I’ll Review Anything: The Toys that Made Us

Yes, I’m a grown man. I have a job, responsibilities at home and bills to pay. Even though I’m an adult, I still find myself drawn to the toy aisle of every department store while I’m walking about or, more often than not, take specific trips to specialty toy stores that may be out of my way. I may not be a kid anymore but I still love looking and playing with toys.

None of the toys that they make for today’s youth, mind you. Maybe it’s my rose colored nostalgia glasses that’s clouding my vision but there was just something about the toys of my generation that felt special. Transformers. GI Joe. LEGO. He-Man. These were legendary toy lines that I all loved growing up and, in some aspects, are still running strong today. And for someone like me who is and will always be enamored by them, Netflix’s The Toys that Made Us seems like it was tailor fit for my viewing pleasure.

For those unfamiliar with the show, The Toys that Made Us is a Netflix exclusive that delves into the history of some of the most popular toy franchises of all time. And when I say “history,” I mean they really dive into the origins of the toys. Not only do they talk about how the toys got their start, they also state the background of the origins as well.

Fans may know that Transformers were just a combination of the Takara’s Diaclone and Microman transforming toys from Japan. That’s not exactly new information for fans. But The Toys that Made us go back further into the past and explores Takara’s roots, like how they were making blocky robots from old recycled tin cans. That aspect is not really well known.

One other thing the show does really well is how they focus on the stories behind the toys themselves. They didn’t just show us the toys themselves but also how the toys became the success stories they were in the first place. The toy market was extremely vibrant then but it was also rather cutthroat. In order to try to get ahead and into the hearts of little kids, toy manufacturers couldn’t just rely on a cool looking toy. It didn’t matter how good or unique your toy was; if it wasn’t marketed well, no one was going to buy it. This is precisely why GI Joe had the comic and the cartoon. It may seem like a really trite trick today. But then, it was a revolutionary way of getting around some of those pesky laws regarding marketing towards children of the time.

Unlike a lot of documentaries out there, The Toys that Made Us isn’t told in a dry, matter-of-fact kind of way. The histories are told in a rather cool way, with jumpcuts of old commercials, skits/re-enactments and callbacks to some of the quotes mentioned by the people being interviewed. Each episode is also tightly written with a solid and easy-to-follow tale being told throughout. Probably my favorite example is how they told the ups-and-downs of LEGO by representing it as a tree made from LEGOs. At certain points, the tree would flourish or, at one point, just be a stump. It then reveals the “real” LEGO tree in the company’s new headquarters. It’s never really boring but, at the same time, it doesn’t sacrifice the facts… for the most part.

There are some areas that may feel a little sketchy. A great example of this would involve who created GI Joe as there are two people who claim credit for it. Because of this, GI Joe’s father, according to the episode anyway, is left somewhat ambiguous but it does tend to lean towards one particular person. Of course, it’s the guy who got screwed by Hasbro but, then again, that just makes for a better story.

It certainly didn’t hurt that a lot of the interviewees, the collectors, experts, designers and suits behind the marketing, are rather entertaining individuals. I honestly thought I was going to get annoyed by all the toy collectors and experts because I assumed they were all going to be hyperactive nerds/geeks who would overreact to everything. I was pleasantly surprised that I wasn’t all that bothered by them… except for the Hello Kitty collectors. In fairness, the only one I had a problem with was Paris Hilton because she literally didn’t offer anything of substance to Hello Kitty’s history.

Personally, the only real issues I have with The Toys that Made Us are that there are only four episodes per season and that they haven’t covered the toylines I’m really curious about. I get that they can only produce only a limited number of episodes each season as there is a lot of work that they have to put into each toyline. They have to research a company’s history and lineup interviews from the people behind the toy. Then you gotta edit the footage and create a narrative and tone that works for the toy in question. Sounds like a lot of work just to put together a 1-hour episode based on the history of a toy but I really appreciate all the effort as each episode is really good. I mean, I watched the documentaries for Barbie and Hello Kitty and I walked away having a good time.

The other thing is that there are some other toylines that I wished they would focus on. The Toys that Made Us’ first two seasons already covered the big guns as they’ve made episodes for GI Joe, Transformers, Barbie, He-Man, LEGO, Hello Kitty, Star Wars and Star Trek. Theyll have a third season of four episodes and they’ve already noted that they’ll be focusing on Power Rangers, Wrestling, My Little Pony and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Those are legitimate huge franchises, to be sure. But I really wish they would cover things like Nintendo or video games as a whole, superhero lines like DC’s Super Powers and Marvel’s Secret Wars, The Real Ghostbusters and, my personal favorite, MASK.

I’m not sure if they have enough material to fill up an entire hour for MASK but I don’t see a problem with Nintendo, video games and the superhero lines as they’re particularly long-lived franchises. Maybe next season?

Would I recommend The Toys that Made Us to people who don’t really care about toys and to adults who feel they outgrew children’s games? That’s a tough question. It makes sense for me to watch it because I actually am interested in the documentary topic. Maybe I can tell the people who may have a passing interest on the subject matter. If they like Star Wars or Star Trek, they may find some of the things mentioned fairly interesting in the episodes that tackle those topics. But I honestly it may be a reach.

The Toys that Made Us are fun little documentaries about some of the most nostalgic toylines out there and it primarily focuses on that demographic. If you like toys in general, you’ll like The Toys that Made Us for sure. Otherwise, I guess you can try to find one of the episodes that you liked as a kid or you’re interested on the thing they based the toy after and give it a watch. Yeah, it doesn’t sound like a glowing review but, honestly, it’s not meant for everyone.

Have you seen The Toys that Made Us? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments section below!

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