Growing up in the 80s offered every child an ocean of wondrous toys to play with and desire. My brother and I were no exception. Then comes the day when you become afraid that if your friends at school knew your GI Joes were engaged in an advanced tactical campaign to destroy the dark forces of Teddy Ruxpin after school well, they would all laugh at you. We would all go back if we could if only for a short visit to a simpler time of infinite joy and possibilities. What we need to realize is . . . it was not the toys that gave us pleasure it was the free use of our imaginations; free from peer pressure, free from obligations, and free from the guilt of unmet potential. Let's go to that land of unbridled imagination together where the sun never sets and you can't make any mistakes.
My older brother and I never got along very well growing up. Looking back I understand why and it was through no fault of his own. Our negative feelings toward each other dominated our play. We had loads of toys which were extremely cool but we had no Idea what cartoons several them came from. We knew that if there was a toy it had to have a cartoon and if you hadn't seen the cartoon you simply missed it. Robbie my brother always liked the villainous toys, he said the bad guys had cooler gadgets. I thought he was right but knew that if I had a bad guy toy I would be betraying my morals and my country. My brother and I never played with our toys together. If I was playing with my GI Joes for example it was always by myself and with the same story. My brother's Cobra commander had Dr. Mind Bender fabricate some kind of mind control device which is remotely controlling one of my Joe's mind causing him to be naughty, the naughty Joe was usually either Quick Kick or Snake Eyes and Sgt Slaughter would always save the day. Even though my brother and I never played together our toys were mortal enemies, so much so they built forts and guarded themselves from both the other toys and an invading brother. Yes, I said "forts" each in opposite corners of the bedroom our bunk beds were the dividing line between alternate dimensions of play worlds. Our forts were composed of toys from most every toy universe popular in the 80s. Tonka trucks were stacked three feet high forming a retro ziggurat, an impromptu fence built of erector set and matchbox cars encircled the perimeter which was guarded by GI Joes or Cobra; Gobots stayed in the heart of the complex in positions of leadership running the daily operations. That was the magic of a fort even though my brother and I didn't get along the toys from alternate universes in our forts always did . . . for the most part.
Transformers were great but they were expensive. We might have had one or two Transformers a piece, for us Gobots were where it was at. You guessed it my brother had imaginered an evil horde run by the unholy Gobot Renegade commander "Sy-Kill". My fort was Commandeered by the charismatic and ever-faithful Gobot Guardian, "Leader One." Robbie had the Evil Gobot Renegades shuttle base named "Thruster" and I had the good-bots "Command Center" an obvious Star Wars knock off. The Battle of the Gobots cartoon in our opinions was just as good as Transformers and the figures were super cheep ranging from two through five dollars tops. One of the unique features of the Thruster was that it had a working motion detector which my brother used in his fort to guard his evil sanctuary against snoopy little brothers. My Command Center had an alarm and flashing lights but it had to be activated by me.
(Broken YouTube Link Removed)
In my imaginary battlefield I even had the skies covered. Ace McCloud being almost twelve inches tall stood like a shiny silver and blue giant beside my Gobots and GI Joes. I really liked him because I thought it was neat that a
rocket pack could make a man fly plus he actually had spring loaded missiles that fired. My grandmother gave him to me one Christmas and my brother got the evil genius Dr Terror, although it was not the real figure it had a flash light in his chest. We had no Idea what cartoon those figures came from until later. I think the cartoon never aired where we lived. Now that I have seen it I must say the opening looks kind of cheesy but me and Ace had hours of fun patrolling the skies in my bedroom and keeping it safe from my one evil insecticon.
Mask was another cartoon series that had a very short run on TV but had some amazing toys. I remember one evening after watching Sledge Hammer we went to the store and my mom bought two of the flying black Corvette cars one for me and one for my brother. She wouldn't let us have them, she said that we would only get them if we did not fight for two days. I told her she was blackmailing us to which she informed me that blackmail is what makes the world go round. After one day went by and it felt like a prison sentence. None of my other toys seemed good enough. I needed that flying car shooting saw blades and helping Ace patrol my airspace. Couldn't she see that? My mother relented and almost immediately my brother and I were shooing the saw blades at each other. My brother's car broke and when I wasn't looking he exchanged his with mine. We got into a big fight and it wasn't hard for my mother to deduce what the fighting was about, then into her closet they went. I don't really remember the cartoon but when I looked at the opening it does look vaguely familiar perhaps I saw one or two episodes.
My brother and I even had robots that were so cleverly disguised they didn't even look like machines. Robots changing into vehicles is one thing but we had robots that changed into rocks. "Rock Lords" anyone? I had the good Rock Lord "Boulder" and my brother had the evil red "Magmar." I never saw their cartoon but when I looked it up I was shocked to see it was a spin-off of my favorite childhood cartoon Gobots. I don't know what was so appealing about playing with rocks but we really did like playing with them. My Rock Lords figure Bolder diligently guarded the entrance to my fort with the power of living rocks.
One toy my brother had made me green with envy. It was untouchable, it was all his and I wanted to play with it. We had no Idea what cartoon it could possibly have been from but this toy was awesome. My brother had Thruster at the base of his fort and he had The Air Raiders Man-O-War sitting at the top. I did some research and it seems that Air Raiders never had a cartoon only a comic book. What made the Man-O-War so amazing is that it had an air pump built in, you would pump it up and shoot missiles. The Man-O-War even had a meteorite ping pong ball - that glowed after you held it up to the light - that would hover in the air over the top of it. Well, one time when my brother was out doing something else my lustful heart got the better of me and I played with it. The pump handle was made out of cheap plastic and aluminum and the plastic part broke just a little when I pumped it up. I just wanted to see the glowing meteorite float! I was panicking, freaking out I had no Idea how I could get out of the trouble I was about to get in. Then I realized that it had not broken all the way. I decided to leave it and maybe the next time my brother played with it he would think he broke it. The next day my brother assembles his brood of evil cronies at the behest of Sy-Kill and they were going to "float the meteor" like a bugle blast before an attack. The handle to his most favorite toy the Man-O-War broke off in his hand. He never had any idea that I was the one who truly broke it until today.
(Broken YouTube Link Removed)
My first memories of action figures transporting me to another realm begins with He-Man. He-Man figures were very popular in the early 80s. I had Thunder Punch He-man with the pop caps in his back, you would twist him let him go and they would pop. My only He-man toy was soon discarded when I played with him in the sandbox. I never got all of the sand out and my mother made me throw him away replacing him with Hordak but it was not the same. He-Man toys were so cool because of the amazing things they could do; Skeletor had the giant spider " Spydor" he rode that actually moved on its own and Kobra Khan really sprayed water. Castle Gray Skull was nothing less than a Gothic masterpiece but I never saw a He-Man cartoon. Never. Someday soon I will watch He-Man on streaming Netflix just to see what it was all about but it could never match the adventures that the real He-Man and I lived through.
Our love for toys died in the summer of 1989 when we got the Nintendo Entertainment System. After Nintendo came out the entire toy industry changed. Twelve modern toy commercials don't have half the production value one Masters of The Universe commercial had. Every time a new figure was released it had its own commercial. Gone are the days when you would walk into Toys R Us or Wal-Mart and see every toy from an entire toy line because of the internet their shelves are suffering from toy anemia. Kids are not playing in their own imaginary worlds like we used to, they are playing in someone else's as they level grind on video games and dwell in cyber communities. Gone are the simple days when you could freely hate your brother to the point you were compelled to build a fort to protect your imaginary empire. On the other hand I do enjoy having a man cave all to myself.
In the next installment of Retro Toy Commercial Goodness we will go over some cool girl's toy commercials. What . . . hey you know there were some awesome girl toy commercials that rocked and made you secretly covet them. A-tiskit-a-taskit, and pounds of fun in the cabbage patch next time my buddies and then deeper into the land of the most obscure toys of all.
Best Ever Skeletor Insults
Wes Adams is a self admitted coffee junkie. Dedicated reader and experienced freelance writer. He believes words do matter and the shortest distance between two people is an idea. He is also your biggest fan. Check out his blog at astroidwriter.com