Nostalgia entertainment is about as popular as ever and modern streaming services and networks are banking on the fascinating topics that can be mined from the mementos of pop culture. One of the most entertaining documentary series to be brought to the popular Netflix service has been by Brian Volk-Weiss’s “The Toys That Made Us.” While most studios would cut corners by merely making a series that relies on “Remember this?” and “Remember when…?” what “The Toys That Made Us” instead does is examine the importance and relevance of iconic toy lines from the eighties and nineties.
Through a ton of examination and historical research, the series traces the invention of toy lines that completely shook pop culture to its core, and how they’ve managed to affect not just pop culture but culture in general. While many of the toy lines presented came with the idea of cashing in on children, most of these products helped give birth to new generations of artists, creators, and even pushed other companies to be better and work hard to dominate the market on toys. Season 1 and 2 doesn’t pander to the eighties crowd, thankfully, taking a look at a broad range of toys that were important, and made history.
Examined in season one are the surprise success of “Star Wars” and how it revolutionized movie merchandise, the surprising back story of the invention of “Barbie,” the unique origins of “He-Man,” and how “G.I. Joe” took off after being re-invented. The good thing about this series is that even if you’ve never played with a Barbie, or have zero interest in He-Man, their stories are so fascinating and absolutely entertaining that you’ll find yourself coasting through every episode of the series without ever getting bored. Suffice to say I watched every episode of season one, even Barbie. There’s so many interesting tidbits, especially from the “Star Wars” episode and how it fueled a massive race from other companies to compete with its inevitably blockbusting toy line.
There’s also discussion on the pre-order debacle with the cardboard play set, the mythical Boba Fett figure with the shooting missile, and how much the merchandise has evolved since 1977. Season 2 discusses the weird history of “Star Trek,” the often unknown origin of “Transformers” and how they originated as two separate toy lines, how “LEGO” copied a popular brand and won, and the massive fandom of “Hello Kitty.” Both seasons provide a wealth of fascinating information and unique tales of race for our hard earned dough and the ability to take once old fashioned toy lines and re-invent them for a new generation (G.I. Joe). Even if you’re not a nostalgia buff and just want to learn something about pop culture, “The Toys That Made Us” is downright entertaining.
Both seasons are featured on the DVD Screen Media. I wish the seasons came on Blu-Ray with a lot more features, but for folks anxious to re-visit the series without Netflix, this is you go to. The DVD set features deleted scenes and interviews from the “Star Trek” episode, and there is a small featurette with series creator Brian-Volk Weiss.
In Stores May 7th.