6 Beloved 80s Toys With Bizarrely Horrifying Origin Stories
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.
Cabbage Patch Kids -- Child Slavery, Kidnapping, Mutants
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.
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.
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.
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."
GoBots -- Human Experiments, Cyborgs, Nuclear Fallout
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."
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.
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.
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 -- A Futile Quest of Murder and Hugs
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.
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.
Sectaurs -- Biological Warfare, Slavery, More Mutants
Remember that scene in Big where Tom Hanks convinces the toy makers that a toy shaped like a bug was much cooler than one shaped like a building? This is basically what toy makers had in mind when they made Sectaurs. These action figures were basically human-insect hybrids that came with their own bug to fly around on.
Coming up with the idea for bug people is pretty easy, but when it came time to make the cartoon, the writers needed some background info on how they came to be this way. Was it magic? Aliens who were bug-like? Apparently, kids needed something a little more edgy to watch on Saturday mornings, so the writers finally settled on fallout from biological warfare.
Therefore, the Sectaurs story goes something like this:
Thousands of years ago, there was a peaceful planet full of enlightened beings (the Ancients) whose scientific advances had fostered the perfect utopia ... until one day something went terribly wrong and the whole planet was almost entirely destroyed by an unknown biological disaster.
From the ashes of the ruined planet rose a race of animal-insect mutants who are in a perpetual state of war.
If you watched the video above, you saw that what they're fighting over is control of "the secrets of the Ancients." You see, instead of saying "my bad" and cleaning up their horrific messes, the wise Ancients decided to store all their knowledge in "hyves" and leave their mutated offspring to work it out among themselves. Fortunately for the good guys, they're each able to bond with the mind of one giant mutated bug, giving them bug superpowers.
The show ran for only five episodes, and they're all the stuff of nightmares. The first episode shows the evil Spidrax attacking a village in his giant flying spider bug. The whole thing is reminiscent of Vietnam War films, with villagers running for their lives as their homes and fields are burned. And that's just the first scene.
P.J. Sparkles -- Lord of the Flies on Ecstasy
P.J. Sparkles is a doll that really doesn't need a back story. It's a little girl doll that lights up. That's it, that's all it takes to entertain toddlers. Hell, the empty box would be enough to entertain most toddlers.
But as with the rest of the toys on this list, the makers felt they needed to come up with a complicated P.J. Sparkles creation myth, and they included a VHS cassette along with the doll.
The short film tells the story of P.J., an orphan who wishes on a star for someone to love. Instead of finding her a caring and stable home, the wishing star sends P.J. to Twinkle Town. Despite its cheerful name, Twinkle Town is a foreboding, polluted place with no apparent order. It's populated by crowds of dingy children who immediately begin to cheer P.J. as soon as she arrives.
P.J. soon discovers that these nameless children were left there by the wishing star, and despite the star's dubious skills, have been wishing for a leader ever since. It's unclear why P.J. was chosen as their messiah, er, leader, but somehow the kids just know by looking at her that she's the one.
Let's stop and make it clear that even the people writing this monstrosity couldn't have given less of a shit about it. At one point, P.J. performs magic without meaning to and offers as an aside, "I wonder how I'm doing that?" When P.J. appears out of nowhere to a troubled kid and he wants to know where she came from, her horse tells him, "Just go with it, kiddo, it takes too long to explain."
Anyway, the villains of the story, who are inserted almost as an afterthought, are the only adults in Twinkle Town, and they really don't like what P.J. has done with the place. In case you weren't sure they were the bad guys, they carry a bag of filth around with them wherever they go.
Having discovered a "cure" for all the love and happiness in Twinkle Town, the two villains manage to turn all of P.J.'s followers against her. P.J. begins to grow faint and fade away. She's informed by the horrible wishing star that her very existence depends on how much love the children give her. So, unless she can manage to bring the children back under her thumb, P.J. will die. And unless they follow P.J. adoringly, the kids better get used to a dark existence trapped in Twinkle Town forever.
Wait, was this toy just a front for a cult? All the profits went to fund some compound somewhere, didn't they?
Rainbow Brite -- Incarnated Evil, Child Abandonment, Murder Via Rainbow
If you were around in the '80s, you remember the enormously popular Rainbow Brite doll. Here's a video of that kid from Poltergeist trying to sell one to you.
For the most part, the Rainbow Brite cartoon series could not have been more innocuous -- even the "villains" Murky and Lurky were really just a couple of inept caricatures. Really the only objectionable thing about the series was the fact that it seemed to be produced by a bunch of grown-up hippies. But then we have the two-part special, "The Beginning of Rainbowland." That's where we get Rainbow Brite's terrifying origin story.
It turns out Rainbow Brite started out as Wisp, a human toddler who was transported to an unnamed planet and given a quest to save it. Wisp must discover a way to bring color to the desolate landscape. To do this, she must find the Sphere of Light, which is held captive in a castle by a being known as the Evil One. It turns out that Murky and Lurky were just the henchmen for the Evil One, who is determined to keep the land in darkness. There are frequent lightning strikes, rivers of lava and evil creatures who are constantly trying to capture or kill little Wisp.
As she travels, Wisp encounters a field full of statues, which on further inspection turn out to be the frozen corpses of others who've tried to reach the castle. Wisp continues on, gathering new friends with her, until she comes to ...
Wisp then discovers an abandoned baby lying on the rocks and crying. Despite her friends' annoyed protests, Wisp decides that she must help the baby.
The bad guys decide they need to capture Wisp to steal the source of her rainbow powers. They accomplish this by kidnapping the baby as a way to lure Wisp into a trap. Wisp confronts the Evil One, who brandishes the baby in one huge fist and demands Wisp's Rainbow Belt.
Now it's time for Wisp to embrace her destiny as the One and bend reality to her will. A beam of rainbow shoots out from her stomach ...
... and wraps around the Evil One like a goddamned boa constrictor ...
... and crushes him until nothing but his empty cloak remains.
Wisp takes her place as Rainbow Brite and restores color to Rainbowland, where she hopefully receives treatment for post traumatic stress disorder. You may think this episode was some kind of an intentionally edgy, gritty reboot of the character maybe meant for girls in their early teens ... then you realize that "The Beginning of Rainbowland" is recommended for kids as young as 3 years old.
For more bizarre origin stories, check out 7 Shockingly Dark Origins of Lovable Children's Characters. Or check out some hilariously bad knockoffs in The 15 Most Unintentionally Hilarious Bootleg Toys.
And stop by LinkSTORM (UPDATED TODAY!) to read our Gobot/Sectaur fanfic.
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