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Official Article

Temple of Retro Toys

A couple years back I invited you to join me on a retro toy excavation in the basement of my wife’s childhood home called Raiders of the Lost Toys, an experience from which I walked with many vintage treasures like Popples, Troll dolls and Disney Adventures magazine. 

We recently ventured back to my in-laws and returned to the subterranean wonderland of forgotten playthings. This time I had some help in the form of my kids, so allow me to show you some of the goodies from the 80's and 90's we managed to haul home. So join me as I enter The Temple of Retro Toys.

Before we even got to digging through the dusty old boxes, we found, well…a dusty old box! Yes, here we have a vintage box that once contained 24 bottled of delicious Squeezit Fruit Drinks. Those cartoon graphics were a real blast from the past. I think I only convinced my Mom to grab a six-pack off the grocery store shelf once in my childhood, but those half a dozen moments were among the most sublime of my elementary school life.

If you don’t remember Squeezit bottles, they were made of a flimsy plastic that had character faces molded into them so you could SQUUEEEEEZE the juice right into your mouth at lunchtime and pretend you were sucking up the life essence of cartoon characters like an animation vampire. This particular box was from the year 1994, which means that at least once in her life my wife and her siblings got to enjoy a sweet, juicy treat from the snack wizards at Betty Crocker.

First up on the toy finds was this vintage Fisher-Price cash register. I’m willing to bet you played with one of these as a child, as they seemed to be in every pre-school or babysitter’s home. I personally owned one and loved placing the thick, plastic coins into the trio of slots above and watching them roll down the little slide meant to deliver your change. I also have vivid memories of trying to cram Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars into the slots as well, which may explain why my personal cash register didn’t survive past 1989.

Moving through some low-hanging cobwebs I found a box of children’s books with some real star power. There was quite a selection of well-read Little Golden Books featuring Disney characters like Scrooge McDuck and the DuckTales gang, Mickey Mouse and even Herbie, The Love Bug. Digging deeper in the box I found even more childhood reading favorites.

In addition to some Disney Book and Record sets for Disney classics like Snow White and The Swiss Family Robinson, there were more Little Golden Books for Inspector Gadget and Woody Woodpecker. There was also a larger vintage Strawberry Shortcake storybook that belonged to my wife and a classic Mr. Quiet book from the Mr. Men and Little Miss series. If you were a child of the 80's you remember how coveted these books were in elementary school reading corners as everyone wanted a chance to read about these colorful blobs with specific personality traits doing their thing on the tiny, square pages.

I should mention there was a certain book and record combo I was not authorized to walk away with that definitely “belong in a museum”. Yes, my mother-in-law has a copy of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby, based on the now controversial Disney film, Song of the South. You’ll also notice that to the side of this forbidden text is a 45 RPM Peter Pan story record of Little Brave Sambo, which is another ancient literary character whose name is now only spoken of in hushed tones of shame.

I soon stumbled upon a box of random items that contained some fun throwback items. First up was an old cassette stereo player, which reminded me of the boombox I had as a kid on which I recorded many “radio shows”. Next to it was a generic, but totally 90’s water gun in all it’s neon glory. This piece was definitely meant to evoke the look of the era’s premium water weapon, the Super Soaker, which totally revolutionized the game of water warfare in the early part of the decade.

In a nearby box were a few more playthings whose color scheme could not be denied. First up with this KOOSH Kin figure, which was an attempt to extend of the life of the KOOSH brand of novelty toys. KOOSH balls had stringy pieces of rubber sprouting out from a spherical center and were made most famous by Rosie O’Donnell launching them out into the audience during her weekday afternoon talk show. Despite their intention, KOOSH Kins were actually less fun because the hard plastic faces and appendages would do some damage if thrown at a little brother or sister.

Also in the box was a pink cassette tape of music featuring Barbie and The Sensations, which was a contemporary of the Barbie and The Rockers concept, but with a 50’s doo-wop vibe in place of the 80’s pop rock sound. There was even a time-traveling animated adventure on VHS featuring Barbie going back in time to perform these oldies tunes at a sock hop. Despite hearing legends of a box of Barbie dolls in the basement, I did not find any on this trip.

Keen eyed readers may also have noticed a pink, fuzzy creature in the box which turned out to be a Pink Panther stuffed animal. There was a big revival of the character in the 80’s with a Pink Panther and Sons cartoon and while it was strange for an adult comic mystery film franchise from the 60’s to appeal to us Reagan era kids, that iconic Henry Mancini theme could not be denied. I actually owned this doll myself as a child, so it was fun to know that my wife and I were playing with a lot of the same toys growing up.

There were a few other fun items hiding below the surface as I rifled through this box. For example, I got a kick out of seeing these McDonald’s Happy Meal toys from 1994 of which I had a vague recollection. Not tied to any movie or TV series, these were part of the Space Rescue series so one is a Tele-Communicator and the other a “Space Slate” to record your findings, I guess. As with so many other treasures I dug up, that color palette is an instant timewarp.

Also in the mix from McDonald's was this Tamagotchi toy from 1997. I was in high school by the time these became popular, but my niece loved hers. If you don't recall, there were 2 competing groups on the market at the time with Tiger producing Giga Pets and Bandai as the originator with Tamagatchi . Both were basically tiny video games where you helped a "virtual pet" grow by feeding it, playing with and cleaning up its digital droppings. This was a phenomenon that only last a year or two as I recall, but was a big enough deal to score a Happy Meal tie-in, so that's saying something.

