Just ahead of the holidays a low budget, four-part series called ‘The Toys That Made Us’ appeared on Netflix. Re-live your childhood through this fascinating history of Star Wars, Barbie, He-Man and GI-Joe toys.
“Recommended because you’re a nerd“. Not an official Netflix tagline yet, but I’m guessing that’s the reason ‘The Toys That Made Us’ popped up as a suggestion for me on the streaming service.
What appears to be a low budget series, ‘The Toys That Made Us’ consists of only four episodes, but what the show lacks in production values it more than make up for by telling the interesting histories of four iconic toy lines.
Starting with a bang, episode one tells the dramatic rise in fortune – some forty years ago – of the only company willing to take on the production and manufacture of toys for an unknown sci-fi film called ‘Star Wars’.
Where all other major manufacturers declined, Kenner agreed to produce the first run of Star Wars toys with just six months to go before the film was released. A more usual time scale would be two years. The short turnaround and desperation of George Lucas so close to the cinematic release of the film led to an extremely generous license being granted and made Kenner one of the biggest toy companies in the world.
The episode is fascinating as the designers of the toys describe how they cobbled together samples by bootlegging other company’s products and moulding them into representations of Star Wars characters. Viewers are treated to glimpses at rare and highly sought after figures, clued into errors that were made in the manufacturing process that make certain items highly desirable and interviews some of the more avid collectors.
Equally fascinating are the details from behind the scenes that made up the legal agreement between Kenner and Lucasfilm that could have run in perpetuity, except, what goes up must come down, and the long wait for the prequels ultimately scuppered Kenner’s prospects.
Further episodes focus on Barbie, a doll originally modelled after a slutty European figure, He-Man and G.I. Joe. Each show is around 50 minutes long and forms very light, easy viewing. Perfect for holiday food-coma viewing.
‘The Toys That Made Us’ is streaming on Netflix now.