A look back at a 1990’s childhood, with “where is it now?” updates!
PopMatters’ Kerrie Mills recently reviewed Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops?, a book by Gael Fashingbauer Cooper and Brian Bellmont that looks at the food, TV shows, toys, and other pop cultural milestones that kids grew up with from the 1960’s to 1992.
It sounds like a great idea, but why did they stop at 1992? A brand new generation has sprung up since then, with an emerging sense of nostalgia. Look at the success of Toy Story 3, the New Kids on the Block/Backstreet Boys tour, or Nickelodeon’s heavily hyped decision to add reruns of '90s series like All That and Clarissa Explains It All to their late-night schedule.
It’s enough to make you wonder what future generations will look back on wistfully, and how this will influence Hollywood and/or manufactures to make a profit out of it. So here’s a look at a few things that have only recently disappeared from the spotlight, and their cultural impact.
Tamagotchis and Giga Pets
A big hit in Japan as the world’s first “virtual pets”, Tamagotchis became an American craze in 1996. Tiger Electronics soon copied the idea with Giga Pets, which substituted the imaginary creatures for real animals like cats, dogs, monkeys, and later every animal known to mankind. Everyone eventually found out these things were a lot more demanding than a real pet, and they were banned at some schools.
In 2006, Giga Pets were re-released with new characters alongside a plug-in-play TV game entitled Giga Pets Explorer. Tamagotchis are still made, with some models having the ability to plug into each other for “interactive play”. They’re now cartoon characters as well, in various video games, movies, and an animated series.
Hostess Ninja Turtle Pies
Pizza-loving radioactively altered teenage turtles were a hit with kids, so food companies created tons of tie-in products. In addition to the run-of-the-mill cereals and cookies, there was TMNT pizzas, juices, and something that would make Jamie Oliver cry in his sleep: the Hostess Pudding Pie. Similar to a fruit pie, its sugary crust was dyed turtle green and filled with vanilla pudding instead. (Later versions also dyed the pudding green.) To encourage multiple sales, each pie came with one of five collectible stickers or trading cards!
The pies have been discontinued for over a decade, but fan created websites (one of which, is very detailed!) and petitions abound. Any hopes of the product being re-introduced under the Shrek name or the newer version of the turtles were dashed after Hostess stated in an e-mail, “the pies were always meant to be a limited offering and I’m afraid we do not intend to re-introduce them."
High School Musical
Believe it or not, but it’s been five years since the first High School Musical movie aired on Disney Channel. Despite a male lead (Zac Efron) who lip-synched to another actor’s (Drew Seeley) vocals and a plot so squeaky-clean that the two main characters didn’t kiss until the third movie, the movies broke ratings records and brought in billions of dollars in DVD sales and merchandise. A bevy of merchandise including make-up, bedsheets, clothing, dolls, school supplies, magazines, posters, and more proved it was the teen fad of the 2000s, but it couldn’t last forever. Disney sent the characters off to college at the end of a 2008 major motion picture, and the decidedly adult cast moved on with their careers.
A fourth movie, starring an all new cast of characters, was recently shelved for unknown reasons. Since then Disney has moved on to similarly themed movies like Lemonade Mouth and Prom, but spun-off Ashley Tisdale’s character into a direct-to-DVD follow-up of sorts: Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure.
V-Tech Video Painter
“Whatever you draw shows up on the TV! You can make cartoons with it, and tape what you draw!” My parents probably heard those phrases A LOT during the Christmas season of 1991, and sure enough, I got a V-Tech Master Video Painter. I did while away hours placing animated monsters inside a haunted castle setting, watching the TV paint a cat, mouse, and cheese all by itself, and VHS recording doodles, but I must admit I wasted most of my time playing with its puzzle inlay game instead. Several years later, we had some sort of trouble with the cord or power pack, and I haven’t used it since.
Several creative designers credit it as their introduction to computer programming on websites that go into great detail about its graphics capabilities. (For more information and pictures, check this out) I personally see some similarities in commercials for Nintendo Wii’s uDraw tablet, only with older kids using the device.
1991 Video Painter
1994 Master Video Painter
Wii’s uDraw Tablet
The Lion King
Snobs will tell you that it’s a rip-off of Kimba The White Lion, based on Hamlet, and part of “the Disney Renaissance”, but I’ll tell you it was the biggest movie in the world to kids when I was growing up. Despite warnings that (spoiler alert) Mufasa’s death was too intense for a family film, every kid I knew had seen it. With its 1994 $783 million box office total, it remains the highest grossing 2-D animated movie of all time, and it deserves that title. Beautifully drawn and animated, with a talented voice cast and music great enough for grown-ups, it really is a modern classic.
