Humor, History and He-Man: An Interview with Brian Volk-Weiss, Creator of “The Toys That Made Us”

Only FOUR days separate us from the debut of Netflix’s documentary, “The Toys That Made Us.” Can you hardly stand it? I have been looking forward to this series for weeks now. As you may have seen in my blog, the upcoming show features eight different toys from our childhood, and chronicles, with much humor, each one from inception to present time. If you haven’t read it, click here to view the post.

To my delight, the creator of “The Toys That Made Us,” Brian Volk-Weiss, offered me an opportunity to interview him about the show. How radical is that?! I got the inside scoop on the background of the show, what viewers can expect and what the future holds for the series. Read on for my interview with Brian Volk-Weiss!

Miss Reminisce (MR):
“Thank you so much for allowing me to ask you some questions about ‘The Toys That Made Us’.”

Brian Volk-Weiss (BVW):

“…My pleasure. Can’t think of anything else I’d rather talk about, so thank you.”

MR:

“Well, we’re really excited about it… this type of show is exactly what I try to share with all of the visitors to my blog. It’s all about reminiscing and reliving all of those things from the 80s and 90s that were a favorite…”

BVW:

“I did check it out and it’s really cool. Really, really cool.”

MR:

“Thank you…I appreciate that.”

BVW:

“I love the way you present everything.”

MR:

“Thank you. Well, I’ve got some questions for you if you’ve got some time.”

BVW:

“Fire away.”

MR:

“Alright, so ‘The Toys That Made Us” seems pretty unique to some of your other work… I was hoping you could share a little bit about your background and how this series came about.”

BVW:

“Yeah, great question. I’ll try to organize the answer. So, I have been really into toys since I was literally three-years-old and playing with them. You know, it eventually became a collection and the earliest pieces of which I did play with… I could easily say I’ve been collecting toys for, like, 35-36 years. So, I’ve always been into toys and I’m also a huge history buff… I suddenly realized that I, even with Star Wars, which is the toy I know the most about, I really didn’t know a lot of the history of how these toys came to exist. So, that was the starting point. We started delving a little bit into the history of the toy and that’s basically the origin, as it relates to the seed that became the show…”

“To my resume, which was a really good point, because we do so much comedy, and because we do so much comedy for Netflix, I knew a lot of people at Netflix, and essentially what happened was for a period of time, I won’t say how long, I just kept knocking on their door and I just kept saying ‘Hey, I got this show about toys! I got this show about toys!’ I did pitch it elsewhere and came really close to selling it to a couple other places. You know, I never was able to sell it and then, finally, truly by the grace of God, Netflix bought the show. That’s how it came together.”

MR:

“That’s so funny to me, because Netflix actually seems like the perfect fit for it because of Fuller House and Stranger Things and all these very nostalgic shows. So, I’m glad it worked out.”

BVW:

“It’s the perfect show for the reason you just described. But, it’s also perfect because they really let creators do what they think is best, and, you know… the executive that oversees our show… has made the show better, without a doubt. He gave us great notes, but he also was very respectful of when we were like, ‘hey, listen, we think this is important.’ Not just to be diplomatic, not everybody is like that.”

MR:

“Not to date you or anything, but I see you were born in 1976, which means that most of your childhood took place in the 80s. I wanted to see if there was one thing that you remember about growing up during the 80s that kids today could never understand.”

BVW:

“…An easy one would be, you know, in the 80s and 90s, toys could not shoot. All the missiles were locked in place or you could… push them in or pull them out. As I’m sure you know, toys now are all spring loaded and the Millennium Falcon now has an integrated Nerf gun and I think they would find it very confusing that in the 80s… the missiles couldn’t shoot. That’s one thing.”

“The other thing I think that kids these days might find amazing is… you could have a toy now that quote unquote ‘speaks’ and… can see… and can do all this cool stuff and interact with you. Toys in the 80s could do their 80s version of that, except, toys today, obviously, the majority of the mechanics are digital. There was a talking G.I. Joe figure in the late 70s and that G.I. Joe figure literally had a miniature record player in its stomach. And you opened it up and you could see a little record player! That would surprise them very much, how many mechanical parts were inside those toys.”

MR:

“I’m thinking of Teddy Ruxpin right now for the 80s version of what kids today… probably think is so ridiculous.”

