Most Gen-Xers don't realize that they owe many of their Christmas memories to the FCC. During the early '80s, parents became concerned by the kinds of things their kids were seeing on TV, so they asked for new rules regulating advertisements shown during kids' shows. Bowing to pressure from the White House and from toy makers, the FCC responded to these concerns by pretty much deregulating children's television altogether. Kids' shows quickly became half-hour commercials for toy lines, which parents began buying at unbelievable rates.
What is strange is that, given the chance to create simple stories and background information on their products, toy makers instead took the characters' mythology to bizarre, dark places.
It's hard to overstate how big of a deal the Cabbage Patch Kids were in the '80s. Riots over the latest Christmas toy are all too familiar today, but back in 1982 when Cabbage Patch Kids hit the scene, it was almost unheard of. Determined to be ready for the demands of Christmas '84, toy makers released storybooks, cassettes and an animated Christmas special describing the adventures of the Cabbage Patch Kids. What they unveiled was a world of sheer madness.
Via Wikimedia Commons
Stare deep into the eyes of your dark fate, my children.
First of all, "Cabbage Patch Kids" is not a cute nickname -- they grow from actual cabbages. Which is fine -- we understand the makers of a toy line about babies don't want to have to begin their show with a woman screaming from labor pains. But it just keeps getting weirder from there -- the magical cabbages are pollinated by mutated creatures called bunnybees, who drop crystals on them.
Hybrids that scientifically must result from a rabbit sexing a bee.
The kids thus emerge into a world with no parents, and are basically left to fend for themselves until they're "adopted" (that is, until their doll is bought by some lucky kid whose own parents are willing to face down a stampede to get one). And these kids really need to be adopted quick, because unfortunately their little cabbage patch is in very close proximity to a gold mine owned by the evil Lavender McDade. Lavender is an entrepreneur with a brilliant business plan: kidnap the Cabbage Patch Kids and -- get this -- turn them into slaves.
To mine the gold, obviously.
Lavender describes her plan in a sassy song from the album:
"I've got to stop those Cabbage Kids from finding parents of their own
I'm going to need some henchmen I can't do it all alone
'Cause there's gold here in the valley and the kids cannot go free
I need their little fingers to dig the gold for me."
Buy some Cabbage Patch Kids, OR THEY WILL FEEL THE WHIP!
Sometime in 1984, there was a conversation over at Tonka Toys that went something like this:
"Hey, I have an idea -- let's import some of those robots from Japan that turn into cars."
"Well, sir, Hasbro's already doing that. They're going to call them 'Transformers.'"
"Oh ... well, what the hell, let's do it anyway."
"Good idea, sir."
And the GoBots were born!
GoBots never gained as much mainstream popularity as the Transformers. For one thing, the toys just weren't as cool. Even the kids in the GoBots commercials couldn't seem to summon the enthusiasm needed to promote them.
Sure, buy this shit. Whatever.
But, like the Transformers, the GoBots had their own animated series (Challenge of the GoBots), and the creators knew that to compete for the imaginations of young children, they had to crank that shit to 11.
The show tells us that the GoBots are from Gobotron, a planet that was once home to a race of humanoids, the GoBings. Thousands of years ago, a terrorist group known as the Renegades started a war with a group of peaceful people called the Guardians, which ultimately ruined their planet. OK, that sounds a lot like the Transformers' back story so far. But here's where shit gets weird.
Facing extinction, the survivors sought out a man known only as the Last Engineer. Not because he was the most brilliant scientist or because he had a way to fix the planet. No, they needed him because for years, he had been slowly transforming himself into a cyborg by cutting off parts of his own body and replacing them with machinery.
The GoBings decided to allow the Engineer to transplant their brains into robot bodies, allowing them to survive as GoBots. He provided these transplants indiscriminately to both sides, Renegade and Guardian alike, until they had all been assimilated.
"Um, Mr. Engineer ... did I do something to offend you?"
When his work was done, the Engineer disappeared and left the two factions to continue fighting. Challenge of the GoBots is set in modern times, which means that the GoBots have been at war for thousands of years. Which is to say, this toy line is about human minds, trapped in metal bodies, trying to destroy each other. Forever.
The Hugga Bunch were a group of cute little plush dolls meant for, of course, hugging!
In 1985, fans of the dolls tuned in to watch a TV special centered around the Hugga Bunch ... and came away needing therapy.
The story centers around Bridget, who is distraught over her parents' decision to send her beloved grandmother to a nursing home. She is also rather frightened that whenever she hugs her toys, an eerie giggling sound comes from her closet. The mystery is solved when, alone in her room, Bridget is confronted by a terrifying creature emerging from her mirror.
The creature is, of course, Huggins from the Hugga Bunch. "We've been watching you through the mirror for a long time," she tells Bridget. Oh, we're sure you have, Hugga.
The Hugga convinces Bridget to travel through the mirror into Huggaland to find a solution to her problem. There she meets the whole Hugga Bunch, who bring Bridget to the Bookworm for advice about her grandmother. This is where things go from Alice in Wonderland with creepy sentient Peeping Tom dolls to FUBAR.
The Bookworm suggests collecting some youngberries and feeding them to poor grandma. You know, so she'll be young again and her family won't force her to go to a nursing home. There's just one catch: The youngberry tree is protected by an evil sorceress. To get to her, they will have jump down an endless hole to the Land of the Shrubs.
There they must travel beyond the River of Glass, defeat the hairy behemoth (aka the scariest creature in the Bible) and steal the youngberries from the evil queen, all without letting the berries touch the ground. The friends jump down the unending pit and make their way to the castle, guarded by the behemoth.
The plan: Hug it, of course! The behemoth transforms from a horrifying monster who's trying to kill them to, well, just a horrifying monster.
1. Monster. 2. Hug. 3. Elephant.
The creature, now an unsettling blue elephant thing, joins them on their journey into the queen's castle, where they find the youngberry tree encased in glass. They meet the queen, who is enraged that they wish to take her precious berries (note: they're the only thing keeping her alive).
Things seem hopeless when the queen imprisons the Hugga Bunch and freezes Bridget in place for all eternity (fortunately, a hug saves her). When the queen is distracted by her own youthful beauty, the gang steals her berries and runs away. The queen, who needs the berries to remain young, shrivels into old age and dies horribly.
Seriously. But hey, at least they got the berries, right?
Armed with the youngberries, Bridget returns through the mirror to restore her grandmother's youth. Unfortunately, the berries spill out and disappear, making the whole adventure totally pointless.
Finding herself as the star in what is apparently a goddamned Shakespearean tragedy, Bridget decides to take the only course remaining to her and threatens never to speak to her brother again unless he starts showing some affection. Moved by this tirade, her brother proclaims that he doesn't want poor grandma to leave, even if she is old and useless. Their father suddenly sees the error of his ways and grandma gets to stay in their home to die the same horrible, inevitable death we just watched the queen die, but in slow motion. Bridget, presumably, returns to her room to smash her mirror into tiny pieces.
Believe it or not, we haven't yet mentioned the most horrifying thing about this tale of a young lady on a one-way track to the local asylum: The Hugga Bunch won an Emmy.
Solidifying the fact that Emmys don't mean a goddamn thing.