?In James Gunn’s novel The Toy Collector, the writer and filmmaker explores the perils that come with trying to reclaim your past through obsessing over your childhood playthings. It’s a powerful book, one that anybody whoever spent an embarrassing amount of cash to repurchase a toy from their youth can relate to. It also allows readers to think about what toys meant the most to them, and the myriad reasons why. Inspired by the book, today’s Daily List is a bit different than the usual ones that appear on Topless Robot. Namely, it’s strictly about my own experiences with toys I’ve loved and lost. We all have beloved childhood toys that we don’t own anymore for any number of reasons, and these are mine.
Because this list is so strictly based on my personal experiences (and perhaps a bit self-indulgent and narcissistic), the usual rodeo in which you dear readers tell me what I’ve neglected to mention will have to be postponed for today (if you don’t mind). Instead, the reason I’m doing this list is so you guys can use the comments to discuss what toys you all miss, and why. Hopefully, the resulting dialogue will help us all feel a bit better about not holding onto whatever long-gone thing that still haunts us. Let the healing commence!
8) Wacky WallWalker
What It Is: A cheaply produced octopus toy that is covered with some Nobel Prize-worthy goo that lets it itsy-bitsy-spider its way down most surfaces found in life. It also had a bizarre smell that I still dream about sometimes. Ahh the past…
Why I Miss It So Much: At risk of getting all I Love the ’80s on you, let me just say that the Wacky WallWalker really was just a brilliant toy. Plain and simple. It was inexpensive, endlessly fun and parents could be guaranteed at least five minutes peace if they give their kids one. Despite the fact that people have an almost unreasonable amount of nostalgia about these things they are almost impossible to come by these days. Anyone out there know how I can score one?
How It Left My Possession: I can’t say for certain, but I suspect my mom got tired of Glass Plus-ing the little octopus marks from her windows constantly and threw mine away.
What It Is: The smartest robot in the world! Well until the Roomba came out.
Why I Miss It So Much: Hot on the heels of Star Wars, late/lamented toy company Mego released this robot that was meant to educate and entertain kids by playing a series of interactive 8-track tapes (it played standard 8-tracks just fine as well, resulting in many afternoons in which I tried in vain to get my older sister to turn off the A Chorus Line soundtrack so that I could play my TV and Movie Challenges tape). My point is that educational toys are almost always groan-worthy gifts for kids. Not so with 2-XL. Sure, occasionally he would teach you something depending on what tape you were playing. But it seemed like his primary goal was instructing kids on the fine art of being a wiseass. The various programs that were available were often peppered with subversive bits of humor that would never fly in our current age where even DVDs of old Sesame Street episodes come with warnings that the material included may not be suitable for children.
How It Left My Possession: Unlike every other entry on this list, I still own my 2-XL. Sadly though he’s as good as dead. You see, the one I have ceased functioning sometime around 1982. The LED lights in his eyes that indicated he was turned on (not like that, perverts) have been extinguished forever. Never again will I hear his sarcasm when I get a question wrong or hesitate to answer when he asks if I am a boy or a girl. Nowadays he just sits on my shelf, a robotic corpse who now lives only in memory. Sometimes I feel like he’s quietly judging me. Anyways…
6) Frogman & Submarine
?What They Are: My favorite Fisher Price Adventure People toys.
Why I Miss Them So Much: Fisher Price’s most memorable foray into the world of action figures yielded everything from Anchorman-esque TV news crew toys to insane aliens that look like they came from a no-frills version of the Creature Cantina (or the Star Wars prequels). Although I had a ton of these growing up it was the Frogman and his submarine that really grabbed my attention. I actually eagerly awaited taking baths as a child so I could play with these in the tub. Later, when my family got a swimming pool in our back yard they were my companions during my inaugural plunge. The chlorine helped eat the paint away from the toys, but I was too busy mounting elaborate octopus battles and search and rescue missions in the pool to care.
How They Left My Possession: In a bit of pre-pubescent “if you love something set it free” experimentation, I buried the Frogman in the backyard of my childhood home. (If I could remember exactly where I put him underground I would have dug him up years ago). The sub was thrown away when it finally broke after what seemed like an eternity of quality play. The clich? that they don’t make ’em like they use to is an apt description of these beloved playthings — and of Fisher Price products in general. More on them in a bit.
5) Play-Doh Haunted House
What It Is: A vinyl mat that features an image of the most joyful haunted house this side of the Colorforms Dracula’s Castle playset.
Why I Miss It So Much:: As a kid I was too busy with sardonic robots and undersea heroes to delve too deep into the world of Play-Doh. This set was a notable exception. For some reason when I saw it at my local Lionel Kiddie City store (R.I.P.) I became consumed with the idea of making Play-Doh ghosts. My love of creating delicious smelling phantasms was so great that I hardly ever made any of the other characters that came with the set.
How It Left My Possession: I’m guessing Egon and the boys busted it, but I’m not certain what happened to this. I keep hoping it will turn up somewhere in my folks house. This is kind of off topic, but hands up if you think Play-Doh’s Fuzzy Pumper Barber Shop sounds like the name of a porno.
4) The Muppet Show Colorforms
?What It Is: Pure unadulterated bliss in the guise of a Colorforms playset.
