10 Dark Stories Behind Children's Toys



10 Dark Stories Behind Children's Toys

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Michael Wynands
Talk about nostalgia killers. For this list, we'll be looking at popular kids toys and the companies that produced them that have a dark chapter in their history. WatchMojo counts down the 10 Dark Stories Behind Children's Toys That Will Ruin Your Childhood.
Script written by Michael Wynands

10 Dark Stories Behind Children's Toys That Will Ruin Your Childhood

Talk about nostalgia killers. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the 10 Dark Facts/Stories Behind Children's Toys That Will Ruin Your Childhood.

For this list, we’ll be looking at popular kids toys and the companies that produced them that have a dark chapter in their history.

#10: Cabbage Patch Kids… Turned Cannibal?

These smiling, cherubic dolls were a mainstay of many a childhood in the 80s and 90s. Though they’re still being produced and distributed, back in the day there was literally one in every kid’s closet or bed. Heck, a Cabbage Patch Kid may have even replaced a teddy bear at night as the thing that 4-year-old you cuddled while falling asleep. Well, you should just be thankful that it wasn’t one of the Cabbage Patch Snacktime Kids, which were all the rage around Christmas 1996. This line of the dolls ate plastic food, which would then wind up in the doll’s backpack. The problem? Reports of the doll’s eating mechanism starting to pull in children’s fingers and hair.

#9: Barbie & Ken Were Named After Siblings

These two go together like peanut butter and jelly, bacon and eggs, or milk and cookies. With the exception of a brief breakup in the mid-aughts, Ken and Barbie have always been a pair - more specifically, a romantic one. Given that Ken was introduced in 1961, their love has spanned over a half century. As many people know, Barbie was named after creator Ruth Handler’s daughter, Barbara. Less known is that the second character added to the line, the anatomically incomplete Ken, is also named after one of Ruth’s children, Barbara’s brother Kenneth. While the characters aren’t siblings, their respective namesakes are - and that inspires a bit of a “no feeling.”

#8: Hannah Montana Went Toxic

It’s taken years, but Miley Cyrus has finally distanced herself from the Disney character who made her a star, Hannah Montana. In the early years of her career, however, Miley and Hannah were interchangeable, and together, they amassed legions of young fans who wanted everything Hannah Montana-related, from clothing, to school supplies, to toys. One such product released was the Hannah Montana Pop Star Card Game. Unfortunately, those who bought it were unknowingly getting far more than they bargained for. The carrying case contained 3,056 parts per million of lead - many times more than the 40-ppm limit recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. And yet, due to a technicality, it was never recalled.

#7: Furby Was Suspected of Spying

Furby was many things: a massive trend, an exciting new piece of consumer toy tech, and a solid substitute for kids who wanted a pet but whose parents refused. Over at the National Security Agency (or NSA), however, Furby had a more sinister reputation - the little talking furball was actually considered persona non grata. Why? Well, apparently there were concerns about the delightful little toy being used as a tool of espionage given its language-related systems. A reported internal memo revealed that Furbies were strictly prohibited, and if a Furby was seen in the building it was to be reported immediately. According to Tiger Electronics, Furby had no capacity to record audio. But maybe the NSA knew something we didn’t. Hmmmm?

#6: Lisa Frank Inc. Was Reportedly a Terrible Work Environment

Not every company’s corporate culture matches with their public image. Case in point: Lisa Frank Incorporated. For the uninitiated, Lisa Frank is a kid’s merchandising company that was popular in the 80s and 90s, specializing in colorful stickers, school supplies, and more. The company’s one-time slogan was “You Gotta Have It,” and for many a young girl, Lisa Frank swag was indeed the pinnacle of cool. While people still feel nostalgic about the brand, past employees generally aren’t among them. A scathing Jezebel.com article called the company a “Rainbow Gulag.” Employee horror stories abound and have for years, including rules enforcing zero conversation, management recording employee phone calls, a verbally abusive CEO, sudden terminations, and countless employee lawsuits.

#5: Adult Slap Bracelets

Often, it’s the simplest of toys that really wind up resonating with kids. Long before the days of the fidget spinner, the thing that kids couldn’t stop fidgeting with were snap bracelets. The concept is simple: a thin, curved piece of metal is covered in a colorful material. When hit against a surface, or an arm or leg, it curls into a circle. Unfortunately, as the material frayed on cheaper bracelets, sharp metal edges could result in cuts, prompting recalls and school bans. In 2011, however, the slap bracelet’s reputation worsened when a Florida school used them as part of a fundraising effort, only to discover images of nude women printed on the metal interior as the material wore down.

#4: Easy-Bake Oven Burnt More Than Cakes

These child-oriented toy ovens were first produced in 1963. Over the decades and with well over 16 million units sold, they’ve successfully yielded countless reasonably-tasty, easily baked confections for kids and their parents alike - usually without incident. Unfortunately, not every model put to market is created equal. A 2006 model had a design flaw that allowed kids’ hands or fingers to become caught in the oven’s front-loading door. 29 such cases were reported, including 5 that involved burns. A retrofit kit was released, but failed to make a difference; the number of burns climbed to 77, including one that required the partial amputation of a five-year-old’s finger.

#3: Gak Is a Toy… AND Slang for Heroin

Would the average parent let their kid play with a toy called cocaine? How about crystal meth or crack? Not likely! But in the early 90s, Nickelodeon and Mattel came together to release a gross-out toy called “gak,” inspired by the gooey substance by the same name featured on the TV series, “Double Dare.” A canister of thick, squishy material, Gak would make a fart sound when pushed. While kids got a kick out of it, the name surely raised a few eyebrows amongst adults familiar with drug culture. As then-“Double Dare” host Marc Summers has acknowledged, it’s a street term for heroin. Yikes.

#2: He-Man Got His Skin Lightened

As anyone in the industry will tell you, a lot of work goes into a toy’s design before it’s sent to market. You have to be sure that the toy will appeal to the largest demographic. And apparently the people behind the original He-Man toy thought the character would sell better with a lighter skin tone as opposed to a toy with a ‘deeply tanned Eastern European or Middle Eastern appearance.’ One of the earliest prototypes for He-Man had a dark complexion and dark hair to match. But the powers that be at Mattel decided to make him overtly white and blonde-haired. 30 years later, a version of the original He-Man would finally be released under the character name Vikor.

#1: Beanie Babies Caused a Lot of Drama... Including a Crime Wave

They were cute, they were cuddly, they were soft, and as a child, you wanted them oh so badly. The thing is, it wasn’t just kids who fell fast and hard for the Ty company’s extensive line of plush toys. Adult collectors were soon fighting for them too. Beanie Babies became the catalyst for a whole lot of ugliness. Couples went to court over them, kids were hurt in mob-like rushes at sales, and families were financially ruined. Counterfeits abounded, as did fraud and theft for online resale. The New York Times even reported on a Beanie Baby Bandit. Ty Inc. was actually accused of market manipulation. How did something so innocent get so messy?