You’ll learn very little about the Child’s Play franchise from ‘Living With Chucky, ‘ a documentary about the Child’s Play franchise
The simplest way to describe Living with Chucky is that it’s a documentary about the Child’s Play film franchise. The problem with such an approach, though, is that most people don’t really know what Child’s Play is off the top of their heads. Chucky, though, now there’s a brand in and of itself- the murderous doll, probably at this point the single most iconic horror movie character just because he’s, well, he’s a murderous doll. It’s way easier to make a cute, colorful, and distinctive Halloween costume based off of Chucky than Freddy or Jason. You can dress up a kid as Chucky–or even a dog!
But Living with Chucky doesn’t really get into any of that, to the movie’s detriment. Kyra Elise Gardner, the daughter of Tony Gardner, a special effects artist with significant impact on Chucky’s original design, directs the movie. Because of that, by and large, Living with Chucky is less a documentary as it is a scrapbook. Kyra Elise Gardner has countless interviews with various cast and crew from the Child’s Play movies, yet no sense of historical perspective. The earliest scenes of Living with Chucky acknowledge that the whole concept of Chucky is a latecomer to horror genre films, with Child’s Play’s 1988 release coming on the tail end of a boom.
It’s worth noting that Child’s Play itself is a genuinely excellent movie, and while some of the interviews here are a little self-indulgent on the topic, they do effectively elucidate the core concept. Andy is a six year old kid, his mom gives him a popular toy that contains the spirit of an on-the-run murderer who was able to voodoo lightning his soul into the doll right before he died. Chucky himself is not that threatening. This is, indeed, the whole problem. No one will take Andy’s insistence that Chucky is doing evil seriously. The metaphor of consumer culture as a huge danger to children that no one will treat as credible because it looks harmless and sounds absurd has only gotten more relevant in the decades since Child’s Play originally appeared.
Child’s Play 2 in 1990 even expands on that theme, moving the story to a foster home where Andy once again can’t get adults to take him seriously, although the big sister figure Kyle does. Then Child’s Play 3 in 1991…has a now teenaged Andy go to military school? It’s a pretty bad movie, and it’s telling that Living with Chucky is barely even able to pretend like it has any kind of artistic merit, with the full Child’s Play 3 section lasting for only two minutes. The fact that the lead actors of Child’s Play 3 do not become important members of the Don Mancini’s Child’s Play family in the years to come is probably the real reason for the omission though- Kyra Elisa Gardner just didn’t have very many people she could talk to about Child’s Play 3.
It’s only with the fourth film, Bride of Chucky in 1998, that the actual purpose of Living with Chucky as a documentary becomes a little more clear. In the wake of Scream, the production team decided to go with self-parody as an angle. And if you’re a serious fan of the Child’s Play franchise, as opposed to a person who only even remembers that Chucky exists when it’s Halloween, this is the version of the character you’re most familiar with. Bride of Chucky, Seed of Chucky, Curse of Chucky, and Cult of Chucky were all increasingly elaborate in-jokes to hardcore Chucky aficionados, to the point that Kyra Elise Gardner barely even attempts to explain what any of these movies were actually about. Everybody was just really excited to make them, because they’re these goofy movies about a doll that kills people.
The trouble with Living with Chucky is that unless you already know and agree with the premise that it’s funny to listen to anecdotes about all the difference ways Brad Dourif menaces people in the Chucky voice, the documentary explains almost nothing about the franchise’s ongoing appeal. At best, horror movie professionals who the producers appear to have selected for interviews entirely at random just make vague subjective comments on why they liked the movies. These endorsements are so vague I’m skeptical that very many of the people interviewed had actually seen all of the movies, save for the interviewees who are explicitly a part of the Child’s Play family–the people who actually made the films.
This is an important aspect of the documentary’s scrapbook nature. The Child’s Play franchise is unique compared to other long-running slashers in that it’s maintained much of the core cast and crew. The Child’s Play franchise didn’t lurch along because the corporate rightsholder to the intellectual property demanded more sequels. They kept greenlighting these movies because Don Mancini was really hellbent on making more of them, even if it meant working on more and more of a shoestring budget with increasingly diminishing returns. In a hilarious and frustratingly underdiscussed note, the Child’s Play movies rely a lot on puppetry rather than computer graphics because the puppetry is actually cheaper. This also gives Chucky a really distinctive look in motion not generally seen in most horror genre films that’s very appealing to the franchise’s biggest fans.
This context is helpful for understanding the great Child’s Play reboot controversy–Don Mancini and friends weren’t involved in the 2019 film. This upset longtime fans of the franchise, probably the only people who cared Child’s Play to begin with, leading to a series of events that allowed Mancini to bring Chucky back as a 2021 cable TV show simply titled Chucky with the original crew back in charge. This is an interesting story which, and I really need to stress this here, does not show up in Living with Chucky at all. The documentary only briefly mentions the 2019 reboot and the 2021 TV series (which will soon get a third season) as footnotes at the very end. This is the closest thing the Child’s Play franchise has ever had to a real conflict, and it’s just not there.
I was terribly frustrated at just how little I learned from Living with Chucky, even bearing in mind the fact that I wasn’t exactly an expert on the franchise when I started watching,so I figured it wouldn’t be hard for me to learn something. Ultimately the main takeaway I got from Living with Chucky is that the weird meme about Chucky having a genderfluid kid is actually in the text of the movies. Kyra Elise Gardner does her best to make it seem like this was because the Child’s Play production team was forward-thinking, but the documentary’s unconvincing and scattershot presentation just makes it seem like a weird idea in a movie series filled with increasingly weird ideas that accidentally became kind of relevant years later far removed from that context. And that’s really about all Living with Chucky has to say about the Child’s Play franchise in general.