Netflix’s The Toys that Made Us understands exactly how trivial it’s subject matter might seem, and that's why it so good. It realizes that forty-five minutes about how difficult it has been for Star Trek to sell toys or the cultural influence of Hello Kitty won't be any fun to watch if it takes itself too seriously. At the same time, it's not afraid to honor the earnestness of the many people who have devoted themselves to the business of toys.
Each episode of the series documents the surges in popularity and financial hits and misses of some of the biggest toy franchises ever. It includes interviews with company heads, creators, fashion designers, reality tv stars, and anthropologists, often all in the same episode. When you watch the show, you will remember that Lego set you loved, your first barbie, or that Masters of the Universe was super weird. But you will also realize the toys that helped you find confidence, creativity, or a love of science did not just fall from the sky.
Through the stories of artists, executives, and sometimes lawyers, we see that the path to toy greatness is rarely a simple one. Lego almost closed its doors. Hello Kitty almost stopped itself from becoming iconic by creating too many bonkers characters. Star Trek generally is just terrible at making toys that make any sense to the people who love it.
Sure, there's lessons to be learned in all of those things, but what it most reminds me of is how much fun it is to enjoy things. In one episode sociologist John Tenuto talks about the impulse to collect. For some, its Star Wars, for others its shoes. Either way, it expresses who we are. The Toys That Made Us is called that because in many cases that's exactly what these toys did. Star Trek inspired real life scientists. Barbie inspired real life fashion designers. Real success often begins where we have fun.
And maybe that's too idealistic an idea. So while some people are thinking the whole thing is just a little too silly, the series made me want to get on the floor and play superheros with my daughter. I mean, you never know how she might be inspired.
Strange Perspective is a unique weekly look into today's pop culture by Progress columnist Rachel Strange.