Now the original wave of My Little Pony was something I definitely experienced full force and while I didn't own any myself, all my female friends, cousins and neighbors had piles of them. My wife owning this Unicorn, who my online research indicates was named Windy, is a little bit of a surprise since her parents were notoriously thrifty. Picking up an official My Little Pony must have been a birthday or Christmas present she really enjoyed.

Another rumored container that was high on my priority list to find were my brother-in-law’s old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures and vehicles. Sadly, the only evidence I found of this once radical collection was this single member of the TMNT. Yes, it’s Super Mike, part of the 1993 series of Sewer Heroes featuring “Super Power Punching Action”. Can’t say I ever added this later addition to my Turtles collections, but it’s still a fun reminder of how wacky the Playmates toy line got towards the end.

The final item I found was a big one that was full of nostalgic treasures, my wife’s elementary school Trapper Keeper folder! OK, so this was actually the lower-tier Mead Keepin’ Tabs series from 1991, but same concept. Pulling the velcro tab I found classic school folders covered in vintage stickers, so let’s first explore these colorful relics.

There’s no denying that the star of the day were these D.A.R.E. stickers which many of us will remember as the anti-drug program meant to educate children about the dangers of getting high. It was such an iconic logo and many of us had the t-shirt featured in one of the designs. Now why they decided to base a sticker on a mug holding pencils, I can’t begin to guess. Apparently my wife was also really into St. Patrick’s Day as shamrocks and a green derby hat proclaiming “Marvelous” are prominently on display.

On the interior of the Keepin’ Tabs folder were two stickers that pinpoint when it was in use. Of course there is a Beauty and the Beast sticker featuring the film’s stars during their classic ballroom dancing sequence, but I personally got a bigger grin on my face from the in-line skating sticker. I think we forget how new and exciting the idea of Rollerblades were in early to mid-90's, it was the preferred mode of transportation for “cool kids”. Also this demented blue slushy that I assume was originally a scratch n’ sniff sticker is totally rad.

More exciting than the images that were stuck to the folders were the contents. Amazingly these school folders contained my wife’s complete bedroom wall poster collection, which she had ordered mostly from the Scholastic book fair flyers we would receive each month. It’s clear to see that my wife had a thing for cute, furry creatures, but there was one wildlife creature I did not expect to find lurking within.

Hey Boo-Boo, it’s Yo Yogi! Wow…just wow. You might recall the era in the late 80's and early 90's where Hanna-Barbera was trying to reboot their old icons with a hip, young style. We had A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, The Flintstone Kids and most embarrassingly, Yo Yogi! Premiering in 1991 and lasting only 19 episodes in syndication, it featured a skateboarding Boo-Boo and a teen Yogi in…well, those clothes, who solved mysteries at Jellystone Mall. This poster featuring a tie-in with the D.A.R.E. program is just too priceless and definitely not the television icon kids would have responded to at the time. But you know which group of cool teens did once tell us, “There’s no hope with dope”…

Oh yes, the cast of Saved By The Bell! Was there any hotter show for elementary school kids dreaming of their high school days? Well, Beverly Hills 90210, but Saved By The Bell was right there next to Dylan, Brenda and the gang. My wife claims to have watched very little television as a child, so to find this poster was mind-blowing to me. I’ve seen this publicity still before and what I never realized is that their letterman jackets are embroidered with the names of the actors, not the characters! A small revelation to be sure, but one I can now prominently display on my replica Bayside High Locker in my Retro Room.

If I’m going to dig around in a dusty basement and get covered in cobwebs, these are the kinds of retro relics I would hope to carry out with me, so I consider this trip a total win. Thanks for joining me for this trip to an underground realm of nostalgia and tell me, which items caught your attention the most?

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pikachulover Posted on Jul 17, 2019 at 06:21 AM

I had a bunch of those items growing up. The Ducktales book, the Little Mermaid book, The Snow White and Disney Mother Goose books on tape. The Mother Goose one was one my favorites to listen to and I had it memorized. Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby but the book and cassette version. A knockoff Super Soaker, Beauty and the Beast stickers, and the McDonald's Tamagotchi toy. I had the poster of the cat with the Teddy bear and the Safety in Numbers one. I remember what a big deal that Save by the Bell poster was in my 4th grade class. I think you got it free with an order from the book club. I think I purposely didn't order books so I would not get the poster.

NLogan Posted on Jun 07, 2019 at 09:57 PM

You may have one of the only picture of a squeeze its package with the characters on it. I searched high and low and could not find one for my lunchroom article back in the day. I also had the pink panther stuffed animal.

jkatz Posted on Jun 07, 2019 at 08:43 PM

Those little golden books used to be EVERYWHERE...I know they're mostly an 80s/90s thing but I remember reading them in elementary school in the early 2000s. I think they've all but disappeared now.

Benjanime Posted on Jun 06, 2019 at 04:31 PM

man, is it just me or did hanna-barbera have a raging boner for mystery cartoons? lol.

Vaporman87 Posted on Jun 06, 2019 at 04:28 PM

Wow. There are few images in existence that could be claimed as "more late '80s/early'90s" than that Yogi D.A.R.E. poster. LOL

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