Tuesday, September 14, 2010
In any decade, cute cuddly animals are a surefire win with young children. Their inherent appeal is in their big expressive eyes, their huggable nature, and their covetousness-inducing inflated sticker price. Toy manufacturers know that these cuddly critters will inevitably send young children into the throes of toy store-aisle ear-plugging, breath-holding temper tantrums, the embarrassment of which would surely motivate our parents into purchasing the overpriced fuzzball.
These toys were no exception, with their manufacturers incessantly and successfully peddling these big-eyed plush animals at us with every commercial break on Nickelodeon or during Saturday morning cartoons. Many became bona fide fad phenomena, impelling us to race to our nearest Toys ‘R Us to become the first on our block or classroom to own one of these little guys. Though they varied in cuteness from brand to brand, ownership of any of these animal fluffies was sure to garner you some playground credibility.
Is it a nightlight or is it a stuffed animal? Our clever friends at Hasbro showed us in 1982 that these two kid-friendly items were not necessarily mutually exclusive. Glo Worms served handily as both, with their plush bodies and enormous hard plastic light-up faces. They were cute, they were comforting, they were a little creepy.
Pound Puppies were such a phenomenon in the 80s and 90s that the original toy spawned an entertainment franchise, boasting an animated television show and feature-length film. Pound puppies had, unsurprisingly, a hangdog look to them--after all, they had presumably been languishing in the pound, hoping to be adopted. In the show, however, the puppies were far from helpless--they worked as a team to solve complex problems at the Puppy Pound. You know, just like in real life.
Even after so many years, this toy still strikes many of us as a bit disturbing. The concept is cute--your mother dog comes with an indeterminate number of puppies, so it’s an actual surprise when you slit ‘er open. On the practical side, though, it gave many young children a premature and medically inaccurate perception of childbirth. For a year or so, I thought that we simply reinserted babies back into their mother’s bellies for convenient storage at clean-up time.
Littlest Pet Shop
As the name implies, the Littlest Pet Shop toy line chronicles the daily lives and activities of the littlest pets in their very own shop. The original 90s versions came with all sorts of fun features, translating into numerous small parts for us to swallow or lose throughout the course of play. Some of the more novel versions came with fun features like rubber stamp pawprint functions or head bobbling abilities. As with most reimagined toy lines, the 2000s version released by Hasbro are decidedly more freakish-looking.
My Little Pony
My Little Pony was a veritable phenomenon in the 80s and 90s, with young girls everywhere scrambling to own one of these sparkly-haired plastic horses. They appealed to little girls’ sensibilities in all the basic ways: pastel colors, glitter, brushable hair, and horses. If you’ve ever met a little girl, it’s pretty clear Hasbro cooked up a fail-proof concept.
Who knew a parachute loaded with poly-fill could be so cuddly and lovable? The ad touts Puffalumps as “like marshmallow pillows, you can never squeeze too tight...You can’t hug a Puffalump wrong!” Well, that’s a relief. I constantly worry I’m showering my stuffed animals with affection in all the wrong ways. Whew.
I’m not sure if these can technically be classified as animals, but they are stuffed, so they’re going on the list. I had endless Popple paraphernalia in my youth, including some straight-to-VHS videos and a pop up tent. These ambiguous teddy bear-esque stuffies came in all varieties, including rock star and sports lover. A little something for everyone, you might say.
Care Bears were originally created as card characters by American Greetings, but their popularity led to their release as a toy line and later as popular animated characters. Each Care Bear boasted a tummy symbol, indicating exactly what it was that put the “care” in their status as official Care Bear.
Picture the characters from Littlest Pet Shop. Now stuff those adorable little critters into a too-small tank or cage. Smooshies may not have taught humane treatment, but I imagine our parents liked the compactness and easy storability.
Of course, no list of 90s stuffed animals could be complete without at least a cursory mention of the market-cornering fad-maker itself, TY’s Beanie Baby line. They served no function and weren’t even all that cuddly, but somehow TY convinced us these pellet-filled creatures had inherent value. They didn’t, of course, and the investment-minded among us 90s children are undoubtedly kicking ourselves over the poor market growth of our collections in recent years.