The toy world is full of epic miscalculations. There are so many squicky, inappropriate action figures and other toys, after a while you start to wonder if the toy industry is some sort of bizarre joke. Who signed off on the masturbating Batman doll, or the Wolverine toy with the blow-up nozzle in Logan's crotch?
In a nutshell, why are there so many weird and unfortunate science fiction and fantasy toys? We decided to talk to an expert, Mike Mozart from Jeepers Media, and he explained the secret origin of squick.
Mike Mozart is sort of an internet legend. He's a toy designer himself, who owns something like 300,000 toys — in part because he also does consulting with toy companies on patent and copyright lawsuits, so he needs to maintain lots of examples of prior art. He's been doing toy-related videos for years, but he found that his "Fail Toy" reviews of horrendous and quasi-obscene toys were becoming much more popular, so he developed Jeepers Media to promote the "Fail Toy" brand. At this point, his videos — full of silly sound effects like "BOING" and his goofy riffing on the weirdly sexual toys — have gotten a quarter billion views on Youtube alone, and he's featured tons of other places.
We spoke to Mozart on the phone about just why there are so many weird, messed up toys out there.
Some classic 1960s and 1970s toys were obscene on purpose.
One of the most famous "WTF" toys of all time is the Batman squirt gun, where Batman is bent over. You remove a plug in Batman's rear end and fill the Caped Crusader with water, and then squeeze a trigger in his crotch, so that water sprays out of Batman's mouth. What on Earth were they thinking?
According to Mozart, these squirt guns (and some other similar ones) were made by a company called Elvin Toys, and they thought it was funny to be as obscene as possible. "I talked to one of the designers from that company," says Mozart. "I heard he was alive and living in New York... He bragged that they knew these toys were inappropriate." In fact, they considered that "part of the charm" of these toys.
This designer was your stereotypical old-school New Yorker, full of "dese" and "dems," and very much an old-school sexist pig — and the designer told Mozart the licensing department at Warner Bros. at the time was "a bunch of dames" who had no sense of humor. So the toy company reps would go out of their way to make sure the toys were as wrong as possible, and then tell the "dames" at Warner Bros. they were just imagining things. Maybe that's also how the infamous Wonder Woman scissors happened. At any rate, for the past few decades, Warner Bros. has had the least amount of inappropriate toys of any company — with one or two notable exceptions. (See below.)
What is up with Disney?
Just check out the weird Snow White and the Seven Dwarves pez dispensers, where the pez pieces come out of the dwarves' crotch areas and look exactly like candy penises. This was a limited edition of 150,000 pieces, and Mozart's theory is that some overworked executive at Disney said that they didn't want the candy coming out of the dwarves' heads, because that made their heads too big — and they didn't pause to think what that would look like.
"The Walt Disney company is crazy when it comes to dealing with some of the licensed product designs," says Mozart. "The people who approve the products at Disney are all overworked."
Why are there so many masturbating toys?
Speaking of Disney... Just check out Rad Repeatin' Tarzan, who makes his trademark jungle yell when his arm moves up and down like he's pleasuring himself. His arm is bent in a masturbatory angle by a plastic clamshell piece that forces his arm into that shape. Mozart talked to people who were involved in the design of this toy — apparently originally his arm was straight, so when it went up and down they were worried it looked like he was making a "Heil Hitler" motion. "It was one of those last-minute decisions," says Mozart. They didn't stop to think what else "Lord Greystroke's" arm might look like it was doing.
Possibly a similar explanation applies to this weird Happy Meal Batman Toy, where the Caped Crusader appears a little too happy? There's also pictures of a similarly odd Robin toy floating around, and a few other gripping, stroking toys on the internet.
And then there's Disney's Mickey Mouse Clubhouse toy, where Pluto and Mickey can talk to each other. With Talkin' Bobbin' action! And Pluto's paw is bent at a weird angle, so that Pluto's paw is pointing to his crotch and moving up and down. Originally, his front leg was bent at the elbow — as depicted on the back of the box — but Mozart says the people at Disney felt that it looked like he was making a stereotypically gay hand motion, so they straightened out his front leg to make it look more heterosexual.