BVW:

“I mean, Teddy Ruxpin was the most advanced thing in the world… And that G.I Joe figure was literally bananas. Another thing I was to mention, and this is a small thing, but I think the kids today might be surprised at just, you know, how well made the toys were back then… The plastic became so much more expensive over time, but, you know, if you hold the Cobra Rattler from the 80s and the Rattler from today… the one today probably weighs three-quarters less than the one from the 80s. So that would probably surprise them, too.”

MR:

“They’ve come a long way. So, what can viewers expect to see in each episode?”

BVW:

“You know, what we try to capture in every episode is the spirit of the toy. We try to capture the history of the toy, but at the same time, not have it feel like a history lesson. We wanted it to feel fun, you know? Because of my background in comedy, we injected a lot of comedy in to the show… it really, like, it should be fun for everybody… I’m not a He-Man fan, I was never into He-Man (but), you know, I think we made a He-Man episode that will appeal to people like me that were never into He-Man. So, that’s the first thing.”

“…We worked really, really hard to find people and things that had never been taped before. So, we found a lot of people that were very important for Star Wars toys, and He-Man, and G.I. Joe, and Barbie, and Transformers and whatever that had never been interviewed before… There’s a lot of people with great stories that you’ve never seen before on television and we also worked very hard to find what we call ‘relics’… (pre-production, one-offs, artwork, you know, stuff that helped launch the toy, but had never been filmed before. So, we’ve got a lot of that stuff, too.”

MR:

“I’m glad you mentioned that… because I wanted to ask you, I had seen on the Facebook Page some of the interviews and people that have been photographed… Some of their titles and their professions and are just unreal to me. Did you talk to anyone whose job title or career you just couldn’t believe actually existed?”

BVW:

“Again, great question. I mean, I spoke to people… I wouldn’t say anyone’s job title blew me away, but their job and what they did and… the things they worked on… We met the guy who designed the Millennium Falcon! When I was a little kid, they way my mom got me to stop biting off my fingernails was she said, ‘If you don’t bite your fingernails for six months, we’ll give you the Millennium Falcon…’ And I met that guy, the gut who designed it! I saw, when we were in… Denmark, which is where LEGO headquarters is, I saw the molds that every single LEGO… all over planet earth, in the 80s came out of those molds. And it was just… Many times, I had goosebumps, but every now and then I would tear up.”

MR:

“…I saw some of them were like, ‘Accomplished LEGO designer’ and ‘LEGO architect’ and I just couldn’t believe those were real jobs.”

BVW:

“No, they got the best jobs ever.”

MR:

“So, what was the process like for deciding which toys to feature in season one since there’s only eight episodes? How did you arrive at the final eight?”

BVW:

“The criteria that I used, for better or for worse, was as the toy, essentially, been in production continuously. So, every toy we feature… have been in continuous production since it started. That’s the first thing… That’s a rule of thumb, it’s not a perfect statement. I mean, even Star Wars was not in production for a little while. The second thing was… this vision of, like, the Mount Rushmore of toys and if, like, the lead character from a toy couldn’t be on the Mount Rushmore, then we wouldn’t do it. The third thing was, I wanted every toy to have a crazy, rabid fan base. Were there conventions for the toy? Did people dress up? Was there a huge community for the toy? So, if the answer was at least, like, 2.5 out of 3, you know, that’s how we picked them.”

MR:

“That’s good to hear there’s a little bit of a science behind it. There’s a lot of people really excited about this documentary… they want to share all their opinions with you all. What’s been the response that you and your team has received thus far about the series?”

BVW:

“I mean, it really has been 100% positive. You know, I would say the thing we hear the most, again keep in mind the show is not out yet, so, you know, let’s see what people think, but the main thing that we’re hearing… the most frequently is, ‘thank you for making a show.’ ‘I’ve always wanted to see a show like this.’ That’s the main thing we hear.”

“The second most frequent thing we hear, which I guess is understandable, but I never would’ve thought about it, is a lot of people are like, ‘I really hope this isn’t a show making fun of geeks.’ For anybody listening, we are not making fun of geeks! I am a geek. All my friends are geeks. It’s a show made by geeks, for geeks…”

MR:

“…Are there any toys from your childhood that you still have? I know you mentioned the Millennium Falcon… Is there anything that you’ve held onto after all these years?”

BVW:

“I actually do not have my Millennium Falcon. Well, I have my micro line Millennium Falcon. So, I do have that and it’s in the show… I’m very proud of that. I still have, not a lot, but I have couple of my LEGO mini figs, I have some Star Wars left over. Unfortunately, no Transformers or G.I. Joe survived my childhood, but I do have a few that made it out.”

