Magically, the Puppy Surprise post from a few days back garnered so much unprompted discussion of Magic Nursery Babies that I felt compelled to further examine their existence in their very own full-length post. See? You spoke, I listened. It's fun how it works like that. Unless I don't like your idea, that is. Luckily, though, this one is a winner. Bravo, readers. Bravo.
In toy production as in warfare, your most important strategy is the element of surprise. If the surprise can involve some scale of sorcery, well, then all the better. Children's awe and amazement is fairly easy to obtain: simply present to them something that defies their expectations, and wait for the temper tantrums begging parental spending to begin.
In 1990, the Mattel Corporation had a few such magic tricks up its sleeve with which to woo both children and toy retailers alike. Behold, from a 1990 New York Times article on the great unveil of Magic Nursery Babies at a retailer toy fair:
"With a wave of her silver wand, a fairy princess wearing a sparkling pink gown and tiara opened the mirrored portal known as the Magic Door. Inside was the Magic Nursery, a room decorated in spare-no-expense style, with soft lighting, plush pink carpeting and white lace."
In the center of the room stood a group of about a dozen middle-age men, all dressed in dark business suits. Like a religious sect reciting ancient prayers, they were chanting in a deep, solemn tone.
''Love is magic,'' they said in unison. ''Love is magic. Love is magic.''
[. . .]The group in the Magic Nursery was watching a demonstration of Mattel Toys' Magic Nursery doll, one of more than 6,000 new toys on display. As the men obeyed a saleswoman's command to keep up their chant, they stared at a baby doll's dressing gown that had been immersed in a bowl of water. Suddenly, the gown vanished, leaving behind a waterproof bag containing a frilly dress for the doll. The retailers erupted with ''oohs'' and ''aahs,'' responses that hovering Mattel executives hoped would translate into signatures on order forms."
While usually I enjoy speculating on what tipping point of craziness put ridiculous 90s toys on the shelves, in this case I don't have to. This is an actual account of the initial Magic Nursery Baby demonstration. Let me be the first to say, this is absolutely insane. There, I said it. Middle-aged men in business suits chanting cultishly, "Love is magic" is above and beyond any absurd toy pitches I could have dreamed up. I admit, the trick is pretty impressive, but the chanting errs on the side of totally and irrepressibly creepy.
"Love is magic," was the mantra of the Magic Nursery Babies. According to Mattel lore, if you chanted this mysterious incantation while swirling your doll's dressing gown in water, you could conjure an informative packet containing valuable and pertinent information about your latest doll acquistion. Oh, and an outfit! Mainly an outfit. See for yourself:
I especially love the little girl who hugs the baby doll maniacally, exclaiming, "I'm your magic nursery mommy!" Her level of enthusiasm troubles me. Also, does anyone else as an adult get a little creeped out when they say, "Let's find out!" and begin undressing it? I do sort of like the implication that the only thing differentiating a boy or girl baby is hair and a dress, though.
Just imagine, in the late 80s teams of researches and scientists slaved laboriously over Bunsen burners and graduated cylinders. They worked tirelessly to formulate the chemical reactions necessary to bring us these Magic Nursery Babies. The country's best and brightest weren't all tied up researching vaccines and medical treatments; some were churning out dissoluble baby doll dressing gowns. While their peers were out there, day after day, bettering mankind, these guys really wanted to focus more on doll cheeks that responded to kisses. You know. For the kids.
I will be the first to concede that the trick is undeniably impressive. How do they do it? Where are they hiding this mysterious packet, and how does this sinkful of water unlock this mystery? The details are pretty hazy, but the response was clear. Children loved them. They could not get enough. Better yet for Mattel, kids had no inkling as to whether their doll was to be a boy or a girl. Hence 50% of the time, the kids wouldn't get what they wanted. Even if, say, only 30% of parents are complete suckers, it's still a 30% increase in return customers to appease screaming children.
The baby's gender was not the only surprise the Magic Nursery had in store for us. Additionally, we all had a one-in-thirty-six chance of our baby being a twin. Let me repeat that. A one-in-thirty-six-chance. Those are terrible, terrible odds. Either way, we were all fairly certain that when push came to shove, we'd probably be getting a twin. Unfortunately for our parents, most of us were very wrong.
Also, the twin thing was pretty anticlimactic. Your dissolving dressing gown's resultant packet would proclaim your baby twinned, and you could fill out a form and send it into the manufacturer, wait 8-10 business days from point of receipt, and eventually receive a second doll by mail. Children, by nature, are not especially patient creatures. By the time that twin gets there, it's pretty likely they'll already have abandoned its brother or sister in favor of a new toy.
Mattel must have known our enchantment with these babies (under the "Love is Magic" spell) wouldn't last forever, and quickly shoved into production other Magic Nursery Prototypes:
Magic Nursery Pets were pretty much the same thing, only with animals and a condensed TV commercial time slot. I imagine these were slightly confusing to children, though, as they imply that the only thing differentiating one animal from another is its ears. Somewhere down the road, one of these Magic Nursery Pet-owning kids will be in a biology lesson on evolution, raise her hand and ask bewilderedly, "But what about the ear pulling? Where does that factor in?"
Later incarnations brought forth a new slew of tricks: babies with eyes that open or close when ice cubes or warm water was applied, twins or triplets that could be bought as sets, "my first haircut", a choice of newborn or toddler dolls. Even with the newer models, these dolls were essentially one-trick ponies. The most exciting part happened when the doll was first opened, meaning everything from that point on was sort of a letdown. Either way, that one magical moment of swirling the dress in water and chanting, "Love is Magic", was pretty impressive, whether to a child or room full of middle-aged businessmen.