Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Magic Nursery Dolls

Disclaimer: To all of you male readers out there, I promise there will be some chest-thumpingly testosterone-filled posts coming up soon. I assure you, it's not all baby dolls and flounce here at Children of the 90s. Some brusque masculinity will be coming right up, pronto.


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.



32 comments:

Badass Geek said...

Those dolls were the stuff of my nightmares.

BZ said...

These were my favorite dolls! I had three that were like my children. I still have them in my keepsake box. However, I had one of the later models that were all bald with the magical eyes. Nothing like applying ice cubes to your baby's eyeballs to make them fall asleep or wake up...lets just hope no small children believed that was an acceptable practice for mothers of infants

Couture Carrie said...

Love the analysis! So funny about the ears!

xoxox,
CC

Lindsey said...

Hahaha!

LiLu said...

My dad never understood why I wanted the one that peed herself.

He'd probably get it if he read my blog.

Cee said...

I'm so excited that you posted about these! I tried to comment about them on the puppy surprise post and it wouldn't work. My sister and I got these while my mom was pregnant with my brother and we couldn't open them until he was born...he was three weeks late and I was pissed I had to wait to find out!

Practically Perfect... said...

My sister had these dolls, ha ha!

Awesome Sara said...

that is the freakiest thing i think i have ever seen.

OhMyLaughter said...

My sister and I each had one of these dolls and we LOVED them. The heart on the cheek that turned into a star when you kissed it...actually got stuck on the star on my sister's doll.

I don't think that was supposed to happen. But it was pretty funny!

Katie said...

I got one of those for Christmas. I think that I stopped playing with it after discovering the magic outfit or whatever. Memories Memories!

Hanako66 said...

lol I had one of those...

Mrs. C said...

Oh.my.god. I had these too! I think I also had the backpack one where you didn't know how many babies would be inside. I ended up with 3.

Newlywed Next Door said...

Hahahha I totally had THREE of these. In fact, one or two of them may be a box in my parents' attic.
Mattel = Marketing geniuses

baby gifts said...

that was very nice baby keeping, I think that would be so nice if we make it as as baby gifts

Rumi said...

Good toys for my daughter baby hafez I think she will be glad if I give her a baby gift.

Anonymous said...

You forgot the most creepy variation of the doll. There was one that you bought in a front pack which was your "mommy tummy," there were even little plastic discs inside that would press outward when you turned it on because the baby was "kicking" and there were fake baby heartbeat sounds. After your baby was "born" the tummy could then become a carrier. As you can tell I came along later, so no dissolving dressing gowns, just bald babies and haircut toddlers along with the creepy one which I still have.

Lora said...

please stick with the girly stuff! I'm enjoying it!

Amanda said...

I got got one from my dad and one from my mom (divorced) and the one my mom got was one of the TWINS, I was soo excited. The form it came with to get the twin you were supposed to fill it out with what your doll already looked like, I guess for identical twins, which I would have liked, but my mom filled it out completely opposite of what I had, which was a girl doll. I got the boy twin in the mail a bit later. I remember the belly buttons were also is it an "innie" or and "outie" which there wasnt much different in either. it was still a cool toy. I wished they would release it again.
I also remember a smaller pocket form of the baby dolls to go along with the "surprise" element. They came in a box about the size of a bandaid box, and the dolls were plain plastic, the same color all over, I loved the "suspense" is it a boy or a girl....?!
What about the pregnant dog, do you have that on your blog, I cant remember the name, but it either came with 3, 4, or 5 puppies in its belly, and it was a surprise how many you got.

dining tables said...

I bought my daughter this doll and she liked it. I also saw that she became responsible.

Anonymous said...

I have one of these! And what's more amazing, I got the twin as well! Considering I live in Australia, not only am I quite impressed with my 1-in-36-odds, I am also equally impressed on how the second doll made it all the way over here. Maybe I'll go quiz my mum :)

dianndelto said...

I had a twin!!!!!!!!! :) my favorite dolls!

Amy said...

I got triplets! I can actually still remember being in the bathroom and washing off the certificate and it saying triplets lol. Two girls and a boy, the boy was the one I had and the girls are the ones that came in the mail.

shazza said...

I had one of these dolls...oh the memories!

Andi said...

I had so many of these. One of the babies I got was a twin. I'm a white girl and got a white doll, but when I sent off for the twin a black baby came in the mail. I loved it just the same. There are pics of me with a black and white baby pushing a stroller around. I took those two everywhere!

1 girl. 1 boy. 1 cat. 350 sq ft. said...

The creepy pregnant belly strap on thing was outrageous. My sister and I both had one and it just came up tonight in a 'remember when' convo and took us hours to find any proof of its existence online! I'm glad I'm not the only one who's understanding of 'where do babies come from' was screwed up by these creepy dolls.

B Bons said...

Oh my god. The mommy tummy did exist and I didn't imagine it. I recently reminded my mother that she bought these for my sister and I, and they both implied such a creepy toy never existed. I can't find it anywhere else online...

Stella said...

i currently have 11 dolls and what i wouldnt give to get one of those still in the box!

Woodsgirl419 said...

Wow can't believe I found this I had like five of these dolls I even had a little boy one that when his hat come off he had this thing you would push in his hair that would make his two front teeth grow lol I still have it today well my niece does so funny

Tiffany Ripley said...

I had two of these. One of the first generation, melt away dressing gown, and one of the bald infants! I loved them! Sadly the tote containing all of my dolss was ruined in our crawl space. I was and still am heart broken. But i have fond memories of my dolls. Brushing the hair, and changing the cheeks and eyes! the toy that another person spoke of with the puppies in the pouch of the mom dog was "puppy suprise".

heybaby458 said...

I feel lucky. When I opened my Magic Nursery doll she was a twin. I loved waiting for her brother to arrive and I enjoyed these dolls a lot. I wish I had not passed them onto children that I babysat for.

Jennifer said...

I received a Magic Nursery doll for Christmas 1991!! I was so excited....and I was a lucky recipient of a TWIN! :) I actually still have both my dolls! I loved those dolls!!

Sane said...

I also got these, christmas 1990 i believe. I got a boy and he was a TWIN and I mailed away and got his sister. They looked very similar. I named them daniel and danielle cuz at the time it was the only names i knew that had one for a boy and girl. I was 9 yrs old and still remember swishing the gown and filling out the certificate. great memory. wish i still had any of my childhood stuff to pass down to my daughter :(

RE RELEASE THESE! lol

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