Terror in Toyland

By Amanda Rossenrode

When I was a kid, the defining event of the pre-Christmas season was the arrival of the Toys R’ Us Big Book catalog. I would pour over the pages, studying each hot toy to properly scribe my list for Santa. I loved toys and continued to play with them, in secret, a few years later than was socially acceptable. Yeah, your new Walkman is great, but the working sink in my dollhouse is amazing, even at thirteen.  As a thirty year-old whose wardrobe consists mainly of cartoon shirts and Chucks, I thought I was down with the youths. My natural whimsy and refusal to get a credit card (or the bank’s refusal as it is) would give me an advantage at purchasing THE Christmas gifts for my nieces and nephews. As I forcibly slammed my cart through the riot that is the toy section on the days preceding Christmas, I scrolled through multiple text messages on my phone listing toys that might has well been written in ancient Sanskrit. Where were the Barbies and the Legos? The RC cars and Hot Wheels sets that I begged for every year? Why does that kid keep screaming “bubble puppy” and why is he touching my arm? Why does 40 cents worth of plastic in two bucks worth of packaging cost $16.99?

Ebenezer’s cane magically appeared in my hand that day and I declared modern toys to be garbage. Cheap marketing stunts done with the obsessive “gotta collect them all!” valued over the actual toy. Hell, when I was a kid my Roller Blading Barbie had lighter flints that sparked when she bladed and were pretty useful for burning your little sister! My “Baby Uh Oh” peed its pants and the diaper turned yellow or brown and the doll would start to smell pretty bad if you tried to feed her Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. But what in the name of Santa Claus does a Shopkin do?

No, back in my day, toys were quality feats of engineering that delighted the imaginations of a generation of children that would later create entire websites dedicated to deifying them. I have researched some of these modern toys and have compared them with their glorious 90’s counter parts….

Shopkins

My first impression of Shopkins was astonishment that it was not brought up in the presidential race that these things start at ten bucks and what this country was going to do to correct this. We could have united over this corruption and sang in unity, mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles, grandparents and awkward friends obligated to bring a gift to their old roommate's son’s birthday. For ten bucks, you get four pieces of plastic each about the size of a press-on fingernail. What they actually represented alluded me at the store, tossing it aside as the clog in the vacuum it would eventually become. Upon Wikipedia-ing for the purposes of this article I learned that they are anthropomorphic grocery store items you can collect and some are rare (this will be an ongoing theme).

Wait, what kind of games does even the most imaginative kid play with a half-inch box of baking soda and an avocado? One of the figures featured on Wikipedia was a TV and now we’re just going into banana land. They don’t sell TVs at the grocery store! What messed up lessons are we teaching our kids about life? Also, what kind of sick punishment is this on the parents? Every kid, since the dawn of the grocery store has acted like a drunken howler monkey once inside the grocery store, slightly less hysterical than when taking them shopping for nice slacks for Grandma’s Easter Party. If I had a child and tossed a box of corn starch at him and told him it was a toy he would write a bestselling memoir twenty years later. Jennifer Lawrence would play me in the Oscar bait biopic. But if I bought him a highly collectible half-inch replica of said box I’m a Christmas hero.

90’s Toy: Polly Pocket

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Polly Pocket was a quarter-inch choking hazard that came with a plastic compact that was supposed to be her house.  If you put Polly into her hard plastic bed and closed the compact she would undoubtedly fall to her death. She only bent at the waist and came with no friends to interact with. You could while away entire afternoons walking Polly up and down her tiny staircase and seating her at her empty fountain, like pint-sized royal prisoner in exile. It was incredibly easy to lose Polly and then you were left with a husk of her home, which none of your other toys could fit into. There were no replacement Pollys and the compacts came out like Nintendo consoles, making the one you had obsolete before you even unwrapped it.  The good old days I yearn for.

Chubby/Ugglys/Littlest Pet Shop Puppies

These deceiving similar brands of cheap plastic puppies were the bane of my existence last year. If you’re like me, you don’t start shopping until the payday before Christmas, which closely resembles an eighteenth century circus fire. We had one kid that wanted Chubby Puppies and one that wanted Uggly Puppies and never the twain shall meet. Both toys featured shockingly abused dogs with health problems and were about the size of one of those erasers you get at Chuck E. Cheese when you leave all your tickets in the restroom. The gimmick is the cages that the maligned animals come in. The kids know that they’re just garbage Happy Meal Toys without the elaborate playsets.

Chubby Puppies roll across the floor like your average dollar store Irin Men action figure and Ugly Puppies are pretty self-explanatory. They’re a one note joke the receiver will smirk at and never play with again. Littlest Petshop Puppies, which I found more endearing, is something that is all over the place and no kid apparently wants. You will call their parents from line and they will tell you in no uncertain terms that no kid this side of baby Vader wants those damn Littlest Petshop Puppies. Just turn around, I know you were so close to Trader Joe's and their sweet, sweet, wine, but you need to revisit that accursed toy aisle.

Pound Puppies

Pound Puppies had a similarly pathetic back story of being abandoned animals that looked like they had been run over. If you didn’t have eighty-three of them then you best not show up to the playground. Not to be confused with the more depressing “Lost and Found” dolls that cried real tears after you brought them into your home and feed them a bottle of water as one does abandoned rabbits. Abandoned rabbits that cry real tears, suffering from some sort of awful PTSD that they cannot express, because they are plastic shells housing tortured souls of the damned.

Hatchimals

Hatchimals are by far the most unsettling things I have seen in my entire life. For those who feel like sleeping tonight and do not wish to YouTube the commercial, they are basically fire-eyed aliens that hatch from eggs after responding to your love. Their eyes glow through the egg as you shake and caress it and they will coo and tap back at you in the process of hatching.

There has been many reports of the toys showing up “dead” which means just what it sounds like. Your kid pries open an egg to find a dead hatchling in it.  Better off, because teaching your kid to nurture alien hatchlings is akin to teaching them to play with nukes. Have you not seen Alien or Pod People? Gremlins? Giant Spiders From Outer Space? When I have kids there is going to be a strict “hands off destructive yet adorable looking alien pods” rule. Sure they look cute kid, but I don’t want them controlling your thoughts or moving into my chest cavity. Think about it, we give kids dolls to teach them to nurture and fake McDonald’s playsets to teach them to accept their future in majoring in art history, why give them a toy that helps them bring about the destruction of mankind? Also, you teach them to speak in order to negotiate terms with our world leaders. There have been several reports of the furry demons growling “F*** Me…” like a doe-eyed Linda Blair, but then again, that’s probably the work of some clever older brother.

Teddy Ruxpin

My God, did I want that Teddy Ruxpin. Ruxpin was basically a bear with a cassette player in it. He would read you stories and be the friend you didn’t have. And my god, would Teddy give you nightmares when that cassette player broke.

See, my young friends, cassette players were inconsistent pieces of garbage. They would jam up and unfurl sixty miles of fragile black tape that needed to be precariously rerolled with a pencil. Or, if the batteries were going or if Gremlins were loose in your neighborhood, the audio would alternately speed up and slow down, making Teddy screech like a falsetto street prophet or gloomily groan the end of the story, or the end of days as it might be. His eyes would lull open and shut as he nodded in and out of conciseness. If you dared to smack him he would snap awake and howl about the meaning of friendship as you cowered under the sheets knowing that he only had power if you believed in him. And pray that you were wrong that the sickly yellow glow his eyes emitted didn’t seem brighter.

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And closer.

HOLY CRAP. He’s right behind you.

Don’t breathe.