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'Toys That Made Us' covers 'Mount Rushmore of toys'

By
Fred Topel
An episode of The Toys That Made Us is devoted to My Little Pony. Photo courtesy of Hasbro
An episode of "The Toys That Made Us" is devoted to My Little Pony. Photo courtesy of Hasbro

Nov. 15 (UPI) -- When Netflix premiered its documentary series The Toys That Made Us in 2018, its interviews with the creators of He-Man, Barbie, Star Wars and G.I. Joe toys told fans the story behind the toys they played with as children.

Season 3 profiles Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, My Little Pony and wrestling toys -- and creator Brian Volk-Weiss has ideas for more episodes.

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"I have at least eight more great episodes," Volk-Weiss told UPI in a phone interview. "As a television producer, I hate saying this because I want to make as many episodes as possible, but I think there are a finite amount of Toys That Made Us episodes to make."

Each season only has four episodes, but Volk-Weiss still has some major sensations to cover.

"We've not been greenlit for any additional episodes, but if we will be, I'm looking at a list right now," Volk-Weiss said.

What about Cabbage Patch Kids, Care Bears, Beanie Babies, Voltron or Lisa Frank dolls?

"All but one of [those] names are on that list," Volk-Weiss confirmed.

Volk-Weiss said he has been fielding suggestions for episodes since the first season premiered. However, he has a relatively strict criteria for toys to qualify for his series.

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"I have this imaginary Mount Rushmore of toys in my head," Volk-Weiss said. "Does a line of toys have a character that could be on the Mount Rushmore of toys? My wife doesn't know anything about Transformers, but she can spot Optimus Prime. She could spot Bumblebee."

The second criteria is that the toy has to remain on the market to the present day. Volk-Weiss wants multiple generations of kids to be able to watch an episode of The Toys That Made Us. That rules out most obscure suggestions.

"Everybody's like, 'Why don't you do M.A.S.K.?'" Volk-Weiss said. "Because M.A.S.K. was on for two years and nobody knows what it is to justify the expense of making a show. I would love to watch it, but not enough people would."

Even decades of sales might not be enough to qualify a product for a Toys That Made Us episode.

"It has to be a good story," Volk Weiss said. "There's a couple toys that are huge hits where somebody had an idea, it went on sale, it was a huge hit. That might be cool and people might love the toy, but that would not make an interesting hour of television. Those are the 'rules.'"

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One criteria Volk-Weiss does not have is choosing an equal number of boy toys and girl toys. He has produced episodes on Barbie, Hello Kitty and My Little Pony, but does not consider his subjects gendered.

"My daughter is much more into Star Wars than my son," Volk-Weiss said. "My daughter is obsessed with Ahsoka Tano as much as I used to be obsessed with Luke Skywalker.

"Is Star Wars a dude toy in 2019?"

Season 3's My Little Pony episode also covers Bronies, who are male fans of the toy.

"I've been to a couple of My Little Pony conventions now, it's literally 50-50 guys and girls," Volk-Weiss said. "I just think it's in the eye of the beholder. You can see the four brands of Season 3 and different people will look at different toys differently. My 5-year-old daughter, she views Star Wars as a girl's toy believe it or not."

Two of Season 3's subjects, Power Rangers and Ninja Turtles, are intrinsically tied to their TV shows. Power Rangers repurposed Japanese footage with newly filmed American scenes. Ninja Turtles had an animated series based on the comic books.

"I would argue Power Rangers and the TV show in many ways are much more intertwined than even Star Wars and the movie," Volk-Weiss said. "I know people will hear that and think I'm smoking crack, but if I had an hour, I could absolutely defend that statement."

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Fans of the 1995 Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie might be disappointed the episode does not touch on the film. Volk-Weiss said the movie affected the toys, but the success of the toys kept the TV show on the air.

"Part of how they got the affiliates to take the show was by promising them a percentage of the merchandise revenue," Volk-Weiss said. "A lot of the affiliates that took the show were making more money from their percentage of the merchandise than they were for selling commercials for the shows, which were making a lot of money."

The live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies did make the Turtles episode. Volk-Weiss even interviewed Vanilla Ice for his cameo in the sequel. Vanilla Ice became an honorary member of the Toys That Made Us research team by dropping toy trivia on the producers.

"Two things he said in particular made it into the show that's not even connected to him," Volk-Weiss said. "Because of what he remembered, we were able to go back to the people who were in the meetings. Major details in the episode are connected to stuff remembered that we could go back and research and verify."

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The wrestling episode covers WWE toys, then called WWF, but also brands like WCW and ECW.

"It became very clear it was a much bigger story than just WWE," Volk-Weiss said. "You couldn't do a WWE episode without talking about everything else."

The Toys That Made Us Season 3 premieres Friday on Netflix.

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