MR:

“Let’s fast forward, like, 30 years from now. ‘The Toys That Made Us’ is still going strong. Are there any toys… from the past decade, that you think… would be part of that future show?”

BVW:

“…You know, it’s a really interesting thing because toys do not catch on, you know, kids for whatever reason seem to pick things up and put them down much quicker than they used to. You know, the other thing which is really different now is, when I got home from school, when I was a kid, there was G.I. Joe or Transformers cartoons or homework or reading or, like, having dinner with my parents. Those are the options. You could be in school and 80% of the kids had seen every G.I. Joe and Transformers cartoon… That doesn’t happen now. You know, my daughter is three and a half years-old and, I mean, you know, she can run an iPad… She watches YouTube.”

“…But, to answer your question directly, if I had to guess, on what would be talked about… Shopkins has been in the top ten selling toys for three years. That is very rare… that that happens. This will be, if it stays there, the fourth year and, again, it’s very rare, for a toy to stay in the top ten, new toy by the way, like Star Wars has been number 1 for 30 years… If I had to bet on anything, it would be Shopkins…”

“It shows you, Barbie has been in production for 50 years. G.I. Joe has been in production for over 45 years. It’s like, who knows if they’ll be Hatchimals in 2020?”

MR:

“I know it hasn’t even aired yet, but I’m pretty confident based on all of the followers and people that are excited about the series… I’m pretty hopeful they’ll be a season two… But is there anything and the visitors to my blog… can do to encourage a season two so that we can see more toys?”

BVW:

“…The only thing I can ask for or hope for is… talk about the show as much as you can, get as many people to talk about it as possible, and you know we’re really trying to get a wide audience. We’re not just trying to get geeks. We’re really, you know, trying very hard that, you know, anybody who is remotely interested in pop culture will enjoy the show… We put a lot of humor into it. So, I think the answer to your question, now that I’ve talked it out loud, spread the word that it’s a fun show and it’s a humorous show. It’s not this deep, deep dive into the nitty, gritty, most obscure thing we can find. We tell a story. We, hopefully, found a fun way to tell the story.”

MR:

“…I’ll be watching and hopefully visitors to my blog will be watching and we’ll make sure that we spread the word so we can get a season two. Along that same line, have you thought about a season two? Do you have any toys in mind?”

BVW:

“Yeah, we’ve definitely thought about it, like I said, in my mind, we’ve been working on this show for a long time. Just to be clear, Netflix has absolutely NOT greenlit the second season. They will not greenlight one, unless season one does well. But, yeah, have I thought about it? Sure. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. My Little Pony. Power Rangers. I’d love to do Dungeons and Dragons. I’d love to do Robotech. I’d love to do Hot Wheels/Matchbox. Definitely have thought about it, and what I’d also love to do, if we’re lucky, I’d really like to do some themed episodes, which aren’t just a toy line. I would love to do, you know, like, ‘The Toys That Should Not Have Been Made’… My favorite example is Starship Troopers. From a… R rate movie, you get a toy line made for six-year-olds. I got a lot of those, like, ‘what were they thinking?’ That’s some thoughts about what we could do.”

MR:

“I love all of those ideas, especially ‘The Toys That Should Not Have Been Made.’

BVW:

“I love the toys! I got them, too. I have a lot of them. It’s just, they lost a lot of money making them.”

MR:

“… I appreciate you taking the time to share all this with us. I know I’m really excited for this series and I’m excited to share it with everyone… We’ll be sure to spread the word so we can get people to watch it.”

BVW:

“Absolutely. My pleasure to speak with you… We’ve been working on this so long, it’s going to be really cool to hear what people think.”

MR:

“…We’re looking forward to December 22!”

Who’s going to be watching “The Toys That Made Us?” this coming weekend? What a perfect time to think back on and learn more about some of the toys that impacted us as kids. Drop a comment below with what you are most looking forward to or, after you watch, what you loved most. Don’t forget to tell EVERYONE you know about the series and follow Miss Reminisce and “The Toys That Made Us” on social media! Enjoy!

6 comments

  1. I love it! I grew up in the 80’s, so we had all of these toys. I can’t believe he didn’t love He-Man though. LOL. We had the He-Man castle and everything. We had tons of Star Wars and GI Joe stuff too. I’m going to have to check out the show.

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