Bankrupt by Beanie Babies

Film director Chris Robinson documents his Beanie Baby obsessed father in a kooky collector's nightmare

Beanie Photos

Circumventing the "one per family" rule and having ins with all the right people for clandestine releases – it begins to sound like the opening scene of a mafia movie. On the contrary, this is one very true life story of Chris Robinson and his father, who became obsessed with collecting Beanie Babies for their apparent value after their 1993 debut. "This is like admitting to a drug addiction," he confesses in the opening scene of the film. $100,000 deep in the Beanie Babies craze and the family noticed a problem: there was no return on investment.

Chris Robinson chose to direct a short doc about his family and their not-so-secret obsession in Bankrupt by Beanies. We spoke to him about the making of the film and their $100k mistake.

Dazed Digital: Can you describe how your childhood was affected by your father’s Beanie Baby collecting?

Chris Robinson: During the time we were actively collecting Beanie Babies, there really weren’t many aspects of our lives that weren’t affected by it. It became this all-consuming family activity, filling up any free time that wasn’t already earmarked for school or our youth hockey teams. Everyone that was close to us got roped in at some point. Cousins, friends, teammates that were unfortunate enough to carpool with us; if you came into contact with the Robinsons during the Beanie Baby days, you were recruited to buy at least one for the family collection.

DD: When did the collecting go from fun to serious?

Chris Robinson: It was almost overnight. The first Beanies were bought while my brother Christian and I were at a hockey camp during the summer. Our younger brother Taylor was with our parents in Boston and they happened to go into a shop that sold them. He wanted one and, being the baby, he got one. And then some idiot had to tell my dad that they were “valuable” and “collector’s items” and the whole thing snowballed from there. On our drive home from Massachusetts to Los Angeles I think we hit up at least twenty shops and picked up five of every one they had.

DD: Do you have any particular stories that stood out when you had to skip school?

Chris Robinson: The most extraordinary thing that happened was a friend going to the hospital because he ate too much McDonald’s. We were hitting a few of them each day, ordering Happy Meals to get the Teenie Beanies they were packing inside at the time. I’m pretty sure he lied and just said he was sick enough to go to the hospital, but when an adolescent boy would rather be hospitalized than eat McDonald’s something has gone horribly wrong.

DD: What’s the most extreme lengths you or your dad has gone to in order to secure a newly released Beanie?

Chris Robinson: My dad always had a man on the inside that would let him know when new stuff was coming in. I’m pretty sure they held a stake in Ty, because there were many times that my dad would go even further than usual and buy fifty instead of the usual five, all based on some “hot tip” he got about whatever new Beanies were coming out. He would load up the Suburban with every neighbor kid he could find and head down to the local Hallmark store with a wad of ten-dollar bills in his pocket. Everyone was instructed to not acknowledge each other and just get in and out as fast as possible. After we loaded up at one store we would just head to the next and repeat the process over and over.

DD: Why do you think Beanie Babies created such a craze, in a way never really seen since?

Chris Robinson: I think the biggest factor for us was the network of shop owners and collectors and how they seemed to work together to create this mythology behind the company and their release schedule. My father bought into everything these people were telling him about how valuable they were going to be and how exclusive some of them were, and he passed that along to us and created this excitement in our family about what we were doing. For a while there was a real belief that we were going to make money from collecting these, and I’m sure some other families thought the same thing. At least I hope that we weren’t the only ones.

The most extraordinary thing that happened was a friend going to the hospital because he ate too much McDonald’s. We were hitting a few of them each day, ordering Happy Meals to get the Teenie Beanies they were packing inside at the time

DD: Favourite Beanie?

Chris Robinson: I don’t really have a favorite, but the one that sticks out in my mind is the tie-dyed version of Batty the Bat. When it came out it was built up by the shop owners as this super-rare, “accidentally made” Beanie that was going to instantly be retired as it only came about by a mistake in the manufacturing process. I’m pretty sure none of that was true, and I think they actually ended up being on the shelves for quite a while. 

I’m mostly just apathetic to them at this point. I see the whole time period as one of bonding with my family, despite it being an extraordinary waste of money that would have been better spent on pretty much anything else

DD: Are you still in the process of trying to sell the Beanies?

Chris Robinson: We actually never really tried selling them. We just collected them for a few years, finally saw the error in our ways, and then packed them away in hopes that maybe someday they’d rebound and we could get some money back. The plan going in was for them to pay for our college tuition, but it became pretty clear that wasn’t going to happen for us. Maybe by the time our kids graduate high school they’ll have made a comeback. Or we can just burn them for warmth in the event of the Apocalypse.

DD: What are your feelings towards beanie babies now? 

Chris Robinson: I’m mostly just apathetic to them at this point. I see the whole time period as one of bonding with my family, despite it being an extraordinary waste of money that would have been better spent on pretty much anything else. It was fun while it lasted, but then it was over and we got on with our lives.

DD: Will there ever be a full length feature?

Chris Robinson: I’ve played around with the idea before, but I would have to expand the scope quite a bit to pad it to feature length. There were some pre-conceived notions about what this time period did to my family that turned out to be completely unfounded, so the scope is actually smaller than what I had originally anticipated. I think that my other documentary short, Bastard: An Illegitimate Film, has much more potential for a feature treatment since it focuses on my dad’s many eccentricities throughout his life instead of this relatively short period of our family history.

That said, I have transitioned into writing scripted projects mostly and have adapted parts of both Bankrupt and Bastard into a television drama pilot. Being at the bottom of the writers’ room ladder I don’t expect it to go anywhere for a while, but if things work out in my career, the Beanie story could be expanded in a dramatized form in the future.

More Arts+Culture