In 1996, Mattel introduced the Cabbage Patch Kids’ Snacktime Kid, a doll with a motorized mouth that allowed it to “eat”. In some ways, you have to give Mattel credit: the Snacktime Kid countered the typical unrealistic body type of other dolls with a chubby baby that showed children it was fun to eat. On the other hand, you can’t give too much credit because it turned out that the doll was dangerous and ate kids’ fingers and hair. After the indiscriminately masticating toy injured a few dozen children, Mattel had no choice but to remove Snacktime Kids from the shelves and offer full refunds to people who had already purchased them.
By chance in 2003, I found a Cabbage Patch Snacktime Kid at a thrift store. Priced for just a couple of dollars, I knew I needed to buy it. Firstly, I thought it might be valuable – since the doll was recalled, that might make it a collector’s item. Secondly, and more importantly, I always figured that the media reports on the doll were exaggerated to make for a funny news story or to win lawsuits, so owning it would give me the opportunity to see if the doll really did have the taste for human flesh. As a proud new father, I named the doll “Baby Gray Davis” after the similarly recalled former Governor of California.
Immediately, I wanted to test out the doll’s risk factor, but my hair wasn’t long enough and none of my friends were dumb enough to volunteer. Instead, we fed Baby Gray Davis crumpled up pieces of paper, which the doll would chew and then “poop” out into her backpack. Once that got boring, we let it nibble on our fingers, which unfortunately didn’t hurt much. Still not satisfied, we stripped it naked (let’s just say that the doll’s representation of the digestive system is not the only part that’s not anatomically correct) where we found a fake, plastic pretzel stick hiding in her underwear.
Baby Gray Davis merrily munched on the pretzel, but it was no fun watching it eat something it was designed to devour, so the next day, I decided to execute a real hair-eating experiment. I chose my friend Meggie as the test subject because she had beautiful, long, thick hair. The only problem was that she didn’t see it coming – literally. As she walked down the hall, I crept up behind an unsuspecting Meggie, grabbed a few strands of her hair, and placed them into the doll’s mouth. The doll started chewing on Meggie’s locks before she could even react.
“What are you doing?” Meggie yelled, causing me to jump back and let go of the doll. Alas, the doll had already successfully chomped down on Meggie’s hair, so the ten-pound baby dangled from her head. All the while, Baby Gray Davis kept on chewing more and more hair while Meggie struggled to remove it from the doll’s mouth without ripping it out of her scalp. Meanwhile, even as Meggie cried for help, I was laughing so hard that I had to hold on to the wall to regain my composure. Go ahead and judge me.
Both the chewing and the weight of the baby hanging from her hair were so painful that Meggie had to lay down on the ground in an effort to make it stop. By this point, the screaming and laughter had attracted a crowd, so several people came to aid with the situation. Still, Baby Gray Davis had resolve and refused to let go of Meggie’s hair. The hair was entangled in the motor, so each time someone tried to yank the hair out, it seemed to only enable the doll to get a better grip on the strands and swallow them further.
That is when we realized that the doll’s fatal flaw was that you couldn’t make it stop. The Snacktime Kid didn’t come with an off switch – as long as something was in its mouth, the motor kept on whirring, trying to eat whatever was in its path. Altogether, I think it took more than ten minutes for us to carefully extricate her hair from the doll’s mouth without ripping too much of it off.
The experiment was a success, if you’d like to call it that. Those dolls really were evil, and I am, too, I guess. I swear that I did it in the name of science… or maybe just mischief. Meggie ultimately proved to be a good sport about the whole incident, though I can’t say I blame her for finding it more traumatizing and less hilarious than I did.
I never pulled that stunt again, though later, Meggie’s roommate – willingly, mind you – tried to breastfeed the doll. Unlike Meggie, she claimed to find the experience “pleasurable”. Perhaps instead of recalling the doll, Mattel should have just rebranded it.