Why I Miss It So Much: Because, like many of you, I just can’t get over the Muppets and how much they impacted my childhood. When I was young I wanted to live in the Muppet Theater. So you can imagine how happy I was to receive this gift that let me create my own Muppet shows wherever and whenever I wanted. And I did too, this was one of those toys that I carried around with me everywhere–much to the dismay of my parents who were constantly warning me that I would lose all the pieces if I didn’t take better care of it.
How It Left My Possession: I didn’t take better care of it and I lost all the pieces. That coupled with the wear and tear on Kermit, Piggy and Fozzie that came from constant use condemned the toy to the trash heap. At some point I imagine I will track down another one of these and secretly play with it while blasting “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday.”
3) Manglor Mountain
?What It Is: Ideal’s failed-yet-awesome attempt to cash in on the He-Man craze resulted in a series of smelly rubber figures that came packaged in prehistoric looking eggs. The big claim to fame for the Manglor line was that each of the figures allegedly could be ripped apart and reassembled. The trouble was that this didn’t actually work. Kids would happily tear off the arms and legs of the various Manglor characters only to discover that they reattached rather poorly and, often, not at all. Thus an entire generation was instilled with a healthy distrust for authority. The Manglor Mountain was a kind of day spa for the Manglors. Essentially it was a device that let kids dunk the various figures in slime. The mess that followed further aggravated parents who were already annoyed that they shelled out cash for toys that would be rendered useless in roughly 15 seconds.
Why I Miss It So Much: The aforementioned problems aside, I loved my Manglor Mountain. For months leading up to the Christmas of 1985, my obsession with obtaining one reached Red Ryder BB Gun proportions. When I actually received one, I was overcome with joy and amazed that the magic of the holiday season made my mom overcome her hatred of slime-related toys. Then she realized what a nightmare cleanup would be, and it became an outside toy. But the Manglord figure himself had a terrific design and a few times he fought my He-Man figure. (These battles invariably ended with He-Man decapitating Manglord). As much as I keep hoping for the Manglors to get another ride on the pop culture roller coaster, it seems unlikely. But take one look at the box art and just try to tell me that you aren’t ready for a Manglor reboot.
How It Left My Possession: I left it outside for the summer. The result was an unpleasant fusion of slime, warped plastic and the remains of whatever the fuck Manglord was made of. It now resides in a Pennsylvania landfill somewhere. Tragic really.
2) Batman CSF Copter
?What It Is: Flying fun with the caped crusader.
Why I Miss It So Much: I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was more of a Make Mine Marvel guy. Yet there was something charming and low-tech about a remote controlled Batcopter that came complete with cardboard cutouts of Batman’s greatest foes. Wait? They made a Spider-Man one of these too. Fuck. This was released by Remco and was not the sturdiest of toys. I received this for Christmas and by Valentine’s Day of the following year the charming and low-tech qualities I just mentioned seemed annoying and shitty instead when I could only get the Batcopter to move by slapping it. Still though, getting this is my earliest Christmas memory and no shoddy manufacturing can take that warm feeling away from me.
How It Left My Possession: It broke. My parents threw it away.
1) Sesame Street Little People
?What They Are: Fisher Price’s Little People learn about the ABCs and 123s, making me a lifelong Muppet fan while they’re at it.
Why I Miss It So Much: Because as has been established on this site previously, I have a borderline unhealthy obsession with all things Jim Henson-related. Not only did I have what you see here, but I also had the equally impressive Sesame Street Clubhouse that featured a replica of Big Bird’s home and a slide that I spent way too much time sending Oscar the Grouch down. While doing research for this piece, I discovered that Fisher Price also released an expansion pack of figures that included my beloved Roosevelt Franklin. Obtaining one of these is now my life’s work. But to answer the question posed here I have to wonder if I really miss these toys, or the innocent carefree time that came with them. Probably both. These toys are irrevocably linked with the memories that come with them: lying on the floor playing with them while my parents watched TV, taking a break from fighting with my older brother to have him join me in an Ernie and Bert adventure, the overall joy and freedom that my childhood allowed. Joking aside, I guess that’s why I haven’t spent much money or effort trying to recoup the items featured on this list. I could never really recapture the magic that came with each entry here. It was a special time and place that is long gone and will never be back no matter how much I sometimes may want to retreat to a simpler era. The Little People, the Manglor Mountain, my long-buried Frogman and the rest are best left back where they are. In my memory and the ever-shrinking part of my jaded heart that still holds the wonder I possessed as a child.
How It Left My Possession: My parents donated these to a church flea market fundraiser in the mid-’80s. I forgave them. Eventually.
Chris Cummins is a pop culture writer and Archie comics historian who has contributed to The Robot's Voice, Den of Geek US, Philebrity, Geekadelphia, Uproxx, and Unicorn Booty. He is the co-producer and co-host of Nerd Nite Philadelphia, and is regularly involved in producing and hosting New York Super Week events. In 2014, Chris began Sci-Fi Explosion, a mix of live performance, trivia and funny clips celebrating the weirdest in science fiction that regularly travels around the United States. He wrote the introductions to the compilations Archie's Favorite Comics From The Vault and (with Paul Castiglia) Archie's Favorite High School Stories. You can find Chris on Twitter at @bionicbigfoot and @scifiexplosion.