Gather around, kids, it’s story time. Today we’re going to talk about recalled toys.
Now, we all know there are way too many predictable listicles out there telling the same worn-out tales about the magnetic death march of Buckyballs through your intestinal tract, or about the 1950s Atomic Energy Lab from hell that featured actual exposure to radiation.
But you shouldn’t get sidetracked by all that regurgitated content like the rest of the Internet. Instead, sit back, relax, and subvocalize as we leap back in recent time to explore recalled toys that never really got the attention they deserve. Everything you’re about to hear comes from the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission’s authoritative list of toy recalls.
Ready? Better be, because #7’s gonna shock you.
1. Barrel of Italian Monkeys
For about eight months back in 2000, kids meals at Italian fast-food outfit Fazoli’s included a toy set called Pasta Pals. A boldly uninspired Barrel of Monkeys ripoff, Pasta Pals comprised a small blue barrel and six grinning tomato and pasta figurines that could be linked together into a nutritious chain of plastic.
Fazoli’s certainly merits recognition for upholding the Western tradition of serving kids meals with choking hazards on the side, but it really crossed the line by packing those choking hazards inside a suffocation hazard. That’s right, instead of just choking on a figurine like a normal child would’ve, some kid went and stuck that blue container over his mouth, and Fazoli’s panicked.
Because if your youngest customers are going to suffocate, it should be from breathing in the heavy haze of cheapness and grease that clings like plastic wrap to the fast-food industry. Not from bobbing for Pasta Pals.
2. Collapsing Chicken Limbo Party Game
First of all, yes, this was a real thing. A 1995 ad for the original version depicts Chicken Limbo in all its maniacal glory, the unearthly electronic sounds ripping their way out of it foul enough to spoil eggs. Clearly, Milton Bradley made the right decision to keep this feral beast caged in its product portfolio well into 2006. After all, who wouldn’t want to punish their children by forcing them to limbo-dance under a cackling chicken that screams “GOTCHA!” every time they screw up?
With that much evil sitting on a single perch, it’s no wonder the supports were found wanting. Numerous people complained after the limbo poles collapsed and dealt out various injuries to unlucky children.
Anyway, at least we finally have an answer to why the chicken crossed the road. It was to get to the Chicken Limbo party on the other side and break some birthday bones.
3. Fake Sword, Real Stabs
Moving on to pirates, because we don’t wanna grow up, we’re Toys ‘R’ Us kids. Like any decent toy sword, this scimitar from Gymboree boasted a beautifully wrought fake-gold hilt and a fine gray blade that probably would’ve balked at cutting soft butter. Unless you took that blade and broke it. Then all of a sudden you had a broken toy sword sharp enough to pierce the realm of make-believe and stab someone in real life, Jumanji-style.
Granted, that’s still a lot better than having a toy gun that breaks and starts firing real bullets, especially in America. Pro tip: stay away from fake guns, kiddos. Stick with the fake swords. Most cops won’t shoot you for having a toy sword, even if it really is sharp.
4. Unstoppable Kiddie Car Cruiser
Speaking of cops—if you ever need to escape from a really slow one, then boy oh boy, have we got the perfect Kiddie Car Cruiser for you. This mean little purple-and-green driving machine sported a turbo sticker and a custom design flaw that kept it chugging right along even when the accelerator wasn’t depressed.
In addition to helping maintain a constant getaway speed, this feature freed up the driver’s foot for more important things like kicking any pets or pedestrians who got in the way. Talk about taking a ride on the wild side.
5. Explosions, Vol. 1: Big Red Wagon
Bigger is always better in America, a fact that naturally extends to all-American products like red wagons and tires. And explosions. The Sportsman’s Guide obviously understood this when they rolled out their Big Red Wagon in 2001, presumably with a hat tip to Firestone during the christening.
The Big Red Wagon was big in all the right places. However, many customers weren’t impressed by the wagon’s weak rims, which tended to break under tire pressure and send big chunks of plastic and rubber flying around. After eight of these incidents, a recall was issued and free replacement wheels started making the rounds.
6. Explosions, Vol. 2: Radio-Controlled Airplane
Continuing our theme of random explosions, we turn now to the Model 4116 Sky Rangers Park Flyer, a remote-controlled airplane with a wishy-washy attitude about flight. This little plane that sometimes could, sometimes couldn’t occasionally blew up for no reason, usually near the user’s head as he launched it by hand into yonder blue.
