Then vs. Now: Christmas Presents
Type: All | Category: Then vs. Now | Date: 18th December 2017
This month’s Then vs. Now gets all festive! What were the best selling Christmas toys from past generations? Whilst we look at that, let’s also discuss if they were in fact any good – and if we would still play with them today!
What decade really rocked? To help celebrate our new ‘Retro’ yearbook theme, Leavers’ Books are taking a look at the eras that influenced its design – the 80s and 90s. Each month, we humorously discuss what was great (and not so great!) about the good ol’ days and if they still stand the test of time!
Is there really a better time than Christmas? No, there isn’t. I answered that for you.
One of the main reasons we get excited, even at our age, is the enigma of presents – the possibilities of what someone may have bought us; but they also depict a moment in time and frame our generations. What was the must-have Christmas present of a certain year? What was the talk of the playground, what plagued TV ad breaks, and what had parents line-up around the corner awaiting their local toy store to open?
Even typing this makes me feel warm inside, but also understand the pure frustration of being a parent – as I remember the adventure taken in Jingle All the Way back in 1996 (and re-visited every Christmas since). Did we follow the norm and want what everyone else wanted under the Christmas tree come the 25th? How jealous did we truly get when someone in our class got a mobile phone? Would our stockings be filled with something we’ve craved for all year, or just chocolates and clementines?
First there was Etch-a-Sketchs, GI Joes, Twister, Rubik’s Cubes, Playmobil sets, but things seemed to escalate quickly in demand as the years went by. We’re taking a glance back to remember the best-selling Christmas toys from the past 30 years. Some will remind you of a simpler time when all a kid needed was a sticker book, while other modern sell-out items show just how far spending has changed over the years.
Along the way, in true Leaver’s Books style, we will be giving our honest opinion...
1985: Transformers Action Figures
Optimus Prime was the ultimate cartoon hero action figure - a giant robot that morphed into a truck, fought bad guys, and spoke. Back when Transformers weren’t glam- Hollywood production films, it was a fantastic cartoon television show that enraptured children of all ages. No jokes here, they were cool.
1986: Football Stickers
Got. Got. Need. Got. Want. Need. Got. Got. Need badly! Football stickers had this alluring charm of ruling the playground – causing elation, utter frustration, and sometimes even fights. After the hysteria of Maradona and that Hand of God goal in the World Cup ’86 in Mexico, you just had to remember the rules: no take backs after a scramble; two little’uns for a big’un; two big’uns for a shiny.
1987: Sylvanian Families
When the TV animation came to life and hit stores, children couldn’t get enough and it swept the nation? But why? All it was were little animals with prickly fur that you could dress up in tiny clothes and buy them a house to live in. They’re still produced today, and whilst they don’t have the same wow-factor as they did thirty years ago, they’re just as naff as ever.
1988: Ghostbusters Proton Pack
Hands down the coolest toy on our list. You can’t deny it either – if one was placed in front of you at work, you’d have to fight off everyone else in your office to have a whirl. Ghostbusters gifts were huge in the late-80s. The life-sized replica Proton Pack was the pièce de résistance when it came to dressing-up and playing with your friends, while others settled for the tiny action figures. If only it could’ve sucked up and vanquished your geography teacher.
1989: Batman’s Batmobile
Too young to drive, but not young enough to drive your parents up the wall. This was the original Batmobile that started it all, as featured in the 1989 Batman starring Michael Keaton. Can’t really slate the Batmobile really, can we? So here’s a joke: What does Batman put in his drinks? Just ice.
1990: Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles Action Figures
Not only was 1990 a good year for pizza sales thanks to a particular television programme, but it saw a soar in action figure sales. Those Ninja Turtles were everywhere, and had you constantly questions if A. You liked rats and they were actually the good guys, and B. Why a woman would love a human-sized turtle green looking thing and not you. Heroes in a half shell... Turtle power.
A big investment for parents in 1991, but a GameBoy solved the riddle of ‘how do I shut this kid up?!’. The handheld consoled had the possibility for children to enter a thousand different worlds, depending on what games cartridge they bought. Worked wonders for the most part, until they were outside and the sun would make the screen too bright, or it became night-fall and Nintendo hadn’t thought about back-lights yet. Back to the drawing board of keeping these ones quiet.
Thunderbirds were making a comeback on your television screen and as a result, were in demand. The play-set one must have that year was the home of the Thunderbirds crew, Tracy Island. A millionaire’s paradise resort, equipped with trap doors and escape routes for each Thunderbird and their mode of transport. Nothing short of cool, unless you couldn’t afford it and were forced to follow Blue Peter instructions and build your own out of loo roll and scrap paper.
