The Leaning Tower of Pisa, the crack in The Liberty Bell and The Room – there’s no denying that the beauty of the world is within its perfect imperfections. Sometimes, works of artistry are created with the best of intentions, only to fail so miserably that they plummet past the threshold of horrible, inexplicably winding up in the realm of legends. Just like those beautiful misfits, these toy makers, game designers and entertainment cobblers tried to create playthings that would bring some change to the world, only to be remembered for all the wrong reasons, like some sort of plasticine Mr. Magoo. We’ve compiled a list of 15 playthings that managed to sneak past the censors and onto store shelves, stirring up controversy every step of the way.
We’re focusing on toys that were deemed inappropriate in retrospect as opposed to unsafe, so Lawn Darts, BB Guns and the original Boba Fett with choking hazard rocket backpack do not qualify. Likewise, parody toys intentionally designed to rile up the customer were also considered ineligible, as a certain amount of subtly and stealth had to be utilized in some way. Whether it’s through intentional misdirection, unintentional innuendo, overlooked design flaws or severe stereotyping, these toys were entertaining for all the wrong reasons.
15. HARRY POTTER NIMBUS 2000
Mattel’s Harry Potter Nimbus 2000 Broomstick is a non-regulation Quidditch broomstick with a grooved handle that also happened to vibrate when placed betwixt one’s legs. Marketed for ages 8-12, but truly fun for all ages, this “toy” was at one point available both at the Toys R Us and the adult video store in Times Square. Say, why would a broomstick vibrate? Quidditch is super hardcore, but isn’t the Nimbus 2000 supposed to be a smooth ride? Although, we do suppose that The Nimbus 2000 kinda sounds like a steampunk marital aid.
Just as Harry Potter was about a boy discovering the magic within himself, the Amazon reviews for the Nimbus 2000 are tales of discovery. Highlights include: “They seem to like the special effects it offers,” “My only problem I see with the toy is the batteries drain too fast” and “Keep the batteries out!”
14. F-YOU PIKACHU
Hasbro’s 1998 electronic Pikachu figure had two metallic sensors on the soles of its feet that when triggered, would cause Pikachu’s cheeks to light up while he says “Pikachu!” as Pikachu is wont to do. A problem emerges however when you press the sensors repeatedly, causing the “Pikachu!” to slur into an audible “F*** you!”
This wasn’t some well-hidden easter egg, as it didn’t even take that many button presses to turn Pikachu into an electric Joe Pesci. Pikachu’s vulgarity seems like an obvious design flaw that totally should’ve popped up earlier in production, as you can expand Pikachu’s vocabulary in less than ten button presses. Furthermore, mashing a button too many times is easily top tier level of “best things to do as a kid” behind solving paranormal mysteries with your friends and popping sick bike wheelies.
13. EARRING MAGIC KEN
After a poll asking fans whether Ken should remain Barbie’s boyfriend revealed that Barbie’s beau needed to be “cooler,” Mattel responded in 1992 with Earring Magic Ken. This cooler Ken was outfitted with a lavender leather vest, matching mesh t-shirt, chrome ring necklace, blonde highlights and the true highlight, a magic earring in Ken’s left ear.
Everyone who wasn’t Mattel instantly realized that they had turned Barbie’s boyfriend into a stereotypical gay man, or rather Mattel had made Ken come out of the toy chest. Playing Devil’s Advocate, the stereotypical “gay ear” is purportedly the right ear, so Mattel must’ve thought they were in the clear. While the criticism from the gay community surrounding Ken had Mattel pulling the figure from stores, some members of the gay community recognized the kitsch factor of the Ken, making Earring Magic Ken the best-selling Ken doll of all time.
12. PARTY ANGELA
This alternative action figure of Spawn’s Angela — the angel who hunts Spawn — had a production error during the first run of her figure that made her a “must-have variant” in 1995. See, Angela’s battle-shorts weren’t painted on, making this angel going commando a must-have in the collectibles community… for all the wrongest reasons.
Dubbed “Party” Angela, because of course collectors would be gross about it, you’re technically paying more for less, as Angela’s undies are just a white coat of paint. Also, Party Angie is as anatomically correct as having a hole in your sternum for your detachable crotch armor. Regardless, ’90s nerds were shelling out cash over a small area of unpainted plastic that kinda looks like skin but with none of the actual qualities of skin attached to it.
