Toys As A Creative Source For Cartoons

I was rather gutted when I found out they were toys first...

To be frank, I don’t remember an awful lot of these. being a child of the mid-80s, I missed more than half the decade, also having been raised in Ireland, I was dependent on whatever RTE could afford or care enough about to import.

What made cartoons of that decade stand out more than anything else? Toys of course! Yes indeedy, this was the decade where cartoons reigned supreme as the marketing vehicle to children, even moreso than today or the 1990s for that matter.

You couldn’t turn on a TV without seeing a show based on a toy. be it The Care Bears, Transformers, G.I. Joe and so on. The strategy was successful, but of course, the shows themselves dated quickly. Although some managed to achieve a certain level of cult status.

Thankfully, somebody wised up in the 90s and realized that cartoons worked much better if they were the source of the toys, not a cog in the marketing machine. Today we have smart, funny and intensely entertaining cartoons to watch 24/7 and the toys that go with them are top notch too. How much nicer is it to see Spongebob getting into trouble in Bikini Bottom than, say, the Transformers off to stop the evil Deseptacons, again!

The reason for this post is the word filtering through the internet that the two guys behind Ruby-Spears have announced that they intend to start marketing old Jack Kirby ideas as a combined TV show and toy line.

Great! If that’s what they want to do, then more power to them. There can never be enough cartoons in this world. There will always be good and bad shows, sometimes (like the 80s) there will be more bad ones than good ones. Nonetheless, I think we can all agree that some form of animation on TV or otherwise is better than nothing. Now if I was in charge, you can bet you’d only see the best, creator-driven cartoons ever made. But unfortunately I’m not in charge, so we’ll have to deal with what comes out between now and then.

Nope, what I’m wondering is where they’ll find a willing buyer. Disney is only interested in its own properties (or those developed in-house). Nickelodeon, while sometimes going outside Viacom, has so far chosen to develop their own shows and market them accordingly. With the stunning success of Spongebob Squarepants, I can’t see them changing their tune either. As for the Cartoon Network, they’ve decided to change their direction away from cartoons. Although they have bought in shows, such as Cookie Jar’s Johnny Test, the network has an abysmal record of translating their shows into marketable products. Ben 10 is the exception rather than the rule, and even then the show has a very, very narrow focus on boys aged 6-11.

That leaves the broadcast networks. Which as we all know, are a bit of a graveyard for kids shows these days. ABC airs constant (and I mean constant, i.e. the same 20 episodes) re-runs of Disney shows. NBC has handed their Saturday mornings to Quobo, the quasi-cable channel. That leaves the CW and CBS. The former entrusts 4Kids, the latter used to use DIC before they got swallowed up by Cookie Jar.

Of all of these, the most likely prospective buyers are 4Kids and Cookie Jar, although 4Kids has focused more on anime imports, such as Sonic X and TNMT in recent times. DIC of course, has brought us many toy-related shows over the years. So perhaps they may be the buyers for and toy-related show that comes out of this. Such a shame the ratings are in the sub-1.0 level.

There is plenty to be hopeful about, but the last 20 years have proven that cartoons that are creator-driven stand to make much more money for toy makers than themselves. They would be wise to realize this.

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