Wednesday, February 17, 2010

THEY DON'T ROBOT 'EM LIKE THEY USED TO: The five four greatest toy robots merchandising tie-ins of all time, plus Voltron bedsheets

Okay so last time I blew 700 words complaining about Transformer shaving cream and how lame Power Ranger fishing poles were. Now it's time to put my childhood on the line and prove the crap they made when I was a kid did a better job of transforming every facet of my mundane daily existence into an awesome toy robot commercial. Here then are the iconic items I grew up with that combined perfectly the themes of their toy robot franchises with the purpose and functionality of their intended uses. These are...



I've given Voltron some crap before for being the most inappropriately overlicensed toy robot ever. World Event Productions (the people responsible for creating and distributing Voltron) licensed those space lions to any third party gadget manufacturer regardless of what they were making and consequently we ended up with Voltron calculators, binoculars, flashlights and even 110 film cameras.
Richway 11/28/1985
This was stuff that had nothing at all to do with the idea of five combining robot space lions from Planet Arus defending the universe. WEP should have concentrated more on products that emphasized Voltron's whole defending shtick, like Voltron bedsheets! Usually I consider bedsheets amongst the lowest common denominator merchandising that all licensed characters end up on but Voltron made bedsheets special. Voltron turned bedsheets from just something else I peed on into an intergalactic defense against all my terrible enemies like closet ghosts and the Loch Ness Monster. I tell you if you were a kid back then you believed Voltron bedsheets were the one impenetrable defense those evil beings could not overcome, despite having the technology to regularly travel across billions of light years and various dimensions on a nightly basis to come get you while you slept. You were double protected if you wore Voltron underwear, which was defense against the alien butt probers from Planet Anus. Muppet Babies bedsheets did not afford you these protections! In fact I'll bet the aliens actively sought out kids with Muppet Babies bedsheets to kidnap and torture. I know because I never had Voltron anything and was thus constantly under nightly attack from the Loch Ness Monster and various intergalactic butt probe aliens. I don't know how I made it out of childhood without going insane. You would think that growing up under those circumstances would make me bitter and angry at Voltron for not saving me despite my family not purchasing his brand of bedroom accessories and I would see him as my mortal enemy and grow up obsessed with murdering all five members of Voltron Force as revenge for being butt probed by the Loch Ness Monster, but I don't feel that way about Voltron at all. I feel that way about Muppet Babies.


Zayre 12/08/85

Before I ever heard of GoBots I was playing with those big metal trucks Tonka made. Before the Toy Robots Wars of the 1980s, Tonka was synonymous with giant metal big rigs, Jeeps, 4x4s construction vehicles and any other kind of badass toy truck you could imagine. So then they do the GoBots thing and immediately it occurs to them that it would be awesome to create a giant metal GoBot semi truck. And it was! This was the perfect fusion of toy robot franchise and pre-robot era iconic company mascot product and it was badass. What was Hasbro's iconic company mascot product before robots came along? Mister Potato Head. People are always asking me what life was like before the Roboplastic Apocalypse and how the world has changed for the worse in the post-Roboplastic Apocalypse. I can think of no better way to illustrate how it has all turned to crap than by comparing the greatness that is Tonka GoBot semi truck with that horrid monstrosity that is Optimus Prime truck potato.


Karls Toys 12/20/84

When I was growing up it was absolutely essential for major toy franchises to have model kits. There were Masters of the Universe models, Star Wars models, Battlestar Galactica models and even G.I. Joe models. You'd think that toy robots being mechanical beings would inspire all sorts of awesome model kits but as it turns out most of them were rather hit and miss. The Shogun Warriors model kits were quite primitive looking despite having some cool features like firing fists and an impressive height of 9 to 10 inches tall. The small motorized GoBots model kits by Monogram were fun to build and play with but ugly to look at. Also the larger GoBots kits weren't originally modeled after Leader-1 and Cy-Kill so while they were impressive, they looked nothing like the characters. I've seen pictures of proposed Transformer model kits but Hasbro never went forward with those for whatever reason. None of this mattered anyways because Revell's line of Robotech Defenders model kits were the most awesome toy robot models ever. I'm specifically talking about the 1/72 scale Macross Valkyrie based kits but they did other scales and other robots in the line. Revell's Robotech weren't as easy to put together as the smaller GoBots kits and they didn't have flying fists like Shogun Warriors or pull back and go motors but they were still great because they were the only way you could get an officially licensed Robotech Veritech that didn't totally suck.


Gold Circle 12/01/85

This is the toy robot tie-in that needs no introduction. This is easily the most iconic toy robot cross merchandising effort of all time-the real working Soundwave cassette player. To understand its greatness we must first know the history of the toy and how the character became a larger than life icon that was so much more than the action figure could ever hope to deliver. The Transformers version of Soundwave was originally a toy called CassetteMan from Microman's Micro Change toyline. The concept of the Micro Change line was that the alternate modes of the robots were the approximate size of real life household objects, so the toy that would become Soundwave was intended originally to be a microcassette player. Soundwave was thus actual size. The problem I had as a kid was in the cartoon and comic he was always portrayed in the larger, more common standard Walkman cassette player scale. So it was that size that I grew up most familiar with and it's that size I thought Soundwave "really was". This toy then was a total no-brainer and that's why it's the most fondly remembered toy crossover in toy robots history. Although it didn't transform it did what all kids who grew up in the 80s expected the perfect Soundwave toy to do-play Iron Maiden tapes. It is almost blasphemy for this guy to not top my list but I'm sure even die hard Transformers fans will agree that Soundwave cassette player comes in second behind the greatest toy robot licensing tie-in of all time....


Gold Circle 12/01/85

Unlike Voltron where almost every licensed product was inappropriate and embarrassing, every licensed Robo Force tie-in was gold. Robo Force set the standard not only for how a toy robots line should be translated into other merchandise, but also for how to launch an invasion of planet earth by alien robots pretending to be toys. From Erector Sets to phones to an actual friggin' $300 robot, Robo Force licensing was suspiciously brilliant and quite possibly the first step of a much larger overall agenda that's ultimate purpose was the robotic slavery of mankind. It was a brilliant scheme where they'd get us to build them and give them control of our communication networks and then their $300 drones would kill us all. Since the robotic overlords knew they couldn't get one of their killing machines into every household with such a steep price they also ran an Alpha-Bits cereal giveaway promotion where 1 in 2000 people would win one of these 'personal assistants' which may or may not have been a robotic infiltrator programmed to slaughter human families as the first stage of the domination of mankind by Max Steele's Robo Force. Shiver in fear and realize how close we came to species wide extinction at the hands of Robo Force as I leave you with the chilling text from this ad, which very well may have been the obituary of all humanity:

I am Maxx. You can program me. I talk. I walk. My hand moves, turns and grasps. I know the time and can wake you up. I play games and music. I am the life of the party. Controller requires one 9 volt battery (not incl). Ages 8 and up.

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