New Netflix Series Examines The Toys That Made Us
Review: The Toys That Made Us
Produced by Brian Volk-Weiss
Directed by Tom Stern
How have inexpensive plastic kids’ toys become a multi-billion dollar industry with investors and adult devotees? That is the premise behind The Toys That Made Us, a new documentary series on Netflix.
Each episode examines a new franchise, examining what made each line popular. The first season explores the rise of Star Wars toys, the gendered popularity of Barbie dolls and He-Man, as well as GI Joe’s Cold War era revival. Perhaps the most surprising thing about The Toys That Made Us is how the series manages to make its niche subject matter interesting for a wider audience. It draws on interviews with everyone from collectors to sociologists (including, in the first episode, an interviewee who is both of these).
The pilot’s exploration of the Star Wars toys is one of the series’ highlights. It is an interesting story of unlikely beginnings: Star Wars’ toy line has made $14 billion, yet began production only six months before the original film’s release in 1977 (most toys’ production begins two years before a new film is released).
Beyond the series’ interesting factoids, there is a wider point worth exploring here about the mythologies that people make for themselves and the meaning that toys are imbued with. This point is seized upon in the first episode: these toys are physical representations of their franchises, and a commentator makes the explicit connection with how religious icons provide faith with a physical symbol that people can touch.
With four episodes already released, and another four set for release later in 2018, now is an ideal time to get underway with this fascinating series.
The Toys That Made Us is now streaming on Netflix. It is rated M.
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor