Whenever a new cartoon comes out kids can usually look forward to new toy as well. Every animated movie, series or special usually comes with some kind of plush toy, action figure or even video game, but that’s not always how it works out. Every once in a while a toy comes out first that’s so cool it inspires a cartoon. Here are some popular kids toys that inspired cartoons.
Anyone who knows their stuff about animation could tell you that Mickey mouse got his debut in the 1928 cartoon Steamboat Willie, but that’s really just the first lie Disney ever told us. Allegedly three years before anyone ever saw the lovable mouse dancing on TV he was a toy made by the Performo Toy company that Walt ripped off. As if that weren’t scandalous enough supposedly Disney destroyed all of the evidence in order to hide their shameful secret. Don’t believe us? There are actually 2 books on the subject, Broken Toy and Who Was First?
Although obviously based on the action figure of the same name, the GI Joe animated series didn’t revolve around a soldier named “Joe” but a group of soldiers under the code name G.I. Joe that fought the terrorist organization Cobra. The cartoon really changed the entire GI Joe universe adding more characters both good and evil, which then inspired their own new toys and spin-offs until causing the GI Joe franchise to spin so violently out of control that a PG-13 film staring Marlon Wayans was released earlier this year.
Basically the boy version of Polly Pockets, Mighty Max toys were little pocket sized play sets that included a young kid in a red baseball cap who visited dark lairs full of creepy creatures and monsters. While the Mighty Max toys were more popular than the show itself, the show gave the toys context. Why is a little boy in a red cap with an M on his shirt running around in dungeons? Ohhhh, he’s the chosen one and his hat opens up portals to secret locations all over the world.
You could walk into almost any little girl’s bedroom (and even some big girl’s bedrooms) and find Hello Kitty dolls, purses, sheets and clothing, but not necessarily DVDs. The Hello Kitty and Friends cartoon exists, but it’s not why we love this adorable white kitty with a pink bow. Hello Kitty is more of a cute fashion icon than a loveable cartoon character in most of our minds, which goes back to her first appearance on a vinyl coin purse in the 70s.
Before the “care bare stare” and even before those huggable teddy bears, Care Bears were created for greeting cards by American Greetings. With the success of the cards Kenner toy company created the teddy bears and when those were a hit some Canadian animation studio created a TV special. After 20 years of merchandise from books to LP records and video games Care Bears are still popular as ever as toys and cartoons… although we’re not so sure the greeting card thing really stuck.
Did you know that before Ash ever shouted “Pikachu I choose you!” on TV Pokemon was a video game? And before Nintendo made video games they made card games? Everything Nintendo is good at came together for the Pokemon franchise which consists of dozens of video games, hundreds of trading cards, and several different spin-off shows. Originally released in 1996 at 150 Pokemon here we are more than 10 years later with almost 500 known Pokemon and new fans born every minute… all to sell a few more gameboys.
If you needed a cartoon to promote your toyline in the 80s, Hanna-Barbara was there to do it on the cheap. The Pound Puppies TV series ran for 2 seasons to promote the lovable puppies that need a home, but they had to be put down because everyone wanted the newer cuter Disney version, Fluppy Dogs.
Because no one has new ideas anymore a 12″ toy line that seemed to be a modern version of GI Joe spawned a TV series roughly based on the toy resulting in a cycle of media and merchandise. Actually we hear the Max Steel show got better by the time Tony Hawk guest starred, but it was hard to get past the whole blond 19 year kid old who magically turns brunette when he becomes Max Steel. Then again that might be a double standard since we did put up with that whole blond saiyan thing on Dragon Ball Z.
Another story of a greeting card turned toy turned cartoon, Strawberry Shortcake originated as a greeting card in 1977. Strawberry Shortcake and her cat Custard went on to become a toy series with friends and sets like the Berry Bake Shoppe. Strawberry Shortcake eventually got her own animated specials in the 80s when all the cool kids were doing it, but never got a full series until 2003.
My Little Pony
If you were a girl in the 80s you probably had a few Barbies and maybe even some Rainbow Bright pajamas, but one thing you definately had all over your room was My Little Ponies. Just one year after the toys came out the first My Little Pony cartoon was release in 1984 with more movies released until the debut of the series in 1986, which was created to continue promoting the toys. My Little Pony toys can still be found in little girls’ rooms today along with a few straight to DVD Pony movies.
If you thought Barbie was controversial, then Bratz are downright dubious. These fashionista dolls have giant heads and skinny bodies that aren’t usually criticized in cartoon characters. But since learning that Barbie would have to carry her kidneys in her handbag if she were alive mis-proportioned dolls get a lot of negative attention. Maybe that’s part of why they created a Bratz cartoon. Actually it was probably just about merchandising.