A Walk Down Memory Lane: Popular Toys From Our Childhood

By Miranda Moore

I’m not ashamed to admit that now that I am nearing the end of my undergrad days, I find myself missing those carefree days of my childhood. I grew up in the ‘90s when gas prices were low, the economy was stable and music videos were actually played on MTV.

With grad school upon me, I will be on my own to survive in our present struggling economy. When these fears get to me, I have several different methods to get these worries off of my mind. Like others, when the pressures of the adult world feel like they are closing in on me, I automatically think back to my childhood and one of the things we hold most dear to us when we were children—toys. Our childhood toys saw us through all the bruises, scrapes and rough times. In dedication to these juvenile relics, we are going back in time to take another look at them and also a few toys of today.

‘80s

Cabbage Patch Kids: So Ugly, They’re Cute

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These dolls were created in the late 1970s by American art student Xavier Roberts, according to the product’s website. The Cabbage Patch Kids line is described as being “so ugly, it’s cute”—my grandmother agrees with this. By the ‘80s it had became one of the most popular toys around and 30 years later, the dolls are still in production. The toys have had an unusual history, passing along Coleco, Hasbro, Mattel and Toys R Us to Play Along Toys, where they have remained since 2004.

The Cabbage Patch Kids may also be one of the few toys to ever get a parody toy made after them. Another popular ‘80s franchise, the Garbage Pail Kids trading cards parodied the dolls. Unfortunately because both are still in production, neither the Cabbage Patch Kids nor the Garbage Pail Kids are worth much today unless they are early versions of the dolls.

Masters of the Universe: He-Man and She-Ra

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This massive media franchise was launched by Mattel in late 1981 with the main premise revolving around the warrior He-Man and the evil Skeletor on the planet Eternia. Since its creation, the Masters of the Universe franchise has spawned six lines of action figures, four animated television series, several comic series and a feature film.

In 1985, Mattel decided to diversify the series and attract a young, female audience with the launch of the new line, Princess of Power. Headlining the successful experiment was He-Man’s sister, She-Ra. The toy line features almost exclusively female characters and focuses mainly on clothes and the use of “real hair.”

Just like the Cabbage Patch Kids, ‘80s versions of the He-Man toys aren’t worth very much. Since the ‘80s, He-Man has been rebooted several times on television and in toys. Receiving a reboot in 2002, the toys were redesigned in the likeness of the original toys from the ‘80s.

The Magical Plastic Ponies: My Little Pony

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Of all the ‘80s fads, did you think that the My Little Pony franchise would make the strongest comeback? Believe it or not, the 2011 reboot called, “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic,” is not only popular with its targeted young age group, but young adults are also falling in love with the magical ponies. Males and females alike love the ponies—the term to describe the male demographic is “bronies” and the ladies are “pegasisters.” But we all know that the ‘80s is where it really began.

The original colored plastic ponies were named: Minty, Snuzzle, Butterscotch, Bluebelle, Cotton Candy and Blossom, according to the Like Totally ‘80s website. The pony line of today still sticks with the original concept where their names correspond with the “cutie mark” displayed on their hips.

The My Little Pony line has many other products besides toys and television shows. Such products include books, several animated movies, puzzles, bedding and even in the ‘80s, a sewing machine.

‘90s

Feed and Groom a Digital Pet with a Tamagotchi

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What most people probably remember about their Tamagotchi was that it was always dying on them. For all of you who missed the craze or just plain forgot about it, Tamagotchi was one of the first virtual pets. It was a small, simple device that could be held in the palm of your hand and the product’s buttons simulated the virtual reality of feeding, grooming and caring for your pet.

The name “Tamagotchi” is the combination of the Japanese words for watch and egg, according to an archived Bandai document. The digital pet starts out as an egg that hatches into a bird-like creature. Depending on the quality of care the egg received, it would either grow into a kind, attractive creature or an ill-tempered monster.

A Tamagotchi needed a lot of care and just like a real pet it really didn’t care what you were doing at the time. Whenever the Tamagotchi needed anything the device would release a beeping sound that only got louder if you ignored it. If you just so happened to have the sound turned off then lights would flash to alert you.

Having a digital pet did have one big perk. True, they died just like a living, breathing animal, but by pushing the reset button on the back of the Tamagotchi, the creature would reset back to its egg stage. As you can imagine, because Bandai had so much success with this toy there were many imitators. There was the GigaPet released by Tiger Electronics and the Nano by Playmates Toys. The Tamagotchi is still available and can be purchased at Toys R Us and from Amazon.

