummy quality in your design choices, too.
RG: The wig? We aint the Shaw Bothers, we’re broke, homie. A lot of the slummy quality and design choices were authentic, maybe organic. Not all of it, but enough that I would say it was an afterthought. The style lends itself to a fair amount of sloppiness. Fake documentaries sorta need the rough edges to stay grounded in reality. If it was too polished, it might come across like an actual documentary. Icky.
AB: We don’t have money or a budget. We made this movie for like $80, which is always a hassle in trying to do something like this. That being said, that’s also the reason I wanted to do this because you don’t need a lot of money to make a documentary. I really think the filming lends itself to the subject matter. It’s definitely a silly story and little things like the wig and the VHS quality add something. I think people are used to seeing a specific format when they watch movies and a specific way everything should look. This movie is not like that, and it’s going to make people feel a certain way. Fingers crossed that the way people feel is happy AF.
4. You’re operating on virtually no budget, but part of Super Toy Run is dependent on memorabilia from a specific time period. How did you round all that up?
RG: Aaron and I are both toy collectors. We grew up on nickelodeon, too. I don’t think we ever ran into a problem rounding anything up. If anything, we left out a ton of toy stuff.
5. Since nostalgia informs so much of your humor, do you still have an affection for the 90s kitsch you’re riffing on here?
RG: Of course! Everybody wants to think that their childhood was the best time to be a kid. Unless they’re in their late twenties or early thirties, they’re fools. When Ronald Reagan did whatever he did with the anti-trust laws that made it okay to market to children, he accidentally made TV and toys so much more important in the eyes of kids across the country. It started in the 80s but bled into the early 90s. I’m probably brainwashed to consume, but I’m kinda ok with it. I wish we did more with music and clothes. If Elias had Reebok pumps or Bugle Boy jeans. I’m gonna go find an INXS tape to put in my Walkman now.
AB: What Rogelio said.
- Super Toy Run plays as part of “Beyond the Pale” on Fri, Apr 15 at 9:00p in the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.