A good documentary is like crack, an addictive window into lives like and unlike our own that examine obsessions, like American Movie and King of Kong, that we can both balk at in a “that’s not me!” type of way and also identify with more than may like to admit. Add in subject matter focusing on a lifelong interest for many, toy collecting, and the genesis of some of the most beloved toy lines ever, and you have an engrossing recipe for nerd appointment viewing.
Having quietly dropped over the holidays, Netflix’s The Toys The Made Us starts from the beginning of widespread licensing as we know it, Star Wars, and the fascinating story of how the line’s initially, severely botched product rollout transformed into the retail “Empire” we now know and love. Something I previously hadn’t thought about though was the influence that Star Wars had on seemingly everything that came after, G.I. Joe’s 80’s revival aping SW’s vehicle and playset friendly 3 3/4” scale and Masters of the Universe’s roided out heroes (Joe and MotU the subjects of their own episodes) specifically developed to dwarf Luke and the gang.
My biggest surprise of all while viewing The Toys That Made Us had to be the Barbie episode though. Obviously being less familiar with Mattel’s deathless fashion icon, I found her highly mercenary and much less than PG beginnings supremely entertaining. As cool as all the vintage commercials and animation are to see, the real stars of The Toys That Made Us are the people behind the lines. The MotU team, particularly, would’ve been a blast to have a beer with back in the day, and face time with famous nerds like Steve Sansweet and Randy Falk was an extra special treat.
The Barbie, Star Wars, G.I. Joe and Masters of the Universe episodes of The Toys That Made Us are now streaming on Netflix and are absolutely worth a watch (or three). Future chapters will focus on Transformers, Star Trek, LEGO and Hello Kitty (!), and these episodes may be my most anticipated of all upcoming pop culture, so charmed and captivated am I not just by the stories behind these phenomena, but the loving approach that Netflix has taken with bringing their origins to light. Highly recommended.