122: “More Than Meets The Eye” – Boys’ Toys of the 80s and 90s

In this “Boys’ Toys” episode of our two-part TOYS OF SUMMER podcast, we revisit icons ranging from Zack the Lego Maniac to Sergeant Slaughter in remembrance of the toys we played with in the 80s and 90s that were marketed primarily to boys.

As it turns out, some of our favorite cartoons from childhood were more than meets the eye – they were advertisements in disguise, created explicitly to get us to buy plastic playthings! The toy-to-TV-show trend kicked off with Hasbro’s relaunch of its G.I. JOE action figures in 1982, rebranded as the “Real American Hero” in a corresponding animated series. It was soon followed by action figure juggernauts HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE and THE TRANSFORMERS. Using bulging muscles, explosive hardware, and cartoon violence to appeal to young boys, these series often wrapped up with a wholesome life lesson to balance out the mayhem (before cutting to a commercial break encouraging us to buy the latest bazooka-toting action figures).

Along the way, we touch on other toys marketed mainly to boys during this era, including Hot Wheels, Nerf, Tonka Trucks, and Super Soaker – and of course, share thoughts on 1986’s TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE and how the death of Optimus Prime traumatized a whole generation of youngsters.

With the fabulous secrets of our favorite toy brands revealed to us, do any of these products still have the power? Or do companies like Hasbro and Mattel just look like Decepticons to us now? With movies like BARBIE and TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE BEASTS in theaters this summer, it’s the perfect time to reconsider the lessons we learned from toy-branded cartoons and commercials in the 80s and 90s. Because now we know that the cartoons we loved as kids were a total sham — and knowing is half the battle!

(This episode may contain a choking hazard for children under 3. Becky, Chris, and Seth sold separately.)

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