Monday, March 29, 2010


I love toys. One of the perks of having kids, I have found, is that you get to develop a new collection of toys in your house, but this time around YOU’RE in control. No more of the “Mom, can I send away for the super cool toy in the comic book?” only to hear “That piece of junk? You’re not wasting your allowance on that!” Nope. No more. Now it’s you, your credit card, and Amazon. The toy world is your oyster, up to your credit limit anyway. In this review, I am looking at how toys from my childhood compare to their reincarnations today, and grading them with A, B, C, D, or F.

1. The Original Sit’n’Spin: The original was pure genius. It made you dizzier than a drunken sailor on leave at the port, and it gave you a great arm workout. Not only that, it went from being an iconic toy to a classic phrase, often said with a pencil in one’s hand.
Original Sit’n’Spin Rating: A, for making a great concept actually work

The New Sit’n’Spin: Did they not have a circa 1980’s prototype to copy? What the hell? How hard could it be? They got the concept of the moving parts in the bottom, and yet the new Sit’n’Spin just does not seem to have the same “I’m in the toilet experiencing the Coriolis effect firsthand” feel to it. Maybe it’s the lighter construction. Maybe it’s the oblong shape of the bottom piece. I don’t know, but whatever it is, it falls way short of its addictive predecessor.
New Sit’n’Spin: C, for jacking up a great concept that had been previously perfected with primitive technology

2. The Original Little People: The original Little People were simple folk. So simple, in fact, that they lacked limbs. The mom had strange blond hair in a bun. The Dad was bald. The kids were smaller but were equally odd. The family dog had protruding ears and was, as I recall, around the same size as the parents, which I never quite got. The original Little People buildings were cool, although the concept of the Little People carrying anything around in those buildings was always annoying, since they had no limbs.
Original Little People: C, for stretching the imagination too far out on the limbs

The New Little People: They have limbs- detailed limbs! Granted, the limbs are not pose-able, but they have them! The buildings are still cool, or at least they were until Fisher-Price very recently downsized some of them. The new Little People are also impressively indestructible. I think if there were ever a nuclear disaster, the cockroaches would have the new Little People to play with in the aftermath.
New Little People: B+, for having limbs, and being indestructible

3. The Original Hungry Hungry Hippos: The original was awesome! You could pump your hippo’s lever as hard as you wanted and the board would not move. Very occasionally a hippo would lose its head, but it snapped back on easily enough. Few games prompted healthy family venting like Hungry Hungry Hippos. The pace of the game was fast, the duration short, and yet it had plenty of time for “Hey- I was gonna get that marble, loser!” and, “No fair! Your hippo is hogging all the marbles!” which would evoke the response, “That’s the object of the game, dork!”
Original Hungry Hungry Hippos: A, for being a great action game and supporting trash talk skills development

The New Hungry Hungry Hippos: Much like the new Sit’n’Spin, the new Hungry Hungry Hippos is but a cheap plastic shadow of its former sturdy self. I bought this for my kids and was so disappointed. The board was smaller and lighter. It just doesn’t tolerate banging on the hippos like the original did. And with the board so small, there’s no room for the slight-of-hand force-feeding your hippo while your opponent is distracted.
New Hungry Hungry Hippos: D, for sucking and dishonoring its predecessor’s legacy

4. Original Barbie: The original Barbie was tall, slender, blond, and well endowed. Other than a few changes of clothes, the huge Barbie house, and a modest selection of accessories, though, there wasn’t a whole lot of Barbie stuff available. Barbie brought with her some social controversy. There were psychologists crying that Barbie harmed girls’ self image because she “possessed an unrealistic physique”. …Yeah, and baby dolls don’t have explosive diapers in their car seats that get icky stuff everywhere, including the windshield. Get over it people, it’s a toy. Sure, we shouldn’t actively teach our girls that the perfect body lands the perfect man, but let’s leave a little room for dreaming, shall we?
Original Barbie: B, for limited accessorizing, but also for great hair you could brush for hours, and for pushing the envelope in plastic molding

New Barbie: If the new Barbie is any different from the old Barbie in terms of overall design, I would be surprised, other than that the quality of her hair has been unfortunately cheapened. If her measurements have been toned down, I don’t think it could be by more than half a cup. The only other thing I think may have changed about Barbie is that the accessories have multiplied, and there are more versions of Barbie herself. Now there are Barbies based on various movie characters, and Barbies of different ethnicities, like mermaids and fairies. There are also career-minded Barbie play sets, for which Mattel cleverly selected girl-appealing occupations. Apparently their marketing research wisely concluded that “Dr. Barbie” would sell much better than “Bloodsucking Lawyer Barbie”. The accessories for Barbie these days are endless. Basically you can purchase anything Barbie would need to exist or pamper herself with if she were real, except for personal toiletries. Thank heaven they drew the line somewhere.
New Barbie: A, for unlimited accessorizing, and for sending the message to girls that they should stay in school, because with the right credit card, they can have the car, the house, the looks, and the man

5. The Original Big Wheel: Back in the day, this was the awesome riding toy to have. It made kid-power cool, not that there was any other kind of power. There was the nifty little blue plastic box on the back that carried important stuff like dolls, rocks, and Star Wars figures. There was a neat hand brake for death defying spinouts. Possibly the only flaw was there was no traction on asphalt going uphill, but it was also a riding toy that made going downhill a blast.
Original Big Wheel: A, for sturdy, well thought-out construction

The New Original Big Wheel: I refer to it as “The New Original Big Wheel” because the box today is labeled as “The Original Big Wheel”. I think it is one of the few reincarnated toys that could label itself in this way and get away with it. While there have been a few changes, thankfully the overall design was left intact. The New Original Big Wheel does lack the cool storage box on the back, and the exciting hand brake, but other than that, it seems to be the Big Wheel you remember, down to having no traction going uphill on asphalt. Leaving this flaw alone proves the brilliance of that company’s toy engineers: If it’s already broken, why mess up the rest of it by trying to fix it? If only more toy engineers got this.
New Original Big Wheel: A, for not messing up an already nearly perfected design

And so ends our tip toe down nostalgia’s lane. As we have seen, some things are definitely as good as you remember them.