Netflix has another winner with the new show The Toys That Made Us. Set to be an 8 part documentary series, 4 of the episodes are already up and ready for viewing. You will most likely want to binge watch this show. It’s simply amazing. As a former toy collector and dealer, and a super fan of 80’s pop-culture, this was just so much fun!
So far the four episodes that are up cover Star Wars, Barbie, He-Man, and GI Joe. Each show starts off with a fun, cheeky, and slightly catchy tune, about “The Toys That Made Us.” Then each episode takes you back in time to an “aha!” moment from the beginning of each toy line. The rest of the episode explains how the toys began, where they went, and how they ended up in today’s market. My favorite part is that they got the original toy designers, marketers, CEO’s, etc. to come on and tell the viewer how our favorite toys came to be.
Episode 1: Star Wars
Don’t panic, this “Episode 1” isn’t a “Menace,” although they do discuss Star Wars: Episode 1 later in the episode. Without spoiling too much for you, this episode is about how the Star Wars toy line came into existence. How Kenner’s lawyer (with a sense of humor) got them to agree to an incredible profit margin. And where the toys went when Hasbro purchased Kenner. It also explains how 3 3/4″ “action figures” came into being. If nothing else, it was simply amazing to see all the original toys and the rocket launching Boba Fett! The amount of these toys sold and the financials are amazing.
Also the “bootleg” figures were worth the watch all on their own.
Episode 2: Barbie
Barbie has been around for decades and her back story was a bit different and a lot more risque that I thought. Also, I know a lot of collectors like the original, but I’m so glad she doesn’t look like she did in the 50’s anymore. That face mold always freaked me out.
This episode takes a look at the struggles that her “creators” faced when getting Barbie to market. Apparently pointy breasts on dolls was a “no no” to the male dominated industry. Luckily, they found an angle that mothers could get behind and would support. My favorite part was where they discussed the three different “package” designs they had for the original Ken. Just watch, and you will see what I mean.
I was disappointed in the fact that they did mention Barbie’s competition in Jem, Monster High and Bratz, but they didn’t do more with the Jem segment than what they did. I loved Barbie, but I really loved Jem. They really glossed over the Monster High dolls too, which is interesting because I believe they outsold Barbie for a time. It was most likely skimmed over because it was a much more recent line, and the show is based on nostalgia.
Episode 3: He-Man
I think this one was my favorite episode, but also the one that irritated me a bit, as I will explain later. This episode talks about why Mattel created the He-Man line, what the inspirations were for it and how they got the iconic name “He-Man: Masters of the Universe” and how the creators felt about the name.
I will say that the members of the team behind this line are entertaining and fun. The story about how the mini comics came to be and why there was a television show is worth the watch. I used to watch He-man and She-ra all the time. I loved seeing all the toys and hearing how they came to be.
So why am I irritated? Well they barely cover She-ra: Princess of Power. She-ra deserved more coverage than she gets, and they actually kind of blame her for the downfall of the line. But it’s probably more to do with 1. The rise of gaming systems 2. That “movie.” 3.The fact that the later ideas for He-man toys were frankly kind of dumb and 4. They kept selling new figures, but didn’t keep the core figures up for kids to buy. It’s great if you can get a Stinkor, or a Sy-Klone, but kids who were new to the line couldn’t get He-man or Skeletor. That probably had a lot to do with the drop in sales. My husband talks of seeing the discounts and a wall of Scareglows at $1.00 each and how he regrets not buying them all. But my point is that She-ra deserved more discussion and she didn’t kill off the line.
Episode 4: GI Joe
Yo Joe! The final episode that is up in the series discusses the history of GI Joe. How it went from a pitch of “Barbies for boys” led to the “action figures” name they adopted. How figures went from Barbie sized to the smaller figures and how the comics and television show resurrected the toy line in the 80’s. I remember being so excited to come home and watch that night’s mini-series episode. What made it extra fun for me was that I was the only red-headed girl in my class, so guess who got to be Scarlet at recess every day.
The team that brought us the smaller figures in the 80’s were on hand to discuss where it all came from and how Cobra came into being. Again, as a person who grew up with these toys, it was so great to see the people behind them tell their stories!
Overall the show is simply fantastic. Watching each episode, and remembering these toys from when I was a kid brought me joy, and fun, and nostalgia, and loss, and….pride. I was really proud to have been there and played with these toys.
If you have some time, I would clear a few hours, pop some popcorn (or grab your favorite snack) and binge watch these. You might want to stay off eBay afterwards though.