Some icons of ‘nerd culture’ stand the test of time. That doesn’t necessarily make them recognizable to those of a certain generation. I grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s and I’m thrilled to see some familiar names floating around in the toy business…only, the toys don’t look so familiar. Rainbow Brite and Holly Hobby – even the Cabbage Patch kids – have all received rather ‘sexy’ millennial makeovers. Polly Pocket doesn’t live in a pocket anymore. And don’t even get me started on what they’ve done to Monopoly.
I’m not contending things were better way back when, just different (okay, better). Today’s tykes have technology on their side, but that doesn’t mean they still don’t get a kick out of playing with the cardboard box your washing machine came in. They do. With that in mind, let’s compare a few stalwart stars of the nerd-iverse, past and present…
My parents tell a story about taking my infant brother to a drive-in theatre to watch The Empire Strikes Back in 1980. They assumed that, as he was under a year old, he’d fall fast asleep in his blanketed backseat bundle. Halfway through the movie, to their surprise, they turn around to find him leaning forward with saucer-wide eyes, completely entranced.
Star Wars still has this effect on kids. As I wasn’t exactly cognizant in the late 70’s and early 80’s, I can’t necessarily say Lucas’ franchise is more popular now than it was then. Just wider. I also keep telling myself it’s not fair to think, “We had Han Solo and they got…Jar-Jar Binks”. Because, as you know, Han Solo lives inside ALL of us. Forever.
I viscerally remember being so stoked in 1990 when my parents would rent (yes, rent) the original NES from the grocery store (yes, the grocery store) so we could play Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt at a slumber party. High living, indeed. The jealousy I encountered when one of my friends got a Gameboy was excruciating. It was like your buddy with the Big Wheel who wouldn’t let you ride in it when you came over.
My handheld Highway game from Radio Shack was simply not comparable. These days, I beeline for a 14-year-old when my technology goes on the fritz. If I start detailing the video game formats currently available for today’s kids, whatever I write will be suitably antiquated in the next twenty minutes. Let’s just say…things change. Whether they’re for the better is not my call to make.
For a product that essentially looks and functions the same as it did 50 years ago – man, Lego has come a long way, baby. They’re more like an empire than a toy. The entire world is evidently going berserk over the new Lego Movie (spoiler alert: I haven’t even seen it). Brick by brick, the Lego brand has built their reputation as an unrivaled powerhouse in the children’s toy industry. How many products get their own theme park? Answer: not many.
Smartly-navigated franchise partnerships have led to a Lego set for every niche and any kid. When I was a young’un, the plastic building blocks didn’t come with blueprints. If you built a house or a dinosaur, it was between you and your imagination. We thought those little trees that came with some packages were really cool. Now the Lego Man is like, running for senate…
Do the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles still eat pizza? Or have they been relegated to an all-kale diet, or something equally suitable for a gaggle of growing teenage turtles? I hope it’s still pizza. Either way, with a new movie slated to hit screens this summer from blockbuster-monger Michael Bay, the turtles have been in the public eye for almost 25 years now.
A couple years ago, our favorite anthropomorphized amphibians were treated to a digital remodel. In my opinion, the CGI-animated, Nickelodeon version of the TMNT look…well, awful. Then again, comparing hand-drawn artwork to like, binary code isn’t really fair for either contestant. The important this is that the franchise is still pulling in bank, hand over fist, amirite? Just kidding, the important thing is that they are still eating pizza.
Lydia Mondy is a part-time freelance writer and full-time nerd. She believes in the power of creative ingenuity through imaginative play…and the Dark Side.