Now, Mickey asks what Pluto's favorite toy is, or where to find Pluto's bone. And in response, Pluto basically grabs his crotch and makes a "Yuk Yuk" sound. Mickey says, "That's right!" The company made a "snap decision" to make Pluto look less gay — and it may have backfired slightly.
What's with the Dora the Explorer Aqua Pet thing? Another famous "fail toy" is the Dora the Explorer "Aquapet" toy, where it basically looks like a giant dildo. Mozart says that the toy company was used to seeing these things in different colors, including wild purple and green — they never thought about what it looked like when the base was a fleshy pink color. "That problem never presented itself until the toy came on the market."
Who thought inflating a hammer by blowing on Wolverine's crotch was a good idea?
This might be the most famous weird superhero toy in history — the Wolverine inflatable squeaky hammer, where you inflate it by blowing a nozzle located in the middle of Wolverine's crotch. That toy is so messed-up, many people thought it was a hoax. At left: the video where Mozart proves it exists. That toy was actually created by circus vendors called Rhode Island Novelties, or RINCO. They made a bunch of other ones — and if you look at the Shrek hammer, Shrek is taller than Wolverine, so the nozzle is a good inch below Shrek's crotch. "I think it looked like a good design, and when the designer designed it, it looked nice," says Mozart.
Why are there so many Spider-Man fail toys, in particular?
Seriously. Way more than any other superhero, Spider-Man seems to have the biggest number of messed-up toys. In the past, we've covered the Whippin Web-chuk Spidey and the Spider-Toss. There's also the Spider-Man dildo knife. And the Spider-Man mylar balloon where there's a thing hanging down that looks like Spider-Man's "shlong," as Mozart puts it — with a yellow ribbon coming out. And the Shape Shifter Spider-Man toy, where you have to insert a weapon into Spider-Man's rear (to go with the Punisher Shape Shifter, where the same weapon comes out of Punisher's crotch.) And there's also a life-size inflatable Spider-Man out there, where you have to inflate him by blowing on his crotch.
So what's up with all these mountains of horrifically wrong Spidey toys? "We've wondered that ourselves," says Mozart. His theory: A lot of Spidey toys were made by a company called Toy Biz, which Marvel owned themselves, and there was possibly just less product control than at one of the bigger toy makers. Also, the Shape Shifting Spidey toy is a bad idea in principle — "it's never a good idea to make transformers that are human-looking, because they're always going to end up looking inappropriate."
Also, there are just a ton of Spider-Man knockoffs out there — he's "one of the most knocked-off characters in history," says Mozart. So toymakers in other parts of the world create unapproved Spidey toys, many of which end up being just wrong. Possibly the dildo knife was one of those. See also, at left, Mozart's tribute to a Spider-Man bow and arrow, where the arrow goes through Spidey's midsection.
The most inappropriate toy franchise
Ask Mozart to name the most inappropriate line of toys out there, and he'll go on a tear against the Spongebob Squarepants toys. Spongebob is sort of sexual to begin with — he lives in Bikini Bottom with his friends Crab and French Tickler — but the toys are way over the line, including a Pez dispenser where Spongebob is wearing tighty whities and the Pez comes out of his crotch. And various Patrick figures, where there's a flower on Patrick's crotch with the petals split in a suggestive way. Or the "pole-dancing lollipop" where you suck on a lollipop that comes out of Spongebob's crotch. Mozart has had conversations with folks from Nickelodeon and the manufacturer, and he feels like they're doing this stuff on purpose.
There are basically no new "fail toys" any more
And Mozart takes a bit of credit for this — in the old days, people were afraid to bring up the potential for a toy to look obscene in product meetings, because everybody would just think they had a dirty mind, or they were just imagining things. Nowadays, though, people at toy companies are hypersensitive to that kind of thing, and people are encouraged to speak up about anything where you might get a weird impression. Because they know that if a toy looks potentially obscene or inappropriate, people like Mozart will feature it on videos that go massively viral. "I'm the excuse to change things at toy companies," says Mozart.