A perfect nostalgia trip into the childhoods of us all, the second season of Netflix’s The Toys That Made Us delves into the history of four more of the 20th Century’s biggest toy phenomena.
Following the season one episodes on Star Wars, He-Man, Barbie, and G.I. Joe, season two of The Toys That Made Us gives us entertaining and often rather humorous history lessons on the toys of Star Trek, Transformers, LEGO and Hello Kitty.
It may be the promise of nostalgia that brings viewers to The Toys That Made Us, but the show’s light-heartedness is what makes these four documentaries so easy to binge. It would be very easy to bore an audience talking about business models, licensing issues and design details, but the tone is so light and funny that you don’t realize just how much interesting knowledge you’ve gained over the past 45 minutes. The narration by Donald Ian Black feels very much like a man being excited at finding his old action figures and spending a fun-filled afternoon playing with them. It’s exactly the same kind of feeling the audience gets from watching this show.
While all four episodes of this second season are interesting in their own respective ways, perhaps the most engaging is the episode on LEGO. We learn how a Danish family-run business with ideals of peace in times of war grew to become the #1 toy in the world, built theme parks and inspired the creativity of millions before struggling with competition, trying to evolve and failing many times before they were dangerously close to bankruptcy in the early 2000s. Through a few changes to LEGO’s famous “system” (a joke constantly made by the narrator throughout the episode), we learn how the “Bionicle” saved the company and was instrumental in making LEGO as big as it has ever been today.
The sheer success from the simplicity of LEGO bricks is why this episode stands as the most interesting of these new four, whilst also being the most historical, given that Ole Kirk Christiansen founded the company in 1932.
The other episodes are certainly more than enjoyable: Star Trek toy rights being thrown around to many different manufacturers creating stark differences in quality and their competition in the late 1970s with Star Wars; Transformers and Optimus Prime being an American hero who was created and named in Japan and one of the defining moments of childhood in the 1980s when Optimus Prime died in the 1986 animated film; Hello Kitty and how it created “kawaii” culture, how it has become a huge phenomenon despite having a few original problems in transferring over to the American market and how it’s gone on to create a whole world of characters including Aggretsuko.
The Toys That Made Us is very clearly a show geared towards those who grew up in the 1970s and 80s but that does not mean it can’t be enjoyed by anyone of any age. This is perhaps the reason why the LEGO episode appears the most interesting, as everyone of every generation since it’s creation has played with LEGO bricks, but not everyone has experience with Transformers. Of course, we are very familiar with all of the toy brands the show delves into even if we have never owned any ourselves, and this is why the show has its mass appeal.
The style of the show mirrors it’s content perfectly and this second season keeps the exact same quality and enjoyability that the first had. It may give you more nostalgia, and the title may make more sense if you grew up in the 80s, but The Toys That Made Us is Netflix’s most fun and easily binge-able docu-series.