Tag Archive: The Toys That Made Us

To celebrate International Women’s Day tomorrow, Mattel previewed two new waves of Barbie dolls intended to inspire and educate kids.  Hinted at as forthcoming in the recent Netflix series The Toys That Made Us, the dolls celebrate three real-life heroines of the past in its entirely new “Inspiring Women” line, and 14 new women of the present have been designed as additions to Mattel’s “Shero” line.  The dolls aim to follow the vision behind the original toys’ creator, Ruth Handler, who once said, “My whole philosophy of Barbie was that, through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be.  Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices.”

The women reflected in the new dolls include heroines of the past: aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, artist Frida Kahlo, and NASA mathematician and physicist Katherine Johnson.  The 14 new heroines of the present include conservationist and animal rights activist Bindi Irwin, journalist and Seven Summits mountain climber Martyna Wojciechowska, designers Leyla Piedayesh and Vicky Martin Berrocal, athletes Chloe Kim, Çağla Kubat, Nicola Adams, Lorena Ochoa, Hui Ruoqi, and Sara Gama, Chef Héllène Darroze, movie director Patty Jenkins, ballerina Yuan Yuan Tan, and actor Xiaotong Guan.  The new line of Shero dolls adds to the line-up that began in 2015 and already includes actors Emmy Rossum and Kristin Chenoweth, journalist Eva Chen, ballerina Misty Copeland, singer Trisha Yearwood, movie director Ava Duvernay, gymnastics Olympian Gabby Douglas and fencing Olympian Ibtihaj Muhammed, and model Ashley Graham.  Only Douglas, Muhammed, and Graham were made available in wide release, making this new release of 14 figures the first truly expansive Barbie line inspired by real people.

Twelve of the 14 new figures include Vicky Martin Berrocal, Xiaotong Guan, Bindi Irwin, Sara Gama, Chloe Kim, Martyna Wojciechowska, Nicola Adams, Yuan Yuan Tan, Patty Jenkins, Hélène Darroze, Hui Ruoqi, and Leyla Piedayesh. Not shown: Çağla Kubat and Lorena Ochoa.

The dolls feature a broad array of clothing, accessories, hairstyles, size, skintone, and head sculpt detail.  The international selection of new dolls features representatives from Australia, China, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom, and the United States.

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Netflix is now carrying a new documentary television series that delves into the creators behind some of our favorite toys from the recent, and not so recent past.  The Toys That Made Us features four episodes in its first season of streaming, each focused on a toy line that should bring in a good cross-section of fandom.  The choices for the first shows include Kenner’s vintage Star Wars action figures and playsets, Hasbro’s G.I. Joe, with an emphasis on the 3 3/4″ line of action figures, Mattel’s Barbie, and the Mattel’s Masters of the Universe No doubt Barbie and G.I. Joe should pull in the older crowd, while the latter half of G.I. Joe and Star Wars will pull in the kids of the 1970s and early 1980s, and Masters of the Universe the kids of the 1980s.

Not a show for kids and not another show about toy collectors, the series devotes plenty of each hour to interviews with designers, marketing, other businessmen discussing the nuts and bolts of negotiating deals, like the lawyer for Kenner discussing the greatest toy deal negotiation ever, and the later not-so-great negotiation because of a loose-lipped CEO.  The Barbie episode features a Barbie expert continually bashing the character as a “hooker” as if she has some sort of love-hate relationship with the doll.  But the politics of toymaking is interesting fodder for the right audience.  Should it be a surprise that toymakers have the same ugly corporate politics, the downsizing, the layoffs, and the takeovers, like every other company?  Prepare yourself for several CEOs and designers as they tiptoe, or not, around decisions and employers they wrestled with in the past as toys and brands came and went.  The creators look back both with nostalgia and anger at the former toy companies that eventually terminated their employment.  So look for an unusual take on these toys and these companies.

The next four episodes will be launched on Netflix later this year, and include Hello Kitty, Transformers, Star Trek, and LEGO.  Sometimes what the show chooses to tell is as interesting as how the show tells it.  The eight toy lines chosen no doubt came from the producer’s own focus groups, like the ideas behind some of the toys they discuss.  If The Toys That Made Us really is a one-time thing, someone else should come along and continue the idea with all the other major brands and influences.

We want to see an episode on Marx toys, including little toy soldiers and the 12-inch action figure series.  We also want to see a history of the broad Mego line of figures, Hot Wheels, Stretch Armstrong, and Big Jim.  How about companies like Fisher Price, Playskool, Playmobil, and Radio Flyer?  A series like this needs to cover more “recent” but still classic toy lines, too, like My Little Pony, Cabbage Patch Kids, Strawberry Shortcake, and figure out a way to capture famous classic toys like Spirograph, Tinker Toys, Play-Doh, Etch-A-Sketch, Erector Sets, Lincoln Logs, and the ultimate multi-license toy, Viewmaster.  How about a tour of the Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers factories of the past?  Who put out more great board games than these companies?  It’s easy to imagine entire episodes on the history of games like Clue/Cluedo and Monopoly.  And how about featuring a current game company that’s been around for decades, like Wizards of the Coast?

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