My four-year-old son loves all things Buzz Lightyear at the moment, but he's too young to understand that Buzz isn't a "real" toy. He was invented for the movie Toy Story (1995), and the toy came later. Although, in all honesty, I suppose there isn't much difference. As I was watching the new movie Toy Story 3, I was struck by how comfortable and familiar all these toys have become, whether they were invented for the movie, or lifted from childhood memories. The point is that a good toy will always inspire us to play well. Following is a list of real toys that made it into the movies.
Mr. Potato Head (Hasbro/Playskool, 1952)
Inventor George Lerner came up with the idea for this by, of course, sticking things into real potatoes, and that was how the original toy was sold: a collection of stuff, including feet, hands, eyes, nose, mouth, ears, moustache, hats, glasses and even a pipe (!), that kids could stick into real potatoes. The original sold for 98 cents. Apparently, it was the first toy advertised on television. In the 1960s, he became plastic, and in the age of "politically correct," he stopped smoking. And yes, he also got his Mrs. Potato Head. Don Rickles provides the voice in the movie.
Slinky Dog (James Industries, 1952)
The original Slinky toy debuted in 1945 at Gimbels department store in Philadelphia. Years later, a Slinky fan wrote a letter outlining her plan for Slinky pull-toys, including a Slinky train and a Slinky dog. Oddly, she actually got credit for this plan and received royalties for many years! (So much for evil corporate greed.) The Slinky Dog in Toy Story (voiced by Jim Varney in Parts 1-2 and Blake Clark in Part 3) was re-designed, with approval from the James family. "Retro" Slinky Dogs are still for sale.
Army Men (Various, early 1950s)
Apparently, plastic army men were never trademarked, so just about anyone can make them. The Marx Company is credited with making the best. They generally depict soldiers from the WWII era through the Vietnam era, with "tin pot" hats, rifles, machine guns, pistols and grenades. (Wasn't there always a fight over which kid got to play with the bazooka guy?) They're also one of the cheapest of all toys. In the original film, Andy has a "Bucket O' Soldiers," containing dozens of the little guys. They're generally around 2 inches high, and cannot withstand being stepped on. R. Lee Ermy (a real-life U.S. Marine Corps drill instructor, retired) plays the voice of "Sarge."
Barbie (Mattel, 1959)
The source of much joy, rage, and confusion for many children and adults for half a century, Barbie plays a small, funny role in Toy Story 2, and a much bigger, more crucial role in Toy Story 3. She's a materialistic, anorexic blonde shopaholic, which pretty much describes a lot of people in Hollywood. Fortunately, as voiced by Jodi Benson in Toy Story 3, she finally gets show some admirable qualities. Her boyfriend, Ken (voiced by Michael Keaton), came along in 1961.
Etch A Sketch (Ohio Art Company, 1960)
Etch a Sketch is not a major character, but he has a few scenes in the original film, including one good joke. ("Draw!") Children with infinite patience can make amazing things on them, but if you make a mistake, you have to shake it up and start all over.
Chatter Telephone Pull Toy (Fisher Price, 1962)
This was a toy for small kids. You basically pulled it along behind you and it made clattering and ringing noises, and the eyes rolled up and down. Kids could also dial the phone, although most of today's kids will have no idea what that means. Adults who remember this toy will enjoy seeing his small part in Toy Story 3 (voiced by Teddy Newton, with a tough-guy accent).
Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots (Marx, 1964)
This was a great game for aggressive boys. You choose the red or blue robot, smack the buttons, try to punch the other robot and knock off its head. Pixar directors John Lasseter and Lee Unkrich played the voices of the robots in their Toy Story 2 cameo.
Barrel of Monkeys (Lakeside Toys, 1965)
Not a character in the movies exactly, but the monkeys are very convenient and adaptable to any situation. In the first film, they are used in a failed attempt to rescue Buzz ("We need more monkeys!"), and in the second and third films, they are an evil part of Andy's playtime scenarios ("Death by monkeys!"). The toy is still available today, and they come 12 monkeys to a barrel (not to be confused with Terry Gilliam or Bruce Willis). They are available in red, blue, or yellow. But what I didn't realize is that the monkeys are a game! With rules! Has anyone actually ever played it?
Speak & Spell (Texas Instruments, 1978)
I wonder many kids actually used this as a learning toy, or if they just typed in random letters (or other, forbidden words), just to hear the synthesized voice say them? The Speak & Spell had a small part, as "Mr. Spell," in the first two films.