Come take a ride with me down the rabbit-hole I like to call Cheesy Doll Commercials of our Youth. Seriously guys, I still have a visceral reaction to these. Sort of like how, if I happen to wander into a toy store, my heart thumps as I approach that magic aisle. You know, the one with all the Barbies and My Little Ponies and lots and lots of pink packaging. I used to love the packaging so much I’d wait awhile when I got a new toy, read everything on the box- the descriptions, the warnings about small parts, and most important, the glossy pictures of pretty little girls beaming with the joy of having this very toy that I now possessed – before I’d let myself tear it open and actually play. So yeah, I remember these commercials well. I may or may not still know them by heart. The jingles, the smiling blonde girls with perfect teased ponytails. As a kid, I wasn’t allowed to ask for anything I found out about from TV, so I’d lie and say I’d “walked by a store window” and glimpsed whatever doll du jour I was coveting. It never occurred to me that, at age six, there’s no conceivable way I would have walked by a store window without my mom by my side. Here are a few that I almost certainly threw a tantrum over:
Kid Sister – Everyone remembers these, and their male counterpart, My Buddy. In case you’re unfamiliar, Kid Sister is a soft, huggable doll designed to look like a human child. If that sounds creepy to you, you’ve got the right idea – many believe they were the inspiration for Chucky from Child’s Play. Little known fact: My Buddy actually existed first. They were Hasbro’s attempt to market dolls to boys. But I only ever cared about Kid Sister because, as you can see, she was blonde and wore overalls – the two hallmarks of being cool in the early 1990s. Warning: the theme song from the commercial will be stuck in your head all day.
Kid Sister Commercial
Water Babies - These were limpid, rubber dolls you filled with warm water so that they’d feel “like a real baby.” Cue creepy children in the commercial cooing, “I’m your mommy now. I love being a REAL mommy.” Of course no one tells you that once the water isn’t warm anymore, the babies are cold, heavy, rubber sacks with human faces. And without water, they are empty deflated baby-skins. But forget all that, because when they were jiggling with warm water, they did kind of feel real. Turns out they still sell these on Amazon, by the way, if you’re looking for that special way to tell your significant other you’re ready to start a family…
Water Babies Commercial
Magic Nursery Babies – This was one of those ’90s concepts that probably seemed normal or even cool at the time, but is completely bizarre in retrospect. You bought a “newborn baby” doll that was wearing some equivalent of a hospital dressing gown. When you removed the gown and SOAKED IT IN WATER (because that’s what you always do when you bring a baby home from the hospital, right?), the gown disappeared, leaving behind a waterproof bag filled with either a dress or a boy’s outfit. That’s how you found out the gender of your baby! Forget anatomical differences – I want a magic Ziploc bag to deliver the news. There was also a 1 in 36 chance that your baby would be a TWIN and you could send away for the missing sibling. Just like in real life! Needless to say, I was pretty much obsessed with these as a child.
Magic Nursery Babies Commercial
Baby Alive – A classic with many incarnations. It’s the baby you actually feed – my version had a scary animatronic mouth that gobbled down food, her own thumb or your finger if you were stupid enough to stick it in there (and who wasn’t?). Also – joy of joys – you got to change her diaper! Yes, the huge advantage of having a doll over a real baby was swiftly eliminated with the invention of Baby Alive.
Baby Alive 90s Commercial
And check out this even-earlier version – where YOU control the eating and pooping with a lever on her back. This version was somehow even grosser than the one I had. Who could describe it better than that ubiquitous wordsmith, Wikipedia: “The food would move through her and end up in her diaper; this version did not speak, so you had to check the diaper a few moments after feeding. It also produced droppings and threw up regularly.”
Baby Alive 70s Commercial
Apparently, there was also an in-between stage where the doll spoke with a “deep, adult voice” and had sensors to track every stage of her “digestion.” Awesome!
By the way, Baby Alive clearly paved the way for the tame-in-comparison Baby All Gone:
Baby All Gone Commercial
Sally Secrets – Okay. I need to take a moment on this one. Because, seriously, people. She is freaking AWESOME. I still want her today. Scratch that, I want to BE her today. Basically she looks like your typical blonde 90s doll, decked to the hilt in neon clothing and accessories. But here is the kicker – all of her clothes and jewelry are the fixings for fun arts-and-crafts projects! Stickers come out of her stomach! Her shoes become an ink pad and a stamp roller to make cool designs! The girls in the commercial are giddy because they get to hang out with the beautiful blonde Sally AND make tons of cool crafts. This cannot be made fun of. It is that cool.
Sally Secrets Commercial
Lil’ Miss Magic Jewels – Hear that sound? It’s a dozen men in suits back in 1992 giving themselves a round of applause for this brilliant concept. I’m sure they were like, Well, girls love dolls, princesses and jewels. Let’s slap ‘em all together and name it Lil’ Miss Magic Jewels. Done. Basically, Lil’ Miss comes with a special magic wand that, when you press it against the doll or yourself, releases a jewel sticker. Very basic. Fun for probably about a minute when you first buy her. Of course, watching the commercial, I kind of want to play with one right now. Slash cover my hair with jewels. Why didn’t human bedazzling ever catch on, a la J. Lo in the ‘Waiting for Tonight’ video? I mean, as the girls in the commercial happily explain, “We can put jewels EVERYWHERE.” Yes we can, ladies!
Lil’ Miss Magic Jewels Commercial
PJ Sparkles - This is a doll that “loves you back”. Meaning, she has batteries inside her that make her light up – or “sparkle” some might say – when you hug her. Also, her dress becomes a nightgown. Seriously. That’s her main selling point, other than the sparkles. There’s something amazing about her, though. She really looks like the girls who were popular when I was in first and second grade – long, straight, shiny blonde hair, a big pink bow, and that cool-girl ability to light up the room. I love things that sparkle and I also love going to sleep, so that’s a pretty good match right there. This doll even spawned an animated TV special in which she was voiced by the same woman who was Ariel in the Little Mermaid. Basically, I need to get my hands on that video or never know happiness again.
PJ Sparkles Commercial
Of course, each of these videos links to a million other commercials for toys I maybe remember and almost definitely coveted. Baby Tumbles Surprise, for instance, with the extremely heavy head that caused her to tumble whenever you put her down and… that’s it. That’s the whole gimmick. Or, in the world outside of dolls, Puppy Surprise (how many puppies are there inside?) – I mean, who wouldn’t want to stick their hand into the innards of their stuffed dog toy? I remember my 2nd grade frenemy Erin had multiple Puppy Surprises that each had yielded the holy grail: four puppies. This was a feat unheard of at the time. And please let’s not forget about those little dolls that turned into plastic cupcakes when you flipped them inside out, or Treasure Trolls, or Sky Dancers, or Cherry Merry Muffin, or…. okay, I really need to be friends with more six year old girls. And for it to be 1992 again.
See you all on eBay… last one to the vintage set of Quints dolls is a total dweeb.