The film led to the uninspired The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride, which I’m bitter about because it changed the ending of the first movie. (Simba had two sons, not one daughter!) Pumba & Timon starred in 2004’s The Lion King 1½, but its most successful spin-off was the landmark Broadway musical, which won six Tony awards and is currently one of the longest running shows in history. As for the original motion picture, a 3-D version will be released in theatres and on Blu-ray this fall.
Throughout the 1990’s, The Simpsons officially sponsored Butterfinger candy bars. Or was it the other way around? While people did the Bartman, the shows writers helped themselves to free handfuls of the candy from out of Matt Groening’s office (or so says the 2009 book, The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History). A little while later, the characters pitched us Butterfinger BB’s, bite-size round balls of the snack that were somehow cool enough to be interesting because the cartoons said so.
The Simpsons are continuing on to their 23rd season, but the BB’s were discontinued in 2006. A similar product, Butterfinger Mini Bites, was introduced in 2009, but Springfield’s finest have moved on to doing a Super Bowl commercial for Coca-Cola.
During the reign of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, the news media were on a constant lookout for the next big thing. Usually, they told everyone that thing would be Sailor Moon. A popular Japanese comic book series (call it anime or manga, if you’re really into it) about teenage girls who turn into superheroes named after the nine planets and the moon. (Remember when there was nine planets?) Despite Disney’s involvement, an American TV series never really caught on with kids at the time.
It turns out that TV show wasn’t really made for kids to begin with. The American TV series was vastly edited from the original version due to its “adult” content. However, Sailor Moon developed a large cult following amongst teenagers via the internet, which has over 3 million websites devoted to the characters.
Sabrina the Teenage Witch (The TV Series)
“If you thought Bewitched was cool…”, proclaimed the first ads for this 1996 TGIF (Thank God It’s Friday, for those of you not in the know) series, based on a spin-off Archie comic. Basically, Sabrina was a regular teenager (in a rated G universe) who also happened to be a witch. The twist was that her magic powers often caused her a lot more trouble than they were worth, and she was often egged on to do the wrong thing by the family cat, Salem: a warlock who was imprisoned in a cat’s body for trying to take over the world. The show was kid-friendly enough to lead to several TV movies, toys, dolls, book series, and a revival of the Archie comic. When ABC decided to nix their TGIF line-up in 2000, the show moved to The WB (remember that?) and vastly changed, as Sabrina went to college and worked as a freelance music journalist (despite the fact that she didn’t seem to have any skills or talent.) I mostly remember the early episodes for their plots (like when Sabrina bought a used talking car who was a lemon, or learned how to fly on a vacuum cleaner), but later on, everything was about the celebrity cameos (N’Sync, the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Vitamin C, Aaron Carter, Ashanti, Daniel Bedingfield, etc.).
The final episode aired in 2003 (with Sabrina leaving her fiancé at the altar for Harvey Kinkle on his moped), but aired in reruns for years afterwards and is available on DVD. Entertainment Weekly named it as one of its favorite “guilty pleasures” in 2002, jokingly stating that the show was a clever allegory for homosexuality. But for kids, the series continues on as Sabrina: The Animated Series debuted in 1999 and still reruns in syndication. It kept more in line with the comic books, but featured the voices of some of the show’s actors. Another animated spin-off, Sabrina’s Secret Life, aired from 2003 to 2010.
Tiger Electronics created these plastic-covered silicon chips that played less than a minute of a song in miniature music players in 2000. In an age before MP3 players, carrying your favorite songs around with you on tiny key chains was a novel concept. At $3.99 a chip, record labels once boasted that they made over $80 million dollars off them. Most of the clips were by popular teen acts of the day, like Britney Spears, N’Sync, the Backstreet Boys, etc., but the company later branched out into TV theme songs, disco hits, and classic rock as well. More interesting was the variety of players: headsets, waterproof boom boxes, watches, alarm clocks, and a dancing robot!
They were re-launched several years later as miniature CDs with longer song lengths, but are now only sold as used on the internet. All HitClips are currently in the “someday these will be worth something!” category.
If you have fond (or not-so-fond) memories of any of these, post about it below! Also, tell us what after-1992 thing you’re all nostalgic about. We just might mention it in a follow-up post!