Just because we were born in or grew up during a certain decade doesn’t mean that we played exclusively with the toys belonging to that era when we were kids; indeed, there are tons of ‘80s toys that ‘90s kids loved, too. Whether they were hand-me-downs from older siblings or the later editions of toy franchises that had long and happy lives spanning multiple decades, I’m willing to bet that a good deal of ‘90s kids had at least a couple of toys from the ‘80s hanging out in their toy boxes growing up. I know I sure did.
Although to be fair, I’m not strictly a ‘90s kid; as someone who was born in 1985, I’m kind of the generational equivalent of being on the cusp of two different zodiac signs: I can remember enough of the ‘80s to be considered a child of the ‘80s, but enough of my childhood also took place during the ‘90s to classify me as a ‘90s kid. Additionally, my older brother was born in 1981, so thanks to him, a lot of classic ‘80s toys were already present in our home by the time I came along. I don’t remember a time, for example, when we didn’t have a couple of Popples hanging out in our closets, and we were both big on the whole Masters of the Universe franchise.
So here’s to all the ‘80s toys that continued to enthrall children everywhere well into the ‘90s — and beyond, in many cases. Because you’re never too old for a talking teddy bear.
1. Rainbow Brite
A surprising number of classic ‘80s toys came from a rather unexpected source: Greeting card companies. Rainbow Brite hailed from Hallmark, with the idea being for the company to break into the licensing business; the colorful little girl was one of their first characters to jump from greeting card to animated character to toy line. Although she made her debut in 1984, Rainbow and her pals got makeovers every couple of years; I wasn’t too fond of the version that hit around 2009/2010, largely because Rainbow went from being a kid (who was proportioned like a kid) to being a tall, willowy young woman. I think there’s something to be said for children being able to play with toys that are also designed to look like children, but maybe that’s just me.
In any event, I adored my Rainbow Brite and Starlite the Horse dolls in the very early ‘90s. Who wouldn’t want to be able to shoot a magical rainbow bridge out of their belt on command?
Kids are pretty much always into transforming toys, but I would argue that the trend was at its height in the ‘80s. There were Transformers, of course — but there were also things like Popples, stuffed animals that could fold up into themselves to create something new. As I recently commented, my brother and I had a ton of these suckers growing up; I recall at least four: One that transformed into a soccer ball, one that transformed into a cheerleading pompom, and two that turned into little tiny flowers.
Like Rainbow Brite, Popples were the creation of a greeting card company — American Greetings, in this case. The company’s subsidiary, Those Characters From Cleveland, introduced the franchise in the mid-‘80s; Mattel manufactured the toys from 1986 to 1988. They were revived in both 2007 and 2015, but nothing beats a classic ‘80s Popple.
3. Pound Puppies
Pound Puppies differed from the vast majority of other ‘80s toys in that it wasn’t inspired by a cartoon show — the cartoon show was inspired by the toy. Created by Mike Bowling, Pound Puppies were produced by Tonka from 1984 to 1988 and by Hasbro from 1988 onwards; the original television series, meanwhile, premiered on ABC in 1986. A new series debuted on The Hub (now Discovery Family) in 2010, and, um, you guys? It’s actually kind of fantastic. I used to keep the TV on for background noise in the morning a lot, and I have absolutely no shame about the fact that a lot of the time, that background noise was cartoons.
Why, yes, I am in my 30s; why do you ask?
4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Although I was super into the Ninja Turtles when I was a kid (Donatello was my first crush. True story), it was only much later on in life that I discovered they had begun life as comic book characters — and ones that really, really weren’t meant for kids, at that. Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s reptilian crime fighters debuted on the page in 1984; but when Playmates Toys, Inc. was first approached about making action figures related to the series not too long after, the company requested a television series to go with it. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon show so many of us remember so fondly first aired as a miniseries at the very end of 1987, and the rest, as they say…
5. Care Bears
Another Those Characters From Cleveland/American Greetings property, Care Bears pre-date Hallmark's Rainbow Brite by a few years: They made their greeting card premiere in 1981, but got the plush treatment by Kenner in 1983.
Although I loved the cartoon, I actually don’t think I had any officially licensed Care Bears growing up; my mum, however — who is very, very handy with a sewing machine — made a Grumpy Bear for my brother, and I would argue that it was way cooler than any of the brand-made ones. Well played, Mum. Well played.
6. She-Ra and He-Man
The Masters of the Universe franchise kicked up in 1982, with He-Man/Prince Adam’s twin sister She-Ra/Princess Adora coming along in 1985. Not unlike many franchises of the time, MOTU wasn’t just a line of action figures or a cartoon; it was an all-encompassing series, featuring toys, television shows, comics, video games, and a live-action movie starring Dolph Lundgren. MOTU has also had a number of revivals over the years, including a couple of different television series with action figures to match — but the current line of action figures specifically targets those who grew up with them during their first run, bringing back the toys as they appeared in the ‘80s. That gets a gold star in my book.
7. Glo Worms
Soft, snuggly, sleepy little creatures that light up when you squeeze them? What better way to battle a child’s fear of the dark? The Playskool division of Hasbro introduced the world to the pajama-clad Glo Worms in 1982, and they became such a success that Glo Worm-themed story books, nightlights, videos, and more continued to arrive on the scene well through the ‘90s.
8. Teddy Ruxpin
OK, yes, I know I’ve said that Teddy Ruxpin is creepy in the past — but back when robotic toys were new, Teddy was also enormously desirable. First released by Worlds of Wonder in 1985, the storytelling bear was THE holiday toy for several years running; alas, though, the company eventually folded, and none of the later incarnations of the bear were quite as popular. Apparently Wicked Cool Toys has since acquired the property, though; a revamp version of Teddy Ruxpin is due out in the fall of 2017. It’s anyone’s guess what this new Ted will be capable of doing.
9. Cabbage Patch Kids
Fun fact: Cabbage Patch Kids were actually dreamed up in the ‘70s as “The Little People.” It wasn’t until 1982, though, that creator Xavier Roberts changed their name to Cabbage Patch Kids — and the toy then went on to become one of the top-selling toys of all time.
Although Cabbage Patch Kids have been a staple in toy boxes everywhere for almost 35 years, though, I hadn’t realized exactly how many companies had been involved in their production: They were produced by Coleco from 1982 to 1988, Hasbro from 1988 to 1994, Mattel from 1994 to 2003, Toys R Us in 2003, Play Along from 2004 to 2011, Jakks Pacific from 2011 to 2014, and Wicked Cool Toys from 2015 to the present. Talk about a wild ride.
10. American Girl Dolls
Fun fact: Although American Girl dolls certainly hit their stride in the ‘90s, they actually aren’t ‘90s toys. Pleasant Rowland introduced the first three dolls in the original historical line — Samantha, Kirsten, and Molly — in 1986. Felicity came along in 1991, and by the time Addy arrived in 1993, American Girl had become a full-fledged phenomenon.
Images: Jason Kempin/Getty Images; Giphy (8)