1993: Barbie Dolls
Barbies were always high up on a girl’s Christmas list, but 1993 saw it take the gold after a few male-heavy years. Nothing sums up a childhood more than seeing your sister play with her Barbies, having a great time – and you questioned stealing one to see what all the fuss was about. Only to realise you could never unlock the magic. Still, it was fun to push her jeep and motorhome down the stairs.
Not just any action figures either; these ones would rotate their heads – switching between helmeted or without helmet, showing their true identity. The fact you got a little badge that you could clip onto your belt with the toy was probably enough to seal the deal. Power Rangers took over our TV screens (as most crazes seem to do) and kids could just not get enough of the spandex rockin’ butt-kickers. Throw in some crazy animal robots and you’re talking money. In case you were wondering, I was always Billy.
Tiddlywinks or milk caps, but with a whole lot of attitude. POGS were a cheap gift in 1995, but did the job, as they covered the floors of playground. It was more about the ones you had than actually playing it (I’m sure half the school didn’t even know the rules), but you never told your parents that.
1996: Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear
Maybe I was in the out-crowd, because I personally was all over the Woody hype following the release of the first Toy Story the year prior. And what a film it was! The belief that toys came to life was all too real as you’d hang outside your bedroom and slowly peak through a crack in the door to see if they would move.
A joint victor dividing age groups: Teletubbies were for the younger lot, caught up with the latest television hypnosis, and Tamagotchis were for the elders, tired of speaking to mum and dad on road trips. One caused endless hours of torture, starvation, pooping, death, bleeps and guilt, and the other was called Dipsy.
This interactive pet was your best friend and worst nightmare rolled up into one. Looking like some freak accident slash squashed bird, the Furby sat at the end of your bed and batted its eyelids, speaking absolute gibberish – and we ate it up. Until the batteries died.
1999: Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Board Game
If you didn’t have the fastest finger back in the day, you could still play the show in the comfort of your own home (with or without coughing). Whoever played Chris Tarrant just had to make sure they repeated everything the phone-a-friend said.
2000: Teksta Robotic Dog
A dog is for life, not just for Christmas, they say. 2000 was the cop out of buying children pets as presents, knowing full well the child would get bored by Easter and parents would be left having to walk it, feed it, and clean up its poop. Knowing that this was the case, the Millennium saw these robotic pups responded to sound, light, and infra-red. The ultimate finesse.
2001: Bob the Builder
Bob and his merry band of trucks and tools found their way dominating the toy isles up and down the country – but if he really as good as he said he was, maybe he should’ve spent less time trying to get a Christmas number one and more time fixing the leaky tap we had in our downstairs toilet.
2002: Bratz Dolls
For a short period of time, Barbie and Cindy had a real rival gang on their hands in the form of Bratz. These chicas had a ‘passion for fashion’ and being the most sought-after gift in 2002. You named them that, not me.
To the delight of parents everywhere, things were getting cheaper. Battling spinning tops took over schools this year; like an advanced, colourful, turned-up-to-eleven version of conkers. Beyblades were another cartoon craze, this time starting from Japan – and being cheaper than rivals Pokémon, Digimon and Yu-Gi-Oh, meant more money could go on important things, such as a bigger turkey and Twiglets.
When this panda-looking automated robot hit the shelves it made national news picking up Toy of the Year awards along with being the number one selling product. There was nothing else quite like it and caused a frenzy. Boasting NASA technology the Robosapien was nothing short of wicked. But did it watch you whilst you slept?
2005 was an expensive year for parents – it was all about personal gadgets and gaming consoles. Apple introduced the iPod Shuffle but it didn’t make the cut as cheaper alternatives became big hits. Sony's PSP was another winner, alongside the larger Xbox 360 console. Telling your mum it can play DVDs and your little brother can join in on the games too justified the big purchase. At least one was true.
2006: Nintendo Wii and Doctor Who Cyberman Mask
The main cause of a broken TV came in the form of a Nintendo Wii remote control. The Wii supplied amazing family entertainment in Wii Sports and various other games for roughly two weeks before things went stale... Much like with the voice changing mask featuring a robot from Doctor Who. Should’ve kept the receipts.
The nation's little’uns had a big impact on the sales charts in 2007 as In the Night Garden’s newest addition Iggle Piggle became the number one selling gift. Whether it be its creepy-looking face or the fact it came with a blanket parents could later use as a dust cloth when stocks were low, this blue meanie meant business.
Memories from years before when Dance Dance Revolution came out and all you could hear from the flat above was ‘stomp, stomp, stomp’ returned as this dance mat emulated the very same horror – but this time to Disney upbeat songs and not trance fast-paced EDM. A good way to encourage exercise whilst having fun to help burn off that extra packet of Skittles. Jazz hands were optional.
2009: Go Go Pet Hamsters
At least you wouldn’t feel as guilty if this one got sucked up my vacuum cleaner, but it was still somewhat an inconvenience. Go Go Pets were nothing short of nuts. Think a Scalextric race track but for hamsters, and no racing. These furry critters would twoddle along courses you built, including having a whirl in a running wheel and even going for a drive in a car. The smell was better than that real thing, so swings and roundabouts, or as a young girl said on national television, “they go round and round... And then... They go round and round”.
2010: Toy Story 3 DVD and Buzz Lightyear’s Jet Pack
The old band got back together again and brought with it some new treats. Whilst children got stuck in on the action with hopes to become to next Buzz Lightyear, adults stocked their bookshelves with another cut-price DVD they’ll later pawn off to Oxfam. To the charity bin, and beyond.
Education rocks! Or so Leapfrog has been trying to tell us for the past decade – with slow advancements in educational and developmental interactive toys. They finally hit the nail on the head in 2011, combining their already strong formula with the craze of tablets.
2012: Skylanders: Giants
It was a game, it came with action figures, trading card, stickers and everything else you could possibly think of. Their marketing team had it all planned out how to draw bank accounts dry. Plus it was all fun, which certainly helps. These could get pricey very quickly if present-buyers weren’t careful and purchased the first one they saw. First of all, was it the right colour that the child wanted? That’s a big issue. But if you asked me what it was or what they did, I wouldn’t have a clue.
2013: Furby Boom
He’s backkk! He’s back and looking weirder than ever. This little guy had an upgrade: the more the user spoke to it, the more it spoke back. Reminds you of someone 6 years old, doesn’t it?
2014: Frozen Elsa and Anna Dolls
The Disney smash swept the nation and pretty much anything Frozen related was quickly purchased. The infectious songs were the highlight of school discos and birthday parties. There really was no escape. Parents succumbed to the pressure and made sure dolls of the two main characters kept their children company at night in bed – much more accommodating than a real life snowman anyway.
2015: Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Kylo Ren’s Lightsaber and Command Shuttle
Much like the Proton Pack, if you see a Lightsaber knocking about, you’re going to pick it up, swing it about, and make the sounds. With the reboot of Star Wars and new film, a new generation of children got to experience the wonder of the fictional space adventures and have a new spaceship or Lightsaber to play with. No doubt with each film coming out year-after-year, you can expect another Star Wars best-seller soon.
2016: Hatchimals, PAW Patrol and Pieface Showdown
2016 was a crazy one. PAW Patrol was a TV show that just took over. Dogs that save the day is the name of the game this time, and anything associated with the popular show made its way to the toy shelves in the form of action play sets, soft cuddly toys and everything in between.
Hatchimals were interactive birds that peck their own way out of an egg, providing you cuddle and stroke it, like someone who has man-flu. Once hatched, if you continue to provide it with loving attention, it changes its behaviour from a baby to a toddler to a fully-grown Hatchimal that can walk, talk and play games. Which is pretty advanced and impressive.
But not nearly as impressive as the delightfully silly game that sees whipped cream slap you in the face. It’s like Russian roulette for anyone lactose intolerant.
There are some honourable mentions that didn’t quite make the cut as number one, but certainly can be something we all remember: for example, I remember how fond I thought of, but also so desperately jealous I was, of my sister’s inflatable chair that she got one year. Whilst we never had the lungs to fully blow it up, and it would deflate within minutes, we had one, and that’s what mattered.
Were you the kid in your school that had the Beanie Baby addition, or did you just collect two or three from McDonald's when they came in Happy Meals? Either way, no matter how careful you were, the tag on your Beanie Baby always bent.
If you weren’t mocked by your classmates for a soft toy addiction, were you embarrassed and ridiculed for having a big plastic watch, that whilst seemed fun and cool, would irritatingly bleep every hour on the hour, and when the alarm would go off in class, you were everybody’s worst enemy – mostly because you didn’t know how to switch it off and just pressed every button as you slowly sunk into your desk.
At least children today will never know certain pains associated with Christmas. A real 90s problem came in the form of a scooter. Despite how cool your bunny hops were, you’d feel like your world was coming to an end as you swung your scooter around and the razor-like base would knock into your ankle or Achilles. I can still feel the pain today.
Whatever the number one selling toy is this year in 2017, I’m sure you’ll no doubt look back in thirty years’ time and have a good old laugh about it as you try to flog it on eBay.