Do You Remember “The Christmas Toy”?

Well, if you forgot, then your previous Christmas toy (and toys) will be sad.

Timeless Treasures of Christmas

Some Christmas specials remain timeless treasures of years gone by, watched by several generations. The stories are timeless, the songs sung over and over again, and the word “classic” is bandied around. There are other specials that have the look, feel, and makings of a classic holiday tradition, only to mire in obscurity. These specials disappear after airing once, remembered by the children who watched that year, but never witnessed by anyone else thereafter.

This is the story of one such special, remembered fondly by this writer (and those who were old enough to know about it in 1986), but not really by anyone else.

This is the story of The Christmas Toy.

The Christmas Toy

ABC aired The Christmas Toy on December 6, 1986, sponsored by Kraft Foods, produced by the Jim Henson Company, and featuring a Santa suit-clad Kermit the Frog setting the stage.

The story takes place within a playroom, where the toys come to life when no one is around. (I know this sounds unoriginal, but this was nine years before Toy Story, so hear me out). The toys are aware that their fate hinges on not being out of position, as to freeze them forever. This particular evening in the playroom, however, is a Big Deal…it’s Christmas Eve!

Old Balthazar tells the toys that a new toy will join the group after the kids open presents the next day. Of course, this does not sit well with Rugby the Tiger Cub, who will not stand for being replaced as his owner’s favorite Christmas Toy.

And what happens next is a harrowing journey through the quiet hallways of the family home, all in a quest to be the Christmas Toy…now and forever!

It’s quite the adventure, complete with songs, familiar Muppet voices, and the Kraft TV recipes in lieu of actual commercials.

Which brings me to the next thing about this special…

“Celebrate the Season With Kraft!”

Since The Christmas Toy was sponsored by Kraft Foods, the ad space was given over to Kraft. And while they could have just run ads for their products, they took it a step further…

Uploads via Allison Venezio / Allison’s Written Words

(Yes, this was a feature on my blog in December 2015)

Kraft Foods showed off all the amazing recipes one could make with their foodstuffs, thanks to coupons in the Sunday paper, and recipes in that week’s TV Guide.

I particularly loved this…

MAGIC!

So you’ve got amazing commercials for amazing yuletide eatings, and a Christmas special that’s all Muppets and Christmas.

So what happened? Why did this disappear into obscurity?

Where Did The Christmas Toy Go?

To answer your question…I have no idea.

The Christmas Toy wound up being a one-and-done special, as primetime Christmas programming goes. The special disappeared from conscious memory for seven years (save for the kids whose parents taped the special in 1986, like mine did), until resurfacing on VHS in 1993, and DVD in 2008, albeit edited for legal reasons to omit Kermit the Frog’s introduction.

You say “legal reasons,” I say “Disney will sue into oblivion.”

Probably wasn’t Disney’s doing (the DVD came out in 2008, and I don’t believe Disney owned The Muppets until a few years later), but someone didn’t want Kermit appearing here!

I’ve never been able to find any reason this special went into obscurity after its initial 1986 airing, but I treasure my recorded VHS of it – so much so, I transferred it to a DVD in 2009 to keep it preserved. I just transferred it to my laptop last night to keep a digital copy as a backup.

And yes, it is that good. The Christmas Toy became a yearly tradition for me for years, even if I watched it by myself. I plan to watch it this year (for the first time since 2009!) to recapture the magic all over again!

Availability

As for availability…its almost non-existent.

The DVD is out-of-print (the only way I can explain why a new copy is over $50), and forget YouTube – my last YouTube account was terminated because I uploaded this rare classic. Let’s just say Lionsgate found me out four years later (seriously, four years!).

To The Wayside…Like Last Year’s Christmas Toy!

I’m not ok with the “fall to the wayside” treatment The Christmas Toy got since its release. Among Muppet/Jim Henson specials, this one has the makings of a classic. I can assume it may have been Kraft’s sponsorship that has kept it from airing again. Perhaps this was meant to be a one-and done deal? I’m not sure, but I do know this…it’s not right.

