Oh the 80s. How they brightened up our lives with gaudy colour, fuelled by booming business that meant consumers had money to burn. In the shadow of shoulder pad and perm, under the fine mist of hairspray, kids urged their newly well-heeled moms to buy them the steady stream of toys advertised on TV – loud, obnoxious commercials spellbinding young minds into trance-like states where the mantra was more, more, more. So it was that homes everywhere were filled with a steady stream of clutter, as if emanating from the TV screens themselves. And so it was that we got these dumb things to remember that decade by – testament to its by turns macho man and sickly-sweet decadence.
10. G.I. Joe
G.I. Joe sales were booming back in the 80s. Reagan was in power, and the prevailing gung-ho attitude ensured the launch of ‘A Real American Hero’ was always going to score a hit. The line saw well over 500 figures and 250 vehicles assemble on toy store shelves like the cannon fodder they were. Except, these were no ordinary grunts; they were the elite. And yet, mass produced in such large numbers, some of the toys were always going to suck. Among the lamest were a figure that immortalised star NFL lineman William “Refrigerator” Perry as a “physical training instructor” – his weapon: a steel football attached to a chain – and then there were whole task forces of OTT vehicles whose packaging featured the obligatory bunch of guys hanging off the back of a truck. Sir, yes sir!
9. Glo Worms
What to say about Glo Worms? They glowed. Big freaking deal. Riding the gravy train of 80s toy fever, Glo Worms were one of those now dimly recalled fads that burned brightly in the neon tubes of yesteryear before being squashed under the collective realization of how pointless and inane the little green inchworms for little brats were. A product of Hasbro’s Playskool team (those guys have a lot to answer for), they debuted in 1982. Their USP? Their bodies housed a battery-powered device that lit up the toy’s vinyl face when squeezed. Aww. Bin them. After early success, a ton of other merchandise like story books and night lights were released, further cluttering up already cluttered homes. Even Wendy’s jumped on the bandwagon, releasing the Glo Friends in 1989. We’d rather have a square burger.
8. Masters of the Universe
Aficionados may contend Mattel’s MOTU figures were where it was at. They’re wrong. He-Man and his cronies were the physical manifestation of the cheap, plastic cartoon series that followed. The figures were as rigid and clumsy as the animation, with awkward moving arms, and in Prince Adam’s case a puny twisting waist action powered by a feeble elastic band. Man-At-Arms, meanwhile, was stripped of the moustache the cartoon had made us all come to know and love – so it needed to be badly drawn on with a biro – and most of the figures were just repaints and head-swaps of existing characters, meaning they all had the same physique, just in different colours. The second wave of badass bad guys like Ram Man and Man-E-Faces were the only saving grace. Homoerotic plasticity.
7. Care Bears
Care Bears. Where do we start? These ‘classic’ toys – which came in both plastic and oh-so-cute-and-cuddly fluff ball form – were part of the general evil radiating from your sister’s bedroom if you grew up in the 80s. One of the most successful toy lines ever, they were also one of the most annoying. Each of the otherwise homogenous little horrors had its own color, plus a “tummy symbol” representing its ‘unique’ personality. So, looking down from shelf with faux-friendly eyes were characters like Cheer Bear, Funshine Bear and Friend Bear. I think I’m going to barf. Things got worse before they got better with movies and the introduction Care Bear Cousins – other animals added to the money-spinning family – but thankfully the popularity of the franchise had faded by the 90s.
6. Rambo Figures
Proof that young boys don’t care what the action figure looks like, so long as it’s a vaguely recognisable reproduction of their ill-advised choice of role models, we bring you the Rambo figures so beloved of so few during the 80s. These little plastic models never reached the heady sales figures of some of their peers, and there was a reason for this. The John Rambo of First Blood and its sequels was a psychotic killing machine. Period. It follows that any kid who wanted to buy bucket loads of the easily forgotten line of toys put on the market would be a good candidate for a visit to the child psychologist. Each Rambo figure was stacked up with its own arsenal, ideal for slaughtering the minions of any tiny commie country that chose to stand in his way. Tops off, of course.
5. My Little Pony
While Care Bears were the offspring of American Greetings, My Little Pony was spawned from the evil matrix of Hasbro – also the makers of G.I Joe and many others. My Little Pony was malevolence made material: fat little soft plastic horse figurines, their asses (no pun intended) stamped with symbols representing forgettable names like Minty, Star Catcher and Rainbow Dash. What did they do? They stood on four legs, grinning about the oncoming apocalypse, while young girls in pretty pink dresses stroked their colorful manes with accessories like plastic brushes – bane to many a bare foot in the hallway. Hugely popular all through the 80s, Pegasus and Unicorn ponies followed the original earthbound equines before a slew of even more nauseating makeovers. Whoa there, evil pony!
It’s a crappy state of affairs when all you’ll ever be remembered as – if you’re remembered at all – is the poor man’s Transformers. Recall how, as a kid, one of these insidious imposter robots would try and infiltrate your toy bucket by masquerading as cheap Autobot? Of course, you were never fooled. While Hasbro’s Transformers had the foundation of slick promotion, a cool cartoon and sophisticated manufacturing, Tomy’s Gobots had crummy names (compare Megatron, Starscream and Optimus Prime with Scooter, Dozer and Tank), blank identities, and too resembled the vehicles they turned into to make playing with them any fun. Yep, Gobots were no bots, and 1987 saw the production line grind to a halt – saving many more of the blocky figures from the ignominy of anonymity.
3. Get Along Gang Toys
The Get Along Gang: “Each one was so special in its own way” – until they didn’t toe the line, comply and conform to the collective will. The cartoon was all about gallingly shiny happy adventures, but considering how short-term the series was, the range of merchandise it spawned – notably stuffed toys and action figures made by Tomy – was rather too substantial for our taste. An ugly marriage of money making and laugh-out-loud morality. Yet while pre-adolescent anthropomorphic animal characters like Montgomery “Good News” Moose, Portia Porcupine and Bingo “Bet-It-All” Beaver all gratingly learned to overcome their faults in favor of group think, kids switched off, and the Get Along Gang toys gathered dust or found their way into the trash. Where they belonged.
2. MacGyver Figures
Now MacGyver was the thinking fan’s favorite TV action-adventure star of the 80s. Able to solve any problem thrown his way using only his trusty Swiss army knife, MacGyver was both resourceful and intelligent. Shame the same couldn’t be said for the douchebags who came up with his line of toys. Looking at the figure of our intrepid hero, there seems nothing essentially wrong with it, apart from its extreme flimsiness – but we’ll let that slide; after all this was a man of brains rather than brawn. No, what really took the crap toy cake was the “MacGyver Multitool” also made available to the public. “A paperclip can be a wonderful thing. More times than I can remember one of these has gotten me out of a tight spot,” read the packaging. Yeah and how much did it cost you MaGgyver? Rip-off doesn’t come close.
1. Cabbage Patch Dolls
Although the paunchy-faced Cabbage Patch dolls took root in the 1978, it was in the 80s that these repugnant little tots found their feet in the US toy market, mass manufactured by Coleco, then taken on by Hasbro and Mattel. With their doughy soft fabric bodies and big round vinyl heads, who could resist wanting a Cabbage Patch doll for Christmas? We could. Cabbage Patch dolls were big, we’ll give them that. They stood 14″ tall and their popularity was colossal. Among the many gimmicks were the Snacktime Kids, which had one-way metal rollers that ‘ate’ plastic snacks – and, controversially, kids’ fingers and hair. Urban legend has it that the dolls were designed to desensitize the public to the appearance of mutated children born in the aftermath of a nuclear war. We can believe it.