Advertising directly to kids, and selling toys off an exciting franchise. What’s not to love! He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was staple of children’s TV in the 80s (while selling lots of action figures) and the source of nostalgia and fond memories for many with silver hairs on their head (or in their beards).
As with much of modern fandom, it all begins with Star Wars. Back in 1977 when the film came out, people went crazy and demanded more Star Wars. They wanted everything and anything associated with the universe. The demand drove Lucasfilm to create the toys and in that profitable move, other companies followed suit.
This brings us to the 80s. Every cool TV show we remember as a child was tied in with awesome toys. As a kid we were ecstatic to have He-Man and Skeletor to create our own imaginary battles. As cynical adults, we note that Mattel just used the show as marketing to push toys. Regardless, He-Man still lives on today in pop culture parody shows such as Robot Chicken, Youtube mashups and retro TV channels—the show is still popular for an intangible reason.
Children today are missing some of the magic of that era. There are a few shows that skirt along similar territory that are worthwhile checking out though. Below are three good examples that are tied in with toys, comics and other cool trinkets that your kids will love to play with.
- Adventure Time – This colorful show is packaged in ten-minute explosive bites. So much happens, so quickly, you often lose track of the plot and scenes from one minute to the next. None of that really matters. The show is that much fun to watch. Jake and Finn are two adventurers—Jake is a magical talking dog, while Finn is the last boy on earth—who live in a magical universe and are heroes who go on adventures. Like Ren and Stimpy, Adventure Time has a lot of humor and themes that appeal to adults, while still predominately being a children’s TV show.
Comic books, toys, clothing and rabid fans at conventions make Adventure Time a great modern counterpart to He-Man. Perhaps after the little one has watched the latest Adventure Time episodes, they can be introduced to the planet Eternia.
- Manga/Anime—This one will require parental supervision. The predominantly Japanese art forms have received a bad rap as of late due to the weird content and fans they attract. However, there are fantastic examples for children to see. If you aren’t comfortable with more mature shows such as Cowboy Bebop, Planetes and Dragon Ball Z, you are in luck; Studio Ghibli is the exotic treat to help broaden your child’s interests. Beginning with the release of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind in 1986, Studio Ghibli has released 17 highly regarded films which are family friendly. Apart from being gorgeous to look at, they have attained success in the Western world due to their wonderful characters and story telling. I suggest you start with My Neighbour Totoro, Arrietty, and Princess Mononoke. Once your child’s toes have gotten wet, they may want to dive into the Eastern world of drawn and animated art. There is a world out there of animated wonder and not all of it is American!
- Lego—That’s right, the tiny plastic bricks that are tiny knives on the carpet, just waiting to be stepped on in the middle of the night have branched out. From video games to tv shows, Lego has been meshing its toys with creative content to, well, sell more toys. When I was a teen, Bionicle was starting to be sold in stores. At the time, I thought it was a fad that wouldn’t catch on, but the next thing I knew, it became a comic book, paperback and film series. The universe has caught on and maintains an active online presence. It’s worth checking out if you haven’t already.