I can’t stress that enough, apparently.

The story of hoping to be loved forever, and the lengths one will go (even when it is unnecessary) when that love is doubted makes for a timeless story. If you have an original print of the special, consider yourself lucky, and cherish it. Please, make a copy of your VHS, just keep it well preserved.

Like the toys in the special, The Christmas Toy deserves to be loved too.

Look, I Found A Clip!

If you truly want to get a song stuck in your head the rest of the day, may I recommend this clip?

Upload via LionsgateVOD

Related Reads

I did a four-part series on the Kraft TV Recipes on my blog in 2015, if you’re feeling particularly empowered to read them!

Hostess Gifts (Week 1)

Tree Trimming (Week 2)

Christmas Eve (Week 3)

New Year’s Eve (Week 4)

YouTube Channel Shoutout: Oddity Archive

If you thought I knew how to cover the stranger side of pop culture, you should check out my latest YouTube obsession, the Oddity Archive. Because he does it better!

YouTube Channel Shoutout

I’ve given a few shoutouts recently for several channels whose work I watch with a diligent eye, a smile on my face…and the intense concentration and excitement of an excited geek.

In recent months, I’ve praised urban explorers Dan Bell and Ace’s Adventures and their journeys through dead/dying mall culture. As you know, I dabble in pop culture bizzarreness, especially nostalgic pop culture bizarreness. And I’ve found a channel that makes it so weirdos like me can revel in someone else’s equal enjoyment.

Oddity Archive

To be honest, I have no idea how I found the Oddity Archive, but it has already been responsible for a recent Music Monday post on my blog, so you know it means business in my life.

Oddity Archive delves into the strangeness of pop culture (specifically the nostalgic kind), and tells its story through history lessons, local commercials, and any relevant footage. Host Ben Minnotte sits behind his box and tells the tale of these bizarre moments in pop culture. His tales are funny, the pop culture is odd and painful, and all of it is done with proud geeky passion.

And for every new episode, a different picture on the box.

He’s smiling behind that box.

Oddities Covered

Ben’s topics run the range of pop culture oddities – riffs, short films, local access programming (think Wayne’s World, but terrible), VCR gaming, analog broadcast sign-offs, drive-in theater ads, and children’s programming. The stranger, the better!

The webseries premiered with the Max Headroom hacking story, and from there, has gone on to cover anything that is pretty much on the level of that infamous incident. There is strong language as well as some not safe for work imagery in the video link
Oddity Archive - Max Headroom

If you’re still reading this, then obviously, this piques your interest.

Which brings me to the part you came here for…VIDEOS!

Oddity Archive

How about a whole playlist of oddities?  Go on, click play!
Oddity Archive - Max Headroom
Uploads via OddityArchive (Playlist via Michael Roden)

976 Number to talk to Kitt from Knight Rider

A 976 Number to talk to Kitt from Knight Rider!

As a kid I was a sucker for a good 976 number. I called the Chipmunks, Howard the Duck, Santa and many more. All of this without my Mom’s permission. Which caused some issues. So it was probably a good thing that I did not live in California, where I could have called Kitt from Knight Rider at 976-2233.

Like all kids in the eighties, I loved Knight Rider, especially Kitt. Probably because I have always dreamt of a world where I had a robot/computer friend. If that friend could also have been my car, all the better! I also would have accepted talking robot dog or bicycle.

What is weird about this particular 976 number is what you got when you called, it was almost incidental that you were talking to Kitt. He was just a vehicle for delivering information. Information not about Knight Rider or the Knight Foundation, but real solid science facts from the California Museum of Science and Industry. It is an odd idea to generate revenue, but I imagine it worked since kids like me existed in every state.