It’s Morphin Time with the Power Rangers

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I’m sure I’m not the only child of the ‘90s that was utterly obsessed with the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Let’s see, I owned the tapes, action figures and the video game for the Sega Genesis. I once had a Pink Power Ranger birthday cake and I begged my dad to take me to the movie opening day. How’s that for nostalgia?

Just like the Tamagotchi, Bandai scored big with the Power Rangers franchise. The original Power Rangers told the story of teenagers who were given the powers to defend Earth from the likes of such evil invaders as Rita Repulsa in the TV series and Ivan Ooze from the motion picture. Each ranger was given a different colored suit and a prehistoric animal to represent. When using their power, they would be morphed into their ranger suit. Of course, what sent every kid into a hyperactive frenzy was when all of the rangers combined their powers to form the Megazord—a giant robot.

Various toys were released for the series, such as 8-inch action figures that could perform kung fu moves. Life-sized weapons that were featured in the show were also available. These weapons included the Dragon Dagger, which made electric sounds, and the Power Gun/Sword, which had flashing lights and sound effects. Power Rangers is still going strong today with toys being released as new versions of the Rangers are being produced.

Speaking Furbish with the Furby

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This so called “electronic gremlin” gave me nightmares and kept me up at night. Named the Toy of the Year in 1998 by the Toy Retailers Association, the Furby looks like a smaller version of Gizmo from “Gremlins.”

Furby was packed with electronic gadgetry that allowed him to interact with the environment through sight, touch, sound and physical orientation. A Furby was able to dance, sing, sleep, wiggle its ears, blink its eyes and talk. They came in different colors and designs. Mine looked like a chocolate crème-filled Hostess cupcake.

Furby was from a fantasy land, so he had his own native language. This language is known as “Furbish,” but as you interact with your Furby, he will be able to learn English words. Furby is able to speak up to 200 words in both English and Furbish. Hasbro was nice enough to include a Furbish to English dictionary with every Furby. For its ability to mock what it heard, government officials banned the toy from the National Security Agency building in Maryland, according to BBC News. The Furby was believed to be able to record classified information.

Furby was also able to interact and talk with other Furbies. They could even go as far as to teach each other songs and tricks. If you still happen to have your Furby, you may want to hold on to it if it still works. Hasbro is rebooting the Furby, so you will soon see them on the shelves once again.

2000s and beyond

Bratz: Dolls with Huge Heads and Skinny Bodies

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Aimed at the tween demographic, the Bratz dolls have large heads, skinny bodies, almond-shaped eyes armed with eye shadow and glossy lips. The four original dolls are named Cloe, Jade, Sasha and Yasmin.

Though there was some controversy surrounding the dolls—as critics claimed that the dolls were too sexy for its target market according to the Daily Mail—the Bratz Dolls had so much success that they have some spin-offs such as Bratz Kids and Bratz Babies. Can you just feel the originality? But trouble came for the Bratz line when they were charged with ripping off the diva of dolls, Barbie.

The makers of Bratz, MGA Entertainment, were charged with stealing designs from the makers of Barbie, Mattel. Mattel had won the case, but it was later thrown out, according to Reuters. A later case filed by MGA against Mattel alleged that Mattel had “misappropriated trade secrets,” according to Reuters. MGA won that case.

Even through legal battles, new Bratz are being developed. Their newest dolls are bald to honor young cancer patients. For every doll sold, $1 is donated to cancer treatment, according to the product’s website.

Paper Jamz: Better than Air Guitar

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Paper Jamz is a toy for kids who may still be too young to handle an instrument and for older people who lack musical talent. The toy is made out of a lightweight durable cardboard made to look like a guitar or drums. When you “pluck the strings” or “tap the drum” it produces sound. Kids can either play pre-recorded songs or go into “free-style mode,” where they can make their own music.

There are multiple styles and series to this line. You can even buy an amp and guitar strap to go with your Paper Jamz guitar. The instruments will run you $19.99 and up.

As the years pass, we can see the trend of digital and interactive toys replacing the dolls and action figures of yesterday. This causes me to a raise a question—with fewer action figures, will there be fewer franchises being released? We see My Little Pony and He-Man being rebooted, but no new creations being produced to make a figure or television franchise. Maybe soon the Furby will have its own television show.

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