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At The Movies: ‘M3GAN’: Bot gone bad

The evil doll has a long-running role in the horror-film genre.

The latest entry is “M3GAN,” as in Model 3 Generative Android, who though facially resembling one of the Olsen Twins (I say Ashley Olsen) is at her heart a droid full of wires, circuit boards and computer chips.

M3GAN somehow avoided the supply-chain shortage.

A combination of actor motion-capture, puppets and computer-generated imagery makes the evil dolls of contemporary cinema more and more believable and scary.

Take a look at “Child’s Play” (1988), “Puppet Master” (1989), “Dolly Dearest” (1991), ”Bride of Chucky” (1998) and “Annabelle: Creation” (2017).

“M3GAN “ advances the manic Muppets genre even more.

We’ve come a long way from the days of Buffalo Bill and Howdy Doody (TV’s “The Howdy Doody Show,” 1947-1960), Edgar Bergin and Charlie McCarthy, Mortimer Snerd (movie roles, 1938-1979), Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney, Knucklehead Smiff (“The Paul Winchell Show,” 1950-1961). They were creepy in their own wooden way (I am referring to the puppets, not the puppeteers).

And there’s “Pinocchio,” but that’s a whole other story (“The Adventures of Pinocchio,” 1883, by Italian writer Carlo Collodi).

“M3GAN” takes the deadly doll to even scarier, more socially-relevant heights and absurdly-dark comedic depths.

She’s a robot, engineered to be a toy-doll companion. Imbued with Artificial Intelligence, she develops a mind of her own. She’s not about to pick up a broom and help sweep the floor, pitch in to make the bed or help bake Toll House cookies.

With M3GAN, it’s computer chips ahoy.

We’ve come a long way from the friendly, helpful robots of “Short Circuit” (1986) when Johnny 5 befriended Ally Sheedy, and “Forbidden Planet” (1956), with Robbie the Robot, who, as with many movie stars, made the transition to TV on “Lost In Space” (1965).

M3GAN” is more “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” (2001), the legendary Stanley Kubrick film that languished before director Steven Spielberg finally brought to the big screen.

In “M3GAN,” Gemma (Allison Williams) is a robotics engineer who heads a project development team at a fictional Seattle, Wash., toy company that has created M3GAN (Amie Donald; voice by Jenna Davis), a doll so lifelike it’s taken for a real girl. The company’s head, David (Ronny Chieng) wants to market the doll in time for the holiday season.

When her sister and brother-in-law die in a car crash, Gemma becomes guardian of her eight-year-old niece, Cady (Violet McGraw). To provide the bereaved girl with a playmate, Gemma brings home M3GAN, who bonds quickly and becomes very protective of Cady.

An annoying neighbor, a barking dog, and a school bully soon learn how protective M3GAN is. The local police and toy company officials learn, too.

“M3GAN,” a nifty horror film with a touch of a Hitchcockian psychological thriller, merges the concept of a possessed doll and bot gone bad.

It’s quite a clever “scream play” by Akela Cooper (screenplay, “Malignant,” 2021) from a story by Cooper and James Wan (producer, “Annabelle,” 2014; director, “Furious 7,” 2015; director, “Insidious,” 2010; director, ”Saw,” 2004) with economical direction by Gerard Johnstone (director, “Housebound,” 2014) and excellent cinematography by Simon Raby, editing by Jeff McEvoy and soundtrack by Anthony Willis.

Allison Williams is terrific as Gemma, a workaholic who comes to rue some of her lifestyle choices. Williams (“The Perfection,” 2018; “Get Out,” 2017; TV’s “Girls,” 2012-2017) conveys the arc of her character from cool professional to worried mother, anchoring the film with a empathetic and believable performance.

The actor (Amie Donald), voice actor (Jenna Davis) and animation, special effects and technical crew behind the character of “M3GAN“ have done incredible work.

Horror films are cautionary tales. “M3GAN” is no different. It’s “Annabelle” meets “A.I.” meets “Frankenstein.”

“M3GAN” infers that we should not depend on technology to solve our personal problems.

We’ve come a long way from children pulling the string on Mattel’s Chatty Cathy doll (1959 - 1965).

Or have we?


MPAA rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned: Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.) for violent content and terror, some strong language and a suggestive reference; Genre: Horror, Science-Fiction, Thriller; Run Time: 1 hr.; 42 mins. Distributed by Universal Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous:

The “M3GAN” end credits include the song, ”Silicon Chip,” written and sung by Basil Kirchin. In the movie, M3GAN sings “Tell Me Your Dreams,” written by Anthony Willis and Gerard Johnstone and sung by Jenna Davis. Filming took place in place in Los Angeles, Calif., and Auckland, New Zealand. A sequel, “M3GAN 2.0,” is scheduled for released in 2025.

At The Movies:

“M3GAN” was seen in the standard format at AMC Center Valley 16.

Theatrical Movie Domestic Box Office,

Jan. 20 - 22: “Avatar: The Way of Water” continued at No. 1 for six weeks in a row, $20 million in 3,790 theaters, $598.2 million, six weeks.

2. “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” moved up one place, $11.5 million in 3,611 theaters, $126.4 million, six weeks. 3. “M3GAN” dropped one place, $9.8 million in 3,628 theaters, $73.2 million, three weeks. 4. “Missing,” opening, $9.3 million in 3,025 theaters. 5. “A Man Called Otto” dropped one place, $9 million in 3,802 theaters, $35.3 million, four weeks. 6. “Plane” dropped one place, $5.2 million in 3,060 theaters, $19.4 million, two weeks. 7. “House Party” dropped one place, $1.7 million in 1,400 theaters, $7.1 million, two weeks. 8. “That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime the Movie: Scarlet Bond,” opening, $1.4 million in 1,473 theaters. 9. “The Whale” dropped one place, $1.2 million in 1,591 theaters, $13.1 million, seven weeks. 10. “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” dropped three places, $1.2 million in 1,591 theaters, $451.7 million, 11 weeks.

Movie box office information from Box Office Mojo as of Jan. 22 is subject to change.


Jan. 27:

“Maybe I Do,” PG-13:

Michael Jacobs directs Emma Roberts, Luke Bracey, Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, William H. Macy, Diane Keaton in the Romance Comedy. A young couple decides it’s time to meet the parents, who already know each other.

Movie opening date information from Internet Movie Database as of Jan. 22 is subject to change.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY UNIVERSAL PICTURES M3GAN's neighborhood: “Won't you be my neighbor?” From left: M3GAN (Amie Donald; voice by Jenna Davis), Cady (Violet McGraw), “M3GAN.”