Since I have written a few of these posts about 976 numbers, people have emailed me about them. Someone recently asked me if they remembered if I thought I was really talking to Santa Claus at the time. I would like to tell you I was a smart kid. That I realized that I was consuming a generic message, but I am not so sure.

I wouldn’t say I was a dumb kid. Maybe I am just being kind to myself?

Let’s just say, I wanted to believe.

Watch this commercial a 976 Number to talk to Kitt from Knight Rider!

Predicting Stranger Things 2…with my action figure shelf

The Netflix trailer for Stranger Things 2 leaves us with nothing more than vague hints, and a killer remix of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”.  Anything else that’s hit the ‘net is likely just pure speculation… and so is this.  Much like trying to see the future in a pile of tea leaves, this is an attempt to figure out what’s going on in the upcoming season with nothing more than things that happen to be on my action figure shelf.  Chances are awfully good that my guesses connect with reality at no two points.  (Actually, I can’t even guarantee one point, but it is fun to guess, right?)

First things first: this is also a bit of an under-the-radar review of Funko’s new box sets of Stranger Things action figures.  You may rest assured that my verdict is that they’re awesome…though they’re rather delicate in a few places.  Take time and care removing them from their packages, especially the surprisingly delicate Demogorgon.  But do the figures hold any clues for the second season?  Don’t ask me – ask them. Continue reading

Tag Team TV Series

Do You Remember the TV Show Tag Team?

In the mid – late 80’s, professional wrestling, and the WWF in particular, was big business. A lot of the WWF superstars were becoming household names thanks to Vince McMahon and his traveling circus. Two of the better known superstars were “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and Jesse “The Body” Ventura. Piper had spent years as the biggest bad guy wrestler on the roster, while Ventura was well-known as one of the voices of the shows as color commentator. Each broke out of the WWF world to become moderate successes in Hollywood. Piper had starring roles in B – Movies like Body Slam, Hell Comes to Frogtown, and They Live. Meanwhile, Jesse was becoming a solid back up man in action flicks with Running Man and Predator.  In 1991, they teamed up on the small screen in the pilot episode of Tag Team.

The shows premise was simple. These two wrestlers couldn’t wrestle for a living anymore, so they decide to become cops. That decision was made after they used their wrestling moves to stop a robbery at a grocery store. It was a simple idea, but one that a television series could conceivably be based around.

 

As the air date for the pilot episode drew closer, Vince McMahon was hyping the debut of the show on his wrestling shows, and as a 13-year-old wrestling fan, I was salivating. I marked the date and time on my calendar so I wouldn’t miss it. Here was another chance to inject more wrestling into my world, and I wasn’t going to miss it. Although I can’t recall what night of the week that this premiered on, I DO remember getting everything set up in my room for it. My chair was at the right angle, I had a frosty beverage at my side, and some sort of snack at the ready. I was pumped.

As I remember it, the episode was pretty good, and I thought it was really cool that these two wrestlers were going to be in a television show every week. Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware of just how exactly television worked at that time, and was quite disappointed when the show never aired again. The series wasn’t picked up, and the show was thrown into the huge pile of “could have been’s” with hundreds of other series that were never picked up.

Tag Team TV Pilot

I listened to a podcast featuring Ventura and Piper a while back just before Piper passed away, and Ventura explained why the series wasn’t picked up. The two companies who were producing the show together, Disney and Corelco, got into a lawsuit with each other over something not even remotely related to the Tag Team series, and while in litigation, the show was left in limbo since neither side was doing business with each other at the time. When the lawsuit dust settled, too much time had passed and the Tag Team series was abandoned.

It’s a real shame, because the two had great chemistry together in the pilot, the premise was solid for an action/comedy show, and would have probably drawn decent enough ratings to keep the 13 – episode first season on the air. Whether it would have been picked up beyond that is anyone’s guess, but I know one 13 year old who would have watched religiously.

Check out the pilot and see what YOU think.