I’ve already expressed my undying love for G.I. Joe toys, particularly in regards to Robot Chicken’s genius usage of them. But RC ain’t got nothing on Netflix’s new eight-episode documentary The Toys That Made Us, not when it comes to reminding me all about the toys I love.
Granted, all that reminding also comes with a heaping share of informing, too, as the first four episodes (the rest haven’t dropped yet) of the new(ish) show, created by Brian Volk-Weiss, trace the business origins of some of our favorite toys: G.I. Joe, Star Wars, He-Man, and Barbie.
Despite being one of the toys that truly launched Hasbro, the early 12-inch "G.I. Joe: America's Movable Fighting Man" action figures aren’t even the part of the story many of us know, as the toys fell victim, first to the public’s anti-militaristic outlook in the wake of the Vietnam War, and ultimately during the 1978 oil crisis. Fortunately not before Bulletman could join the ranks, though:
My own true and devoted Joe love, along with so many others', didn’t fully blossom until 1982, when the company strategically launched a calculated 3.75-inch assault on the pocket books of Reagan-era America with the "G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero" line, off which they made $51 million that first year.
Judging from what I learned via all the great creator, investor, and pundit interviews in The Toys That Made Us, that was all part of Hasbro’s meticulously laid-out marketing plan, which included not just the best toys in the world, but also the best comic in the world: Marvel Comic’s G.I. Joe, written by legendary Larry Hama, whom the show interviews at length. And then it later included the best cartoon in the world, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.
We also meet THE behind-the-scenes figure designer Ron Rudat, whom I’m dying to interview, if anyone want to introduce us. The guy basically dreamed up every character from 1982 to 1986, and he’s got stories for all of them. Reminder: Those characters were my best friends at the time.
While all that informing is worthwhile and interesting, the best thing the show does is bring me right back to the toys, close-ups galore. I could actually see the rope swing I’d created out of my basement blinds for Spirit to soar on; the pitch of my strewn comforter serving as the ski hill off which Snow Job launched his triple daffies; the woodchip river Dusty drove his APC down, which I created in my backyard by letting the hose run for hours on end. And it matters not that I was immediately reminded about how much I hate Ricky Margolin for giving him all my toys when I “grew up” and went to middle school. Because the love of those toys overwhelms that hate.
The first four episodes are available now on Netflix, although I have to admit I jumped ahead to G.I. Joe’s first. But I’ll be watching at least two of the other ones soon. And I hear LEGO and Transformers episodes are in the works, so there should be plenty more to love on soon!