In this week’s Showcase, I’m going to take a look at the toylines and merchandising associated with our three special “Sunday Showcases”.
Bigfoot and the Muscle Machines
Of the three “bonus” animated shows we covered, only Bigfoot and the Muscle Machines wasn’t based on a toy line. Because of this, there really wasn’t much, if any, merchandise directly related to the cartoon. Sadly, that means no Yank Justice action figure and no Muscle Machines for him to drive. Had the series been picked up, you can bet your allowance that there would’ve been a proper toy line, along with lunchboxes, t-shirts, and perhaps a Yank Justice spoken word album titled “There ain’t nothin’ ‘dumb’ about ‘freedom’.” As it stands, the Bigfoot merchandise we did get - and we got a lot - is based on the actual car smashin’ monster truck itself.
As you can imagine, Bigfoot proved to be a popular license. As the ongoing popularity of Hotwheels suggests, kids love cars and trucks, and companies were eager to get in on the action. During its heyday, Bigfoot was released as a variety of toy trucks in various scales, from traditional Hotwheel and Matchbox cars to a larger sized battery operated version released by Playskool that could climb and smash like the real thing (the latter is extremely popular amongst collectors and is hard to find in good condition, given the rough and tumble nature of the toy).
There was even a game released for the Nintendo Entertainment System, which combined elements of racing with competing in various monster truck events.
While Bigfoot and the Muscle Machines may have ultimately been buried under tons of 80s pop culture rubble, its eponymous hero was anything but, and new Bigfoot merchandise continues to be released to this day.
Shifting gears (Pun! Oh glorious, pun!)... Like trucks, robots have always been popular with kids, and never more so than in the 80s. What makes Robotix so unique amongst the other robot-themed toys of its day was its erector set-like nature, which allowed you to build all sorts of different ‘bots, complete with motorized action. Like Bigfoot and the Muscle Machines, it doesn’t seem as if any merchandise was created to tie-in directly to the cartoon, meaning you can’t have Yank Justice beat up Exeter Galaxon, which, frankly, makes me sad. But many of the robot characters we see in the Robotix movie - Argus, Bront, Tyrannix - were based off actual Robotix toys.
Unlike the cartoon, the toy line actually flourished. Milton Bradley produced Robotix from 1984-1994, which is a hell of a run for any toy line. But that wasn’t the end by a long shot. From 1994 to 2001, a company called Learning Curve Brands (a subsidiary of the RC2 Corporation) continued to produce Robotix sets, and since 2001, Robotics and Things has sold new Robotix toys exclusively via the internet. All of these new items are backward compatible with the original toy line.
It’s clear that someone at the Ideal Toy Company thought Robo Force was gonna be the next big thing. Beyond the initial (and only) wave of twelve figures, three vehicles, and one massive playset, there was: a Maxx Steele (leader of the heroic Robo Force) telephone, alarm clocks (plural), a board game, an electronic wrist watch, bed sheets, a Maxx Steele Erector set, a Robo Force fan club, and more.
That’s a heck of a push, and I’m not sure exactly where that confidence came from. Without a full-time cartoon to push it, the success of the various Robo Force merchandise was going to rest solely on how well the toy line caught on, and the toy line is nothing special. You had twelve trashcan shaped robots with suction cups on the bottom (I still can’t figure that one out), who don’t transform, connect, or otherwise do anything cool. I can see kids buying the toys - I did - but why would they want Robo Force sheets?
Ultimately, the toy line was short-lived and a planned second wave was never produced. Naturally, the tie-in merchandise proved to be just as unpopular as the toys and they, too, were soon discontinued. Today, Robo Force doesn’t generate much heat on the collector’s market and is all but forgotten by kids of the 80s, if they ever knew of it at all.
I had a lot of fun researching this one, because you had three very unique cases. The real life pop culture phenomenon of Bigfoot that was turned into a short-lived animated serial. The more traditional toyline/cartoon synergy of Robotix, whose toyline continued and thrived in spite of the failure to catch on of the cartoon. And Robo Force, with its rather large merchandising push backed up only by a single one-shot animated special.
I hope you enjoyed digging around the discount bin with me this week. Until next time... Man, I really need a good sign-off.
Thus concludes our special Super Sunday tribute. We'll be returning to our old Saturday format next week. Tune in this coming Wednesday where we'll announce our next subject!