11. AUTOBOT ERECTOR
Erector, aka Autobot Erector, is a Generation 1 Transformer who is a yellow cab with a fully-functional crane trailer in vehicle mode. Erector is your basic blocky autobot in robot mode, however his crane trailer transforms into this over-the-top car with a prominent laser cannon jutting out of the front. This phallic “crane-gun” is flanked by two smaller, rotating turrets closer to the base, which just makes you wonder if Erector is compensating for something.
Obviously, Erector was nominated for the Transformers Hall of Fame in 2011, purely because his name is funny. Seriously, here’s Erector’s Hall of Fame quote: “Wait, what is this? Why am I here?” Oddly enough, Erector has never appeared in a Transformers movie, which is super weird considering the film franchise’s fondness for making robot-junk jokes.
10. TEEN TALK BARBIE
In 1992, Mattel released Teen Talk Barbie, a Barbie doll outfitted with a voice box designed to say four random phrases out of a pool of 270 possible phrases. These 270 voice lines that the Barbie scientists at Mattel believed truly encapsulated their teenage girl demographic included some encouraging lines like, “I’m studying to be a doctor,” questionable lines like “Will we ever have enough clothes?” but worst of all, “Math class is tough!” The American Association of University Women took offense to the math line, prompting Mattel to pull the phrase from Barbie’s teenage lexicon.
Further highlighting the sexual stereotyping in toys, a group of performance artists known as the Barbie Liberation Organization swapped Teen Talk Barbie’s voice box with ones from G.I. Joe’s Talking Duke. This better Barbie now said “Eat lead, Cobra!” and “Vengeance is mine!” Alternatively, Duke now barked “Let’s plan our dream wedding!”
9. RAD REPEATIN’ TARZAN
The Rad Repeatin’ Tarzan figure promoting Disney’s Tarzan in 1999 has a feature that raises Tarzan’s arm as he makes a battle yodel sound effect, designed with the intention to make it appear as if Tarzan is stabbing something. Rad Repeatin’ Tarzan was packaged in a manner that allowed you to try out this action feature for yourself, which is where the obvious design problems arose. Despite the knife accessory and violent intentions, it totally looked like Tarzan was “spanking the monkey.” Furthermore, Tarzan screaming in anger-ecstasy with each stabbing sweep only made this design flaw more suggestive.
Disney recalled Rad Repeatin’ Tarzan for the “suggestive hand motion,” making the toy an instant collectible and teaching us a valuable lesson: It’s totally fine if your socially-stunted ape-man action figure has a violent stabbing feature, but it becomes a controversy when he has the ability to pantomime self-love.
The original 1984 Transformers Generation 1 Megatron transformed from a wide-hipped robot into a to-scale replica of a Walter P-38 pistol, complete with scope, silencer and stock. Megatron’s gun mode was realistic that it was used to rob at least one convenience store, as well as be the star of a three-hour standoff with police in Canada. To adhere to US gun laws, Hasbro altered Megatron’s design, adding an orange safety plug to his barrel.
Regardless, the original Megatron toy has been banned on US airplanes, and you need a special permit with accompanying gun safe to own Megatron in Australia. Despite the bans, OG Megatron remains a fan-favorite Transformer, warranting multiple re-issues, including a Japan-exclusive murdered-out black variant, as well as the die-cast metal Masterpiece Megatron Mp-05, which came with a gun case and optional golden finish.
7. TOTENKOPF DIVISION
From Plan-B’s Call of Duty line of action figures – which really isn’t that conceptually different from G.I. Joe once you ignore all of the rampant ophidiophobia – comes the Totenkopf Division Officer. Holocaust survivors and Jewish groups called this doll “painful,” asking for it to be removed from store shelves for glorifying Nazis. The problem was specifically the “Totenkopf,” or “Death’s Head,” because nobody wants to play with a concentration camp guard.
Defending his plastic member of the SS, Plan-B co-president Chris Borman claimed that because his grandfather served in WWII, he could create whatever toy he wanted. Likewise, Totenkopf apparently has “the coolest gear. It makes for a cool figure.” Inappropriate superlative usage aside, Totenkopf does comes with a Walter p-38, which is what Megatron turned into. Regardless, Totenkopf Division was removed from stores despite Chris’ claims on the coolness of Nazis.
6. BLACK CANARY BARBIE
Making us partially question the depiction of women in comics, this Barbie doll accurately cosplaying as DC’s Black Canary was referred to as “S&M Barbie” and “Hooker Barbie” by Christian values groups. Ignoring that comics are our bread and butter for a moment, let’s play Devil’s Advocate for Christian values by examining Black Canary Barbie’s outfit. Black Canary Barbie is wearing black fishnet stockings with thigh-high-heeled boots, with a patent black leather jacket with a working zipper that inexplicably plunges all the way to the crotch. You know, Black Canary. Technically, Black Canary does also walk the streets, purposely looking for trouble.
