This was not a complicated business move: create a 900-number where kids could hear recordings from Santa. What kid wouldn’t want to call Santa and hear a few pre-recorded stories? What monstrous parent would deny their child that opportunity? The 900-number industry, at its best, is still pretty scuzzy. Here are three riffs on the…
The world got some good stuff in 1985 like Cherry Coke, Classic Coke, “We Are The World”, and Back to the Future.
1985 also found society in the middle of a huge media shift to the home video market. VCR players were finally somewhat affordable to the average Joe and this would cause the VHS rental and retail market to explode. No longer were you chained to a TV station’s decisions to run (or not run) your favorite show – you could record and playback to your heart’s content. It’s difficult to overstate what a game changer this was. Plus, retailers could now get away with charging an arm and a leg for VHS copies of Hollywood hits…for a while, at least.
Our robot toy fever had somewhat subsided, although the bigger robot brands like Transformers still had a hold on kids’ imaginations. Other hit properties of the past few years, like G.I. Joe and Cabbage Patch Kids had new lines and iterations for the 1985 season, but let’s take a look at some new breakouts.
Rambo was a huge box-office and cultural hit in 1985, but I don’t know how popular this toy line actually was. I do know that this is the most violent toy commercial I’ve ever seen. The animation at the top of the ad is just brutal!
Rainbow Brite and the Color Kids weren’t a new property in 1985 – the show and toys had debuted a year earlier – but this year the franchise was really rolling along with some additions to the toy lineup like Starlite and Lurky…
…and a 10 song Christmas album!
These foam baseball-sized toys came in a variety of grotesque personas. The ’80s was a case study in how to make toys “politely” gross – repulsive enough to be attractive to the boy market but benign enough that parents would pay for it. I think Madballs hit that balance well.
He-Man Fright Zone
First there was the epic Castle Grayskull playset. Then there was the even-more-epic Snake Mountain playset. Then, in 1985, there was the… Fright Zone. A cool playset, but nothing on the scale of the two lairs. This release reflects a point where He-Man started to drift away from the core offering, iterating into more niche products. Still, a cool playset with an integrated puppet component!
Nintendo Entertainment System
The system that changed everything. As you can see in the ad the game line up isn’t quite there yet, but it was already clear that this was head and shoulders above any home video game offering up to that point. Nintendo knew what they had on their hands, and things only went up from here.
1985’s riot-maker and secondary-market-darling was an animatronic teddy bear that could talk. Worlds of Wonder’s Teddy Ruxpin shook things up with a competent articulation and a deep bench of content. Kids would insert story cassette tapes into Teddy’s back containing stories that Teddy would tell. Further down the line Teddy’s friends could be connected to Teddy to tell the stories together.
This show-and-tell has the toughest crowd I have ever seen. These kids are like Hollywood agents who have seen it all.
Teddy had a pretty high price point, and the individual story cassettes weren’t cheap either. The product didn’t have the longevity that Worlds of Wonder probably wanted, but it was an impressive piece of technology that deserved the heads it turned. And yeah, it was pretty creepy too.