Ten Best Hot Toys Through History
This year’s ploy
Ah, the hot toy: You’ll brave clogged mall park- ing lots, throw elbows at the bargain bin, scour out-of-the-way specialty shops and even resort to Craigslist to score one of these whatever-it-is for your kid, who’s just got her little heart set on seeing it under the tree. Toy companies bank on this in their quest to capitalize on our hunter instincts. News reports say this year should see a shortage on the LeapPad Explorer, but you’ve got to ask if the whole thing isn’t just some clever PR ploy.
The first hot toy — the hula hoop, by my reckoning — had nothing to do with Christmas, but it is a tribute to the power of national marketing, cheap goods and the public’s herd mentality. The Wham-O corporation began knocking off Australian bamboo exercise hoops with mass-produced plastic confederates — you know, for kids — in 1957, and by the summer of 1958, they were moving 50,000 of them a day.
Mr. Potato Head
Mr. Potato Head came on in 1952, the first toy ever advertised directly to children. The Hassenfield Brothers toy company, later renamed Hasbro, moved more than 1 million units. The next year, they gave him a wife. In the old days, you had to provide your own potato.
Another Hasbro product, the Transformers — basically robots that turn into things — have been hot since they came on the scene in 1984. But robots have been trendy for genera- tions. Before the Transformers, there were the Micronauts, which didn’t turn into other things, but man, were they cool. Bionicle managed to earn a presence in the market in 2000. But the first American toy robot was Robert the Robot, circa 1954, whose popularity was usurped by a Japanese battery-operated import named “Robby” in 1956. Sci-fi guys I didn’t want C-3PO or R2-D2 or that crappy little robot that looked kinda like R2-D2. I didn’t want a hard plastic Chewbacca or Darth Vader with the lightsaber in his arm, or Greedo or a stormtrooper or even Obi Wan Kenobi, also with a lightsaber in his arm. On Christmas 1977, dammit, I wanted the Han Solo. Nothing else would do.
One of the best toys of my youth in the 1970s was an Evel Knievel wind-up stunt motorcycle that could jump ramps and crash into walls. It also came as a dune buggy and a rocketship.
Purists will remember a time when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were kinda cool — a revo- lutionary American comic with Japanese roots begun in 1984 by two friends using a tax-refund check. By 1987 it was a full-fledged phenom- enon, albeit a sucky one, with a TV series that veered significantly from the original storyline and toys that surfaced in 1987, redesigned in 2003 to coincide with a (sucky) film franchise.
In 1983, a much-hyped doll created by a rural Tennessee artisan debuted at the New York Toy Fair. That Christmas the Cabbage Patch Kids became the most sought-after toy of the decade — each with its own name, birth certificate and the signature of his creator on the butt. A mer- chandising blitz followed, including clothing, diapers, breakfast cereal, an album, a generation of talking dolls and, eventually, a postage stamp.
Magnavox Odyssey (1972). Pong (1975). Telstar (1976). Atari 2600 (1977). Intellivision (1980).
Colecovision (1982). Nintendo NES, Sega Master System, Atari 7800 (1986). Nintendo GameBoy, Sega Genesis, Atari Lynx (1989). Nintendo Super NES (1991). Atari Jaguar (1993). Sony PlayStation, Nintendo 64 (1995). Sega Dreamcast (1998). Sony PlayStation 2 (2000). Microsoft Xbox, Nintendo GameCube, Nintendo GameBoy Advance (2001). Nintendo DS (2004). Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony PSP (2005). Nintendo Wii, Sony PlayStation 3 (2006). Xbox Kinect (2010). Hot toys, one and all.
In 1993, Ty Warner created a demand out of nothing. They designed nine small stuffed animals, made a limited number of them and retailed them in small specialty shops. Then they “retired” the original line while introducing new characters, repeating the process into a $6-bil- lion empire. The Beanie Babies, which were resurrected in 2003, inspired the Furby craze of 1998 and the current trend for Zhu Zhu Pets, which are likely on the Christmas list of some- one you love this year.