Despite Mattel’s website advertising Black Canary Barbie for ages “14 years and up,” Black Canary Barbie is a part of the “Black Label” line of Barbies intended “for the adult collector.” Other Black Label Barbies include Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds Barbie and Flashdance Barbie.
5. BALL BUSTER
Ball Buster, a 1975 board game by Mego, works by pulling back a ball attached to a long metal rod, releasing it in order to bust someone else’s ball, or balls, ideally. You can’t just be busting balls willy-nilly, however, as you must be tactical, always mindful of the placement of your balls, or whether your ball rod lilts a bit to the right or left in order to attain the optimum angle perfect for busting balls.
Yeah, Mego marketed Ball Buster to be as blatantly suggestive as possible. The commercial for Ball Buster proposes that busting balls is “a family game, fun for children, and for adults it’s exciting.” The ad is punctuated by a husband exclaiming to his wife: “You’re a real ball buster!” In retaliation, the wife turns to the camera before winking as hard as she possibly can.
4. DEATH ROW MARV
The Death Row Marv statue from McFarlane Toys in 1999 depicted Sin City’s Marv in his final moments, featuring light-up red eyes and a voice box that asks, “That the best you can do you pansies?” in-between electrocution sounds.
The controversy from Death Row Marv stems from groups like the National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children believing that Death Row Marv was a toy trivializing the death-penalty. To be fair, the first generation of McFarlane Toys’ Spawn action figures did feature a Spawn-mobile, as well as a Rat Alley play-set. Regardless, Death Row Marv basically established that action figures can be for adults, too. Also, Death Row Marv came out before the Sin City movie, whose toy-line by NECA not only had a new Death Row Marv, but also a Marv with a severed Elijah Wood head.
3. HAPPY FAMILY MIDGE
Expanding upon the Barbie multiverse mythos, Mattel gave Barbie a best friend in the form of Midge Hadley in 1963. Essentially Barbie but with poor bone structure, Midge emerged in 2003 as the centerpiece of the Happy Family line, featuring Midge’s husband and their newborn Nikki. Nikki was packaged with Midge, fully visible within her reversible magnetic womb, which is a great band name.
Despite being from 1963 and already having a three-year old, Midge was deemed by fans to be too young to be pregnant, in addition to advocating teenage pregnancy. Also, Midge didn’t have a wedding ring accessory. Double also, each member of the Happy Family was sold separately, technically making Midge a single, unwed teenage doll mother. Midge was pulled solely from Wal-Mart shelves, replaced with a Midge whose baby bump was swapped out for a cardboard cutout of her family.
2. THE OOZINATOR
What if H.R. Giger invented the Super Soaker? The answer is The Oozinator, a scaly “pump-action” Super Soaker torn from our nightmares, notorious for spurting out a viscous white alien liquid, or “bio-ooze,” that doesn’t resemble bodily fluids whatsoever. While it can shoot water, in its alternate firing mode The Oozinator releases a spurt of ooze with each pump, able to hit targets up to 20 feet away. The Daily Show voted The Oozinator as “The Number One ‘Devil’s Plaything’ for Christmas” in 2006.
The commercial for Oozinator doesn’t help, as it depicts a group of children dealing with an Oozinator attack in a public park, taking pulpy shots to the face in frustration while acknowledging the abject grossness of the entire situation. The teenager wielding The Oozinator only laughs, pumping out a quick hip-fire squirt to bullseye his next victim. “Major pumping required,” indeed.
1. CASTLEVANIA SUCCUBUS
This 2007 NECA action figure was originally sculpted topless in order to depict the Japanese version of the Castlevania Succubus, a bat-winged demon-lady wearing a battle-thong and a corset that covered her torso but let her demonic lady parts roam free. This initial Succubus sculpt was displayed at conventions with a piece of gaff tape covering her deviant plastic bits.
Once NECA realized that you really can’t market a topless vampire action figure anywhere outside of nerdy adult stores, they glued on a tiny corset bra-piece to hide their anatomically-correct handiwork. You can check for yourself by prying off the top part of the Succubus’ plastic corset, which everyone who brought the figure was inevitably going to try anyway. In retrospect, we’re starting to suspect that NECA knew precisely what they were doing every step of the way.
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