The Toy Association announced “Oh So Classic!” as a top toy trend of 2017 during New York Toy Fair back in February, and as we approach the holiday season, this trend continues to grow. In this category, retro brands are revamped for new generations to enjoy, fostering play that parents and grandparents alike can participate in as they pass the torch to the youngsters.
While the retro wave has been happening for a number of years now, there are still plenty of classic toy brands ripe for a proper comeback. With the likes of Teddy Ruxpin, Madballs, and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) making their way back into homes this year, here’s some thoughts on what else should join them in toy stores once more, but first we need to discuss what a proper reboot entails.
In order for a retro relaunch to be truly successful, the toys have to be accessible to children who will be able to fall in love with them just as their parents did, thus carrying the brand into a new era. That means giving these lines the full backing, starting with quality toys and being supported by great marketing and multimedia tie-ins.
Hasbro licensing Jem and the Holograms to Integrity toys for a series of dolls priced at $120 or more is not a real comeback, nor is Mattel licensing He-Man and the Masters of the Universe to Super7 for a collection of $35 action figures. While those are some great lines, they’re just being sold to the same kids who played with the originals 30 to 40 years ago… not embracing a new generation. To do it right, sometimes it takes trial, error, and even failure along the way. This year’s Teddy Ruxpin comeback is a prime example, with Teddy changing hands for a few flops before being fully reworked by Wicked Cool Toys for another—so far, successful—go.
Being such an iconic brand, it’s confusing as to why Hasbro has left G.I. Joe to flounder. While it’s never fully gone away, it’s presence and accessibility has been nil for a number of years, despite having a pair of live-action films released in 2009 and 2013. Like the films, the accompanying toys just weren’t that exciting, and I think that’s because they strayed too far from what made them great to begin with.
The launch of the 3.75-inch G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero collection in 1982 was a groundbreaking success, and while the world is a very different place in 2017, there’s a lot of opportunity to bring this back with great results. G.I. Joe was a crew that expanded into an International affair with a diverse lineup of characters and personalities that included men and women from all walks of life, working together for the common good. Still sort of in limbo, there is some action on this front, with G.I. Joe characters included in Hasbro’s “Revolution” initiative alongside characters from Transformers, Micronauts, Visionaries, Action Man, and ROM the Space Knight. While we await news on what’s happening, I’ve been restoring a few vintage 1982 figures and vehicles from my personal collection.
The Get Along Gang
Part of “Those Characters from Cleveland” (now American Greetings) alongside Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake, this crew hit the scene in the mid-80s. It was a crowded space in which others like Shirt Tales (from rival Hallmark) and Snorks were also competing for space in the Saturday morning cartoon lineup that their better-known counterparts were dominating. Still, I think there’s something that can be done with The Get Along Gang, and it almost happened a decade or so ago when a CGI pilot surfaced for a failed run. I had the original PVC figures from TOMY has a kid, and the theme song still gets stuck in my head now and again.
The GoBots have gotten a lot of grief over the years as a punchline, usually to the effect of being “Transformers knockoffs,” but the reality is that much of what we knew as Transformers and GoBots in the 1980s were actually U.S.-licensed versions of Japanese toys from the likes of Takara and Bandai. In the case of Tonka’s GoBots, they actually hit U.S. stores nearly a year ahead of Hasbro’s Transformers, and as a kid I loved them all. The evil “Thruster” play set was the biggest GoBots toy that I had, and I played with it right alongside all of my other robots.
Oddly enough, GoBots are now a part of Transformers lore, having been absorbed into that world when Hasbro purchased Tonka in the early ’90s. While they’ve used the GoBots name a few times over the years, nothing has been a true resurrection, and that’s because ownership is complicated. While Hasbro has the names, the iconic molds for the likes of Leader-1 and Cy-Kill are said to still be owned by Bandai.
Could these make a proper comeback? If Hasbro and Bandai can play nice, I say “yes!” The cartoon series is currently available on DVD through Hanna-Barbera, and Hasbro did apply for some new GoBots trademarks in recent years.
I was one of a great many kids that had and loved Big Trak back in the early 1980s. Released in 1979 by Milton-Bradley under its MB Electronics banner, the robotic vehicle was far ahead of its time. Slightly cumbersome in its programmable ways, the dark grey (UK versions were white) space truck had an optional trailer—which I also had. I can still remember laying down on the ground behind the Big Trak, programming it’s path and awaiting the mesmerizing blue ”photon blast” from it’s on-board ”laser” light.
In 2012, a short-lived relaunch brought Big Trak back to life in the UK, but imagine what this thing could be like if it got some modern upgrades here in the U.S.?
A short-lived line with a ridiculously short-lived cartoon, Dino-Riders hit the scene in 1988 thanks to TYCO, launching a tale of futuristic beings who came to prehistoric Earth and managed to harness the power of dinosaurs through high-tech armor and weaponry. While I never had them, the toys were super cool, and back in 2015 news hit that Mattel (which took ownership of TYCO in the mid-90s) was working on a big-screen movie. I’d written about it back then, pointing out that a potential trial run for a Dino-Riders relaunch potentially happened in an unlikely place – Disney•Pixar’s The Toy Story That Time Forgot. What I said then: “Within that Holiday animated special were a race of Battlesaurs. These technologically-advanced reptilians came face-to-face with Woody and Buzz, even outfitting Trixie and Rex with high-tech weapons. What’s interesting here is that in real-life, there were toys made for TOY STORY THAT TIME FORGOT – a toy line that included many of the previously-fictional Battlesaurs. The company that made them? Mattel.”
Is it time for a return to all-things prehistoric? With a Jurassic World sequel on the way, my Magic 8 Ball says “yes!”
What retro toys would you like to see make a comeback? Let us know in the comments below!