Dinosaur Dracula!

1989 Toys “R” Us Treat Box!

During the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Toys “R” Us ran several promotions where kids received free treat boxes with every purchase. These were essentially paper lunch boxes, filled with product samples, coupons, and if we were lucky, a little toy.

They sound like simple freebies, and I guess they were, but words can’t express how much those boxes meant to me. The few times that I received them, I sure as hell liked them more than whatever I’d conned Mom into buying me.

For regular readers, this is old news, as I’ve written about these treat boxes twice before. In 1992, TRU issued one with a Batman Returns theme, filled with everything from Fruit Stripe gum to Sesame Street Band-Aids. Later that year, they unveiled a Jurassic Park treat box, appropriately covered with dinosaur games and puzzles.

Other times, TRU unveiled treat boxes even when they weren’t in partnership with any big movie studios:

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This “R” Treat Box, from 1989, may have actually been the first in the series. Brother, it was PHENOMENAL. Covered with pictures of Geoffrey’s family, the many beach references suggest that it was a summer release.

Now, a free cardboard Geoffrey box was reason enough to demand a trip to the toy store, but it’s what was inside that made these so legendary. Read More…

Identifying Garfield’s Christmas Presents.

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Yeah, I’m really doing this. It’s too late to stop me.

A Garfield Christmas is one of my favorite holiday specials. During its run on CBS, I watched it every year. To me, it was every bit as important as Charlie Brown’s thing, and for a time, I liked it even more.

The bulk of the special is set on the old Arbuckle farm, where Jon reconnects with his little-seen family. (Most notably Grandma Arbuckle, in a breakthrough performance!) It’s 22 minutes of pure holiday happiness, and it kills me that nobody airs it anymore. A Garfield Christmas just isn’t the same on DVD. I need commercial breaks with special messages from McDonald’s and Radio Shack.

Of course, pitching you the special isn’t why I’m here. Frankly, only those who are already fans have any shot of making it through this post. I mean it. This one is NOT going viral.

Now let’s get down to business. Remember Garfield’s dream sequence from the start of the special? The one with the ROBOT SANTA GIFT-GIVING MACHINE? Read More…

More Ancient Holiday Appetizers!

Every holiday season, I’m inspired to dig through my ancient recipe books, searching for meals and appetizers that haven’t been in fashion since before I was born. Why? I DON’T KNOW.

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No matter how this odd passion took form, it’s been a part of my holiday celebrations for as long as I can remember. These recipe books, mainly of the Betty Crocker variety, were always in the kitchen cabinet when I was growing up. As an adult, they still squeak their way in, because I can’t remember the last yard sale I went to that didn’t have a dozen hardbound Better Homes & Gardens cookbooks laying on the grass. I always buy them. I’m adequately armed to build a fort out of those books.

The recipes inside are rarely seasonally specific, but I always associate them with this time of year. I’m never satisfied with a holiday meal unless it includes at least one dish that hasn’t been popular since 1973. Many of these recipes are weird by today’s standards; others have fallen out of favor as the world’s grown more nutritionally conscious. Still, back then, food looked like so much fun. Like something you’d make out of Play-Doh or LEGO bricks.

So, in continuation of something I’ve done before, below are four more holiday-appropriate appetizers, plucked from some of my oldest cookbooks. None of them are too strange, but that won’t stop you from telling me how you’d never eat them, in great detail. And that’s fine! Read More…

The M.U.S.C.L.E. Battlin’ Belt!

M.U.S.C.L.E. — that’s Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere — is one of my favorite toy lines ever. Imported from Japan where they had a more richly defined story, I prefer the simplified version we got in the States: They were just piles of wacky, nameless wrestlers, nearly as inexpensive to collect as Garbage Pail Kids, but 800 times more fun.

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Most typically sold in 4-packs, M.U.S.C.L.E. figures were also sold in 10-pack cans and 28-pack boxed sets. Barely more than an inch tall, they were essentially super detailed vending machine toys. The toys were made cheap and sold cheap, so any kid who collected M.U.S.C.L.E. figures didn’t just “have a few.” We all had tons of them. That was partly the point.

Raise your hand if you ever commandeered a giant LEGO bucket for your M.U.S.C.L.E. toys. Actually, don’t bother. Didn’t we all?

M.U.S.C.L.E. figures were originally sold in a fleshy pink color, but after the line took off and Mattel saw an opening, all of the wrestlers were re-released in various neon colors. (I don’t think any kid preferred the wild colors, and to this day, the flesh-colored M.U.S.C.L.E. figures are far more popular.)

In Japan, most if not all of the characters had names, allegiances and explanations. In the States, their identities were pretty much up to us. We knew that the main good guy was “Muscle Man” and that the main bad guy was “Terri-Bull,” but beyond that, all we could do was look at the figures and decide for ourselves what they were about.

That was no easy task! The beauty of the line was in how absolutely bizarre it was. Some of the figures appeared roughly human, but most didn’t. One M.U.S.C.L.E. guy looked like a building; another resembled a giant claw. Then there was the one who appeared to have a teacup for a head. Since the three I just mentioned were some of the most popular, “nonsensicality” was one of the line’s biggest draws.

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Most people who collected the figures only collected the figures, ignoring Mattel’s few attempts to branch out beyond them. I’ve already covered the Hard Knockin’ Rockin’ Ring, where two M.U.S.C.L.E. wrestlers squared off in a miniaturized, extra weird version of Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Robots.

Today, I want to focus on Mattel’s other big extra. A little thing called the Battlin’ Belt.

Remembering that M.U.S.C.L.E. was about wrestling at heart, most of the accessories played into that. The Battlin’ Belt was essentially a carrying case, but it was made to look like an honest-to-goodness championship belt. Specifically, the one Ric Flair wore in the NWA. Sure, his was a lot bigger, but his didn’t come with little plastic pockets full of tiny pink monsters. Nor did you have to take headbutts from Harley Race to get it. Read More…

10 things KB Toys sold in 1998!

I don’t think many of us realized just how wonderful KB Toys was until it went under. In fact, things that once seemed annoying about the chain became somehow charming in its wake. The disorganized clutter! The over-reliance on old stock! The six different price stickers on every single item!

When KB stores were doing those fire sales just prior to shutting down, it wasn’t that much different from how they’d been operating all along.

KB had new stuff and even its share of exclusives, but the overall ambiance was that of a discount center. People like me rushed past the “current” items for the glories of those back aisles, where comparatively ancient toys begged to be adopted. It was glorious!

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…which leads me to today’s topic.

KB Toys didn’t go out of business until 2009, so it’s no surprise that they once had a major internet presence. Its online identity wasn’t far apart from the real world version. When looking for new things, it always seemed to be our last resort. (Hell, I’ve been buying Christmas presents online for almost 20 years now, and not once can I remember doing it through KB Toys.)

Still, its web presence had the same charm as the actual stores, with wild discounts, loose categories and an overall lack of polish.

What you’re looking at up above is a screenshot of KB Toys’ website from 1998, when they were first getting their digital feet wet. The whole point of the site was to drive people to their brick-and-mortar locations. There were no virtual shopping carts, nor any way to order anything online. What remained was essentially a virtual circular, and my God, did I ever enjoy flipping clicking through its pages!

Below are ten toys promoted on KB’s website back in 1998. May they fill you with as much nostalgic joy as they did me.

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#1: Aliens Figures!

Nothing screams “KB Toys” quite like Kenner’s Aliens figures marked down to goofy prices. Certainly many of you will remember seeing these beauts scattered around the store, usually in dented packaging. I’ve only recently begun to appreciate how awesome that line was, so I’m retroactively mad at myself for skipping these sales. Three Aliens figures for ten bucks? Even by 1998 standards, that was INSANE. Read More…