The Fake Commercial That Opens M3GAN Is Hilarious And Horrifying

As an adult (I assume, dear reader, that you are of adult age — if not, go do your homework, kid!), have you ever watched commercials for children's toys? On average, they tend to be somewhat surreal 30-second spots, as if beamed in from another universe. If the toy advertising craze began in earnest during the 1980s, the commercials for kids' toys ever since then seem like those old spots have grown bafflingly out of control.

Speaking of toys going out of control, the new film "M3GAN," which became a smash hit over this past weekend, concerns a prototype android constructed by Gemma (Allison Williams) that, she hopes, will become her company's new must-have toy, a "doll" that uses advanced A.I. algorithms to become a companion and caregiver to its child owner. Of course, in true Hal 9000/Michael Crichton fashion, M3GAN goes haywire, endangering Gemma's niece Cady (Violet McGraw), and anyone who gets in her way.

Yet "M3GAN" proves right from the start that something is rotten in the state of toy-manufacturing-Denmark. The film opens with a faux commercial for Gemma's first, highly successful foray into toy making, "PurrPetual Petz," an ad that hilariously and brilliantly sets up the film and its theme of children's entertainment run amok.

The horrifyingly cute Purrpetual Petz

The commercial for "PurrPetual Petz" is obviously intended to be an in-universe artifact, yet director Gerard Johnstone and writer Akela Cooper throw subtlety out the window with the fake commercial immediately. Right off the bat, the commercial is where we learn that the fictional toy company in the film is named "Funki," which is both a riff on the real-life popular collectibles manufacturer "Funko" as well as a play on the word "funky," as used to mean something that smells off.

And something is quite definitely off about the PurrPetual Petz. They appear to be an unholy combination of two decidedly odd real-life toy crazes from the late '90s: the Furby, a Mogwai-like creature who was programmed to react to their owners and "grow" by learning whatever language their owners spoke, and the Tamagotchi, a digital pet who must be observed and cared for a la an organic pet. The PurrPetual Petz certainly look demented, even borderline demonic, foreshadowing M3GAN's uncanny valley-esque death stare.

Cooper gives the Petz a decidedly 21st-century spin, however: they're controlled and maintained from an iPad-like device (one that's also manufactured by, you guessed it, Funki), where kids can buy all sorts of accessories and outfits for their Petz through any number of microtransactions. There's also a very literal side effect for all that potential excess: if the Petz are overfed, they "poop" little pellets everywhere. Nothing says fun like feces!

'They'll live longer than you'

In addition to being obnoxious and creepy-looking, the PurrPetual Petz have a disturbingly insidious subtext. As the commercial's cheery voiceover jingle states, the Purrpetual Petz are better than real-life pets because "they'll live longer than you." To drive the point home even further, the commercial begins with a little girl distraught over the death of her real-life pet dog, sobbing over the pup's grave.

This is an early example of the way "M3GAN" layers on the satire. On one level, the dog's death and the voiceover are indicative of the "hard sell" tactics of the commercial world. On another, the moment foreshadows the death of Gemma's neighbor's dog at M3GAN's hands. On yet another, it sets up the film's themes of mortality, both the natural occurrence and the way M3GAN is unnaturally immortal while doling out death herself.

'Sometimes I just want to let loose and have some fun'

One of the joys of "M3GAN" is the way it plays with tone. It's a "fun horror" film that is, underneath all the camp and satire, a very incisive and formidable sci-fi thriller. Making such a sleight-of-hand tone look easy seems to come naturally to Johnstone — speaking to /Film's BJ Colangelo, the director explained that constructing these clever moments "just comes down to what I would like to see in the movie. And if I would like to see something that's played a little bit straighter, then I really work hard on that, making sure that the tone is very specific. But sometimes I just want to let loose and have some fun and do something that's really bonkers."

The "PurrPetual Petz" commercial certainly qualifies as "bonkers," and joins a proud legion of toy commercial parodies (hello, "Happy Fun Ball") to commercial satires in other films, ranging from "Child's Play" to last month's "Christmas Bloody Christmas," which similarly opened with a faux commercial for a deadly robot toy. Yet the "Petz" commercial in "M3GAN" seems to hew closest to carrying on the tradition of Paul Verhoeven's "Robocop," which was stuffed with similarly unsubtle, unsettling, and hilarious fake ads. "M3GAN" may even do "Robocop" one better — where the latter film was set in an indeterminate near-future dystopia, "M3GAN" is set in the here and now. The dystopia may already be here, the film implies, and it'll live longer than you.