The Toys That Made Us is a four-part documentary series on Netflix that looks at four of the most famous toy lines in the world, delving into the drama and creativity behind it all. The documentary tackles Star Wars, Barbie, He-Man and GI Joe in a series that reveals the things that made these toys possible and the decisions throughout the decades that both harmed and helped the brand become more popular.
The Toys That Made Us sets up viewers with an intro that could not be more perfect. A cheerful, Saturday morning cartoon theme song plays over an animated intro sequence. The entire moment could put a smile on the dead with its joyful depiction of the things it is about to talk about. Toys bring joy, to kids anyway, parents maybe not-so-much, and this documentary loves the toys and everything about them.
Episode One: Star Wars
The series begins with one of the biggest toy franchises in the history of toy franchises. It puts a sobering point on just how important Star Wars toys are with one simple face. Star Wars movies have collectively earned roughly seven billion dollars while the toys have surpassed 14 billion. The Star Wars toy empire began before the first movie even finished shooting and the process to get to today is truly riveting for fans who want to know about the many figures created for a galaxy far, far away.
Episode Two: Barbie
The unchallenged queen of the toy business. Barbie is almost 60 years old, but you’d never know it. This toy line, above all others, does such an amazing job of evolving along with the times and the new boys and girls who will use the slender plastic figures bring their imagination to life. The story behind Barbie is even more interesting. It’s littered with powerful egos, fraud, failure and cutthroat moves to stay on top.
Episode Three: He-Man
“I have the power!” To 80s kids, He-Man was a powerhouse of both toys and cartoons. And the story behind it all is even more interesting than you can imagine. Nearly everything about the existence of He-Man is debatable or happened through bluffs and gambits. As the documentary series claims, He-Man may not be as time-tested as the other toys examined, but for five years He-Man was an unstoppable, money-making force. He-Man also set the stage for toy lines used to push cartoons instead of the other way around.
Episode Four: GI Joe
The makers of this documentary series saved one of the most fascinating stories for last. GI Joe is decades old, much like Barbie, and has evolved time and time again to stay relevant. GI Joe peaked in the 80s, but the road to get there involved many players. One such involved party includes Marvel Comics and use of one medium to push another. GI Joe is the story of many minds coming together and each one adding something to the whole that made it work. There’s also a sobering moment with Larry Hama, the comic book writer who helped shape the real American heroes.