The Toys That Made Us

Have you seen the latest docuseries from Netflix: The Toys That Made Us? If not, you really need to put down what you’re doing and immediately binge watch all fours episodes of season one. 

Rarely have I seen a TV series so perfectly aimed at toy photographers and toy collectors. Ok, I will admit I don’t watch a lot of tv so maybe I’m not the best judge. But I can assure you, you will enjoy at least one of the first four episodes. 

The Premise

The premise of the show is to take a deep dive into eight different toy lines. These are the iconic toy lines that have become cultural touch stones for kids who grew up in the 70’s,  80’s and 90’s. If you’re of a certain age, these are the toys that you grew up with. These are the toys that made us. Each episode deals with an individual toy line. In Season 1 the director takes us on a deep dive into the following toy lines: StarWars, Barbie, He-Man and G.I. Joe.

Each episode is a mix of live action recreations, interviews with the original toy designers and period commercials. I especially enjoyed the beautiful close ups of the original toys sprinkled throughout each episode. Sure this is a nice walk down memory lane, but the real entertainment comes from the behind the scenes stories. This is when we get a glimpse at the the people who invented these cultural icons and their stories; both funny and tragic. 

What I Learned

I learned plenty of amusing facts about the Toys That Made Us including the origins if kit bashing. That they aren’t dolls, they’re action figures! That Kenner’s production of Star Wars toys was so behind the demand that first Christmas, that they actually sold empty boxes that could be gifted. The actual toys weren’t delivered until a few months later. Talk about an unconventional solution to a problem! 

I also learned that Barbie has a very risqué origin story. Or that the world of retail toy sales is so cut throat? There are many more juicy tidbits of information to be gleaned from interviews with the people who where at the center of the action. I especially enjoyed watching the original designers reminisce about how they created the Masters of the Universe toy line. Even after all these years, you can tell they had a ball doing their jobs.

Conclusion

I wonder if these toy designers ever dreamed that their creations would inspire an entire generation of adults to keep playing with their childhood toys well into adulthood? In many ways, the toy photography hobby is a wonderful excuse to collect the toys we missed out on as kids, or to reconnect with our childhood favorites. This eight part series is a great way to celebrate as well as acknowledge their influence on us. For me it was a great place to learn about toy lines I wasn’t familiar with like He-Man. I’m afraid to admit I didn’t know who Skeletor was before I saw the episode on He-Man. By the time these toys came out, I was on my way to university. It seems I missed out on all the fun!

The crew behind the Toys That Made Us are hard at work on season two. The next four episodes will feature LEGO, Transformers, Hello Kitty and Star Trek. Personally I can’t wait until these episodes come out. Its hard to know which episode I will be looking forward to the most: LEGO or Star Trek? Or maybe its Transformers and Hello Kitty? No matter, I’m really looking forward to them all!

Shelly

Have you seen the Toys That Made Us? If so, what was your favorite episode? What was the coolest thing you learned? 

Be sure to tune into our Podcast on February 4th when James Garcia interviews the creator of The Toys That Made Us, Brian Volk-Weiss

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Shelly Corbett

<---- If I keep telling myself this, will it come true?

6 thoughts on “The Toys That Made Us”

  1. I watched this series, and I loved it. Great stuff.

    One thing that is important but not mentioned…. despite being about kids toys, this is not a kid friendly series. Mainly due to the language – some of those toy designers swear like pirates, and they are not shy about explaining the risque origins of Barbie in more detail than I was comfortable sharing with my 8 and 5 year old 🙂

    However, aside from that, great series! Loved it.

    1. Dave, thanks for bringing up that point. Since my kids are older, it went right over my head. Many of the topics they bring up, are more PG level.

      I think the series is really aimed at adults anyway. While toys are the subject, they are talking cut throat business practices among other more adult themes. A great trip down memory lane though!

  2. I love this show! Great write up, you perfectly explain why it’s so special and worth seeing. I was worried that I wouldn’t connect with the episodes about toys I didn’t grow up with (out of the four, Star Wars is the only one I ever played with/collected) but was pleasantly surprised. The show is very informative, and provides all the history you may need while giving lots of surprises.

    I can’t wait until the next four (and for everyone to hear my conversation with Brian! He’s awesome).

    1. James I actually think the episodes about toys I’m not familiar with are the most interesting. I know enough about the Star Wars toy phenomena that this only filled in a few blank spots. I absolutely loved that He-Man episode. What a cast of characters! And I’m not talking about the toys. I loved the fact they actually had toys made to look like themselves because they needed more characters! Lol!!!!!

      Im really looking forward to your interview with Brian, I’m sure it will be fantastic!

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