Totally Tubular 80s Toys

A wonderful time capsule, this book was eagerly passed around to dive into at the holiday gathering. Such flashbacks contained within the glossy color pictures!

Totally Tubular 80s Toys cover
Totally Tubular 80s Toys
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Each year of the decade gets a chapter, with a page or two for each toy, a one-page introduction to what was going on that year, and two pages of stats (top films and TV shows). The exceptionally popular playthings, like the Star Wars line of figures or GoBots, get three or four pages, and the favorite Masters of the Universe, Transformers, and GI Joe six each to show off various playsets and figures. By the end of the decade, it’s amazing just how many different lines of action figures there are: Thundercats, Silverhawks, Inhumanoids, Dino-Riders, Visionaries, even the sports stars of Starting Lineup. To today’s eyes, the action figures look unformed and rough when compared to modern detailed releases.

All the best-remembered are here — Rubik’s Cube, various versions of video games, stuffed Garfields, Smurfs, Trivial Pursuit, Care Bears, Teddy Ruxpin, Lazer Tag — plus those you may not recall so well. I hadn’t realized how many licensed toys were put out, for instance, including a really detailed MASH playset, and forgotten trends, such as puffy stickers, serve as memory surprises. The Kenner Super Powers line of DC comic characters is praised as “perhaps the greatest small-scale superhero action figures ever made.”

Author Mark Bellomo puts the years in context by reminding us also of the movies, television shows, music, and cultural events of the time. The biggest flaw is his personal involvement in the toys — we share his sense of excitement when talking about the toys he loved as a child, but when it comes to a “girl’s toy” like Strawberry Shortcake and her friends, he retreats to factual listings of dolls in the line and reductive comments like “You’ll be surprised at how many women, whether aunts, cousins, friends, girlfriends, etc., remember these dolls fondly.” It’s a good thing that his “this book is for boys only” tone is rare, because both genders and all ages can otherwise enjoy reading it. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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