Estes-Cox, the toy’s manufacturer, received close to 50 reports of such mission failures along with complaints of burns, temporary hearing loss, and eye injuries. These were not the grandest of days in flying history, but we must accept that progress often carries a high price tag.
7. Doodlebutt JellyBeadz
Let’s just ignore those dubious words in that title for now and get right down to the problem. Haha, what? No way, let’s definitely not ignore them. Someone really thought those would be good words to use in the context of kids’ toys?
Yes, it is true. Doodlebutt, a word real people chose for the name of an actual company, got itself into hot water by selling absorbent polymer balls called JellyBeadz and JumboBeadz, as well as a set of absorbent polymer fruit shapes collectively dubbed Magic Growing Fruity Fun.
As befell the Buckyballs and Aqua Dots in every other toy-recall list you’ll find, these beadz and fruitz became delicious snacks in the eyes of children. The kind of snacks that could grow to eight times their original size after you swallowed them. To avoid killing any kids, and probably also to lend those seedy names to the sex toys they begged, Doodlebutt issued a recall. (P. S. Get the full effect when you watch a news reporter work her way through it.)
8. Tasty Crayon-Balls
Up next in the line of things kids like you shouldn’t get for Christmas is My First Crayon-Ball. If that plastic casing busted, six little balls of crayon would pop out and start looking for small children to asphyxiate. No incidents were reported, but Baja Products still decided to run with the recall.
We think it had less to do with safety and more to do with the euphemistic tagline “BIG fun for little hands,” which some guy in marketing definitely got fired for. You’ll understand when you’re older.
9. Santa’s Disembodied Nose
Speaking of Christmas, here’s another classic no-no—a Santa decoration with looks that kill. This 8-inch stuffed Claus featured a faulty nose that could randomly fall off, leaving you with a festive choking hazard just in time for the holidays.
Or, in the words of a frazzled parent who most likely existed, “You were a naughty little boy this year, Carl. Here is a Santa toy.”
10. Eat Your VeggieTales
Ah, VeggieTales. There’s never ever ever ever ever been a show like it, right? Back in its heyday, it put the fear of God in every mainstream Christian kid by making a bunch of anthropomorphic gourds and cucumbers sing and bounce around about the Bible.
In 1998, Chariot Victor Publishing produced a playset to complement the VeggieTales video “Dave and the Giant Pickle,” which is based on a true story. Appropriately, several of the figurines in said playset shipped with the spiritual gift of being able to choke people. But that’s not gonna count as martyrdom at the pearly gates, so why take the risk? We’d like our flannelgraph back, please.
11. Poison Jesus Fish
If you’re still with us after that last one, it’s time to talk about Jesus. Specifically, his name written in green paint on the ancient fish symbol that Christians stole from pagans. Although most of you are probably expecting mercury poisoning to pop up here, this little green Jesus fish actually fed lead poisoning to thousands of unsuspecting followers.
The other four colors of fish were safe, so that’s a solid 80% passing grade. Discount School Supply’s customers apparently just had to beware of the green fish, and stay away from that Nero guy.
12. Baby Overboard
So, pretend you’re a baby, and you need to get to the other side of the pool. There’s no Moses around to part the waters, and you can barely even crawl at this point, not to mention swim. How about hitching a ride in one of those slick baby boats from Aqua-Leisure?
A fine idea, so long as you don’t know about all the consumer complaints and product recalls that went down over a period of several years. The boats themselves were pretty great at floating, but there was one minor problem—the passenger seats often tore or detached, dropping baby straight into the water below. Mercifully, several boat models were equipped with convenient sunshades to keep UV rays off the kids while they drowned.
As you might guess, many parents were unhappy with Aqua-Leisure’s floating trapdoor of death. Even after agreeing to pay a $650,000 civil penalty, Aqua-Leisure still had the balls to deny the presence of any risk, defect, or violation on their part. We’ll see what Charon has to say about that when their silly heads arrive at the River Acheron.
BONUS LEVEL: IRONY
Great, we made it to the end and unlocked a bonus level you didn’t ask for. This isn’t really about a toy, but given our exclusive focus on CPSC recalls thus