Plot: Connie (Melissa Joan Hart) runs a popular toy store in her small home town, but she has some competition, as Will (Mario Lopez) also has a well liked toy store, splitting business between the two rivals. As Christmas approaches, the two hope to reel in a haul of holiday cash, so the push to choose the best toys and offer a rich selection, including the rare and in demand gifts begins. But even as the rivals keep an eye on each other, they fail to notice a new threat to both businesses has arrived, a big box store with a larger stock and lower prices. The small town has been able to avoid the corporate mega store invasion to this point, but business whiz Roy Barnes (Billy Gardell) has found some loopholes and will be open for the Christmas season. Will Connie and Will be able to join forces and hope the town leaders can derail Roy’s takeover plan, or will this be the last Christmas for both stores?
Entertainment Value: This Lifetime holiday romance is brisk and quite fun, with a likable cast and some good performances. No one will mistake this for high art of course, but A Very Merry Toy Store knows it audience and delivers on all the usual holiday romance tropes, in enthusiastic fashion. The rivals turned romantic interest, the light family drama, the outsider threatening small town ideals, misunderstandings, and more, all of the elements you expect from a Lifetime or Hallmark Christmas movie, just given a fine polish. The story is of course predictable, but does what it needs to do and I liked how it had more humor than most films of this kind, which tend to put the emphasis on the romance angle. The romance is here, but the movie also offers a real charm through the comedy, which helps it rise above some of its peers. I will say that the premise is by no means an original one, so we’ve seen this before, but the film is able to execute the concept in slick, polished fashion, not to mention populate the screen with solid, colorful performers. This seems to be true of a lot of the Melissa Joan Hart produced Lifetime romances, which tend to have glossy production values and better than average casts to bring the stories to life. So if you like Lifetime or Hallmark Christmas movie, this one is well recommended.
I was very pleased to see Brian Dennehy in this ensemble and while his role is a smaller one, he is a welcome presence. He is able to ground his scenes and bring out the best in his costars, in a rock solid effort. I am a big Dennehy fan, so being able to see him in this kind of movie was interesting and to me, a testament to his skill and dedication to make the most of every role he lands in. I just wish he would have had more involvement, as he adds a lot to this movie. Melissa Joan Hart has the central role and as usual, she does quite well with this kind of material. I like that she is able to bring a little more attitude than most of the Lifetime/Hallmark romantic leads, which is reflected in how the humor is dialed up in most of her efforts in the genre. She and Mario Lopez don’t scorch the screen in terms of chemistry, but they play off each other well and both are likable, so there’s that. The choice of Billy Gardell as an over the top villain is a fun one that again, shows creative and interesting casting at work. The cast also includes Tara Strong, Beth Broderick, and Dan Amboyer.