Some cute, some wacky, some EXTREME, it's a fad to be remembered!
If you read my last article “This Book Sucks!: 90's Bookstore Adventures” wherein I sang the praises of the Troll Book Club, you might be inclined to accuse me of full-fledged troll obsession. If I complete my “Troll-ogy” by providing anthropological thesis on the Trolls from Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears, feel free to have me committed.
But the fact of the matter is, Trolls (in their many forms) were all the rage in the late 80’s to early 90’s and I was just a simple boy caught in a glittering web of neon-colored hair. Do I have memories of the Trolls’ rise to pop culture prominence? You betcha! Some cute, some wacky, some EXTREME, they’re all ready to go for... you guessed it, TROLL TIME!
Here’s the deal, I’ve always liked girls. I never went through the “Eww, girls” phase that many guys experienced, I was always on the “Yeah, girls!” train. Even back in pre-school I was always looking for a gal pal share my Tinker Toys with (no innuendo implied, I just love alliteration). But what does this have to do with Trolls you might ask? I’m getting there! See I was exposed to a lot of girly toys as I pursued potential love interests and one those were Troll dolls. (There, you happy now? Geez!)
I’m fairly certain that the first time I saw the traditional Troll doll in this style was in keychain form hanging off some schoolyard crush’s backpack. The initial thing that caught my eye had to be the brightly colored tuft of hair erupting from the top of its malformed head. The next observation was, “Hey, that thing is naked!” Every accessory was neon back in the day, from our slap bracelets to our fanny packs, but very few things were nude. But once the shock of the tiny exhibitionism on display wore off, I started realizing that these things were everywhere!
You couldn’t walk into a classroom, a girl’s room (yes, I visited a few) and especially a stationary store without finding dozens of glass shelves packed with these Young Einstein haired little wierdos. It’s about this time I realized that Trolls were not just flesh-colored Smurfs on a bad hair day, but seemed to have developed their own cast system of appeal and legitimacy.
The “official” Troll dolls of the day were produced by a company called Norfin, although another company called Russ seemed to have a pretty big share of the market as well. Much like the later Beanie Baby craze, you looked for the tag that let you know this Troll wasn’t some pipsqueak poser, but a legit, licensed toy worthy of taking up shelf space next to your my Little Pony. The standard size seemed to be about 3 to 4 inches, but some were twice that size and beyond!
Aside from the size differences Trolls were produced for every occasion, it’s as if they were trying to wipe out greeting cards altogether to become the dominant species of the local Hallmark store. That’s right, they put clothes on our favorite bare-bottomed buddies to theme them for birthdays, Halloween and even St. Patrick’s Day! I’d pay to see the rumble between Troll dolls and Leprechauns over which diminutive rabble rousers got to represent that rowdy holiday!
So the Troll invasion had begun, they were everywhere, but were they for everyONE? As mentioned previously, it was mostly girls I saw collecting and coveting the diminutive Don King haired darlings, so how did I get on board?
What would possess a strapping lad such as myself to consider owning what might as well have been Barbie’s deformed, shrunken twin who was hidden deep in the bowels of her Malibu Dream House? I guess you’d have to blame this little guy.
Yes, this is Yoda, not a Troll. But it’s not just any Yoda, it’s a Magic 8 Ball inspired fortune telling Yoda! See when I was born in 1982 I came out all wrinkled and discolored. Wedged in between releases of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi as I was, my Dad could not help but notice my resemblance to the oddly hued Jedi master. Thus I was nicknamed Yoda for the first year of my life and I can only assume this was purchased during that time.
You just used the force to turn Master Yoda upside down and through water as dark as any swamp in Dagobah emerged and answer written on a rotating cube. What does this have to do with Trolls you ask yet again? (Come on, haven’t you learned to trust that my tangents actually go somewhere by now?) Well here’s the scoop, the first (actually only) Troll doll I bought was of the Fortune Telling variety. Here’s how it all went down.
While perusing the latest Troll Book Club order form (how fitting), I noticed an ad for a troll doll that would answer any and all questions it was asked. Just like Yoda and far more trendy by 1991, I ordered the Troll and awaited the wisdom it promised to bring. Upon arrival I found that this Fortune Telling Troll stole a page from the Pillsbury Doughboy, by requiring a tummy poke to tickle the answer out of him. Once pushed, the eyes of the Troll would flash excitedly between red or green before finally settling on one color to provide a Yes or No answer.
I may have fallen for the Cybernetic Fortune Teller Troll ploy, but to be honest, I didn’t see many other guys on the playground sporting one of their own. So how was the Troll Patrol going to make the true crossover into to the violent world of boys toys? If you guessed ‘roided out Troll Action Figures, you get a gold star!
There were many pretenders to the throne, Battle Trolls, Troll Warriors, but everybody knows there was only boy Troll toy that left its mark, Stoooooone Protectors! I think we are all legally bound to pronounce the name with the elongated “O” ever since the awesome commercial flashed across our screens in between episodes of Swat Kats and Biker Mice From Mars.
Just look at these guys, they embody the 90’s in all its EXTREME glory. My favorite was the Scottish tough guy Angus (I’m a sucker for an accent), but the rest of the team had names like Cornelius, Chester and Clifford. Aside from the dorky names, these guys managed to do their marketing right.
Of course they had their own cartoon series with the built-in bad guys and super power imbuing stones from which they derived their name, but the Stone Protectors went so far as to back it up with video games for the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo.
Now all they had to do was immortalize themselves in a comic book and…well, there you go! I can’t say I ever owned one these figures myself, but they were ever-present in toy aisles for years to come, especially the clearance racks.
Of course the imitation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles formula is clear as can, but it bears mentioning that the Turtles themselves actually hopped on the Troll bandwagon at one point. Just look at this!
I think the real downfall of the troll craze came in the form of the TY Beanie Babies around 1994. With the same tag authentication process, just as able to represent any holiday and frankly, a lot more cuddly, Beanie Babies soon pushed Troll dolls off store shelves.
It seemed literally overnight that our smooshed-face friends with the crazy hair returned to the land from which they came…or maybe they just got sold at garage sales. You be the judge.
Freakish as they may have been, you can’t say seeing a Troll doesn’t bring a nostalgic smile to your face. Though our Troll Time is at an end, they’ll always have a special place in our heart. Although some people are taking it just a little too far.