Jun 29, 2018

[TV] The Toys That Made Us Review

Toys are obviously very important to me as I remain a collector of Transformers and other collectibles of interest. And while my own research into this or that has me feeling like I have a good grasp of the hobby as a whole, there's still a heck of a lot of things that I and other fans and collectors probably don't know.

There have been a few documentaries focused on this or that toyline such as how Plastic Galaxy focused on the Star Wars toys. But The Toys That Made Us expanded on that subject and explored 8 different toy lines across a limited series. And it goes without saying that this was a lot of fun to watch.

The show was presented in two short "seasons" of four episodes each but it seems more prudent to look at this as a single mini-series. This could all become mood should the show decide to go beyond their initial plan of 8 episodes but that would necessitate a new theme song.

Synopsis: The Toys That Made Us is an American documentary series created by Brian Volk-Weiss and directed by Tom Stern. The show was released in two short seasons on Netflix.

As committed to in the show's theme song, The Toys That Made Us is an 8-part documentary series exploring different toys that were particularly iconic. The first season covered Star Wars, Barbie, He-Man, and G.I. Joe. So that includes a lot of the ups and downs for how the Star Wars toy franchise was first managed and the many incarnations of Barbie.

The second half covered Star Trek, Transformers, LEGO, and Hello Kitty. Thus we see how they different the Star Trek toy journey was versus Star Wars. And there's also detailed covered of the many different Japanese transforming robot toylines that eventually came together to become the Transformers.

What I Liked: The level of detail that the researchers went into to put this series together was quite impressive and they went into a lot of nuance for each of the different toys. Beyond just interesting, there were cases when the series actually felt oddly educational, provided the subject of this education was still this or that toy and its related offshots. Plus at times it was quirkily funny.

In addition, they also managed to reach out to a wide variety of resources who also contributed to the narrative with interview segments that really rounded out these stories. Some of the people interviewed genuinely surprised me and had me wondering how the heck did they convince this or that person to get involved in this labor of love?

What Could Have Been Better: Coverage of the history of each toyline was as comprehensive as could be managed but not necessarily as consistently extensive throughout. So there are parts of each story that seem to get a lot of attention and while others sort of get glossed over. It's hard to explain but you may get a better appreciation for this as you watch the series.

And as much as I appreciate all the different toys they focused on, the odd man out to was the Hello Kitty episode. And while I enjoyed it a lot as it was quite informative and entertaining (KAWAII), I've never looked at Hello Kitty as an actual toy and more a mascot that just happened to be on different lunch kits, bags, ouches and stationery. She's a memorable character, yes, but does she really represent a memorable toyline?

TL;DR: The Toys That Made Us is a pretty epic documentary series that is a great celebration of the childhood of a particular generation. The main pain point so far is that it's only 8 episodes long and we'll never run out of toys that we wish they had featured and explored the stories of. Thus the series gets a great 5 quirky quips about toys out of a possible 5.


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