This’ll take a minute to explain. Exactly a minute. Time me.
During the 1986 holiday season, Toys “R” Us unveiled a series of commercials hosted by giant anthropomorphized toys, like that amazing robot shown above.
Each spot featured a different batch of 1986’s hottest playthings. That December, it wasn’t uncommon to see four or five of these commercials over the course of one thirty-minute Christmas special.
The ads played out like a live-action version of the 1986 Sears Wish Book. I concede that they won’t be of much value to readers many years younger than me, but if you’re somewhere around my age, these are going to kill you in the best way.
Below are five of the spots from that campaign. Enjoy!
Spot #1: Birds & Bots!
While this commercial gave StoryMagic Big Bird top billing, I’m more interested in that Transformers Battlin’ Robots set. It was an obvious riff on Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, and MAN was it great.
Here we had Optimus and Megatron settling their differences in a boxing ring, which in of itself was worthy of fanfic. The designs were based on their action figures, but given the bulkier builds, these boxers actually resembled the cartoon characters more than Hasbro’s figures did!
It’s wild to think about, but “boxing Megatron” spent years as the most TV-accurate Megatron available.
Spot #2: He-Mania!
This commercial focused exclusively on Masters of the Universe toys, including the legendary Eternia playset. That plastic behemoth wasn’t terribly successful in its day, mostly owing to its bloated price tag. (Eternia retailed for $90, which was absurd by 1986 standards.)
One of my friends did own the playset, and indeed, it was a sight to behold. While lacking the open-ended play value of Castle Grayskull, it was just so big and did so many things that it was impossible for me to avoid seething with envy. (That same kid also had what seemed like every Nintendo game. Lucky jerk.)
In retrospect, I’m glad I never owned it. Between Eternia’s hundred pieces and fragile monorail track, it’s a safe bet that I would’ve broken a critical part immediately after opening the box, and then spent the remainder of Christmas vacation losing my religion.
(I’d kill for one now, though. I might have no choice, since a sealed-in-box Eternia can fetch thousands of dollars.)
Spot #3: 100% Centurions!
Weird how so few people bring up the Centurions action figures these days. I get that this was over three decades ago, but that hasn’t stopped us from yapping about the toys that these dudes shared shelf space with. Why the ambivalence?
The gimmick was that the figures had a bunch of holes in them, and came packaged with accessories that could plug right into those holes. That was hardly a standout feature even back then, but these guys were still very well-made and quite a bit larger than their competitors. (As I recall, they even towered over many Thundercats figures.)
Side note: I love how these TRU commercials were staged from a small boy’s 1980s bedroom. Pretty sure I had the same exact “abstract squares” wallpaper. It stung my eyes whenever I had a fever.
Spot #4: For the Honor of Grayskull!
I’m glad we’ve matured enough to (mostly) eradicate gender boundaries in toy aisles. When I was a kid, owning a “girls’ toy” would’ve gotten me in such hot water at the schoolyard. I cowardly avoided Princess of Power toys as a rule, despite the fact that I desperately wanted my own She-Ra.
Most of you have heard of the Crystal Castle playset, which was essentially She-Ra’s Castle Grayskull. This commercial zeroed in on the line’s other big playset, Crystal Falls, which I’d completely forgotten about.
It was basically just a big fountain, but the key point is that it used real flowing water. I don’t remember any playsets from my side of the aisle doubling as relaxation pools for action figures. Whenever the mood struck, I had to make do with saucepans and beach pails.
Spot #5: Tech Teachers!
The ad featured a bunch of battery-operated “teaching toys,” like My Friend Talking Toby and Coleco’s Talking Teacher.
I never owned any of the devices shown here, but I did have the similar Speak & Spell. Back in those days, a clunky tablet that spat words in an overmodulated robot voice was high technology.
Course, I preferred to pretend that my Speak & Spell could do things it plainly couldn’t. I’d carry it around and indiscriminately smash the buttons, all the while acting as if it were everything from a diary to a fortune teller. If you’re familiar with Alexandra York from WCW, picture her with a Speak & Spell. That was me.
Hope you dug these old TRU commercials as much as I did! (How’s that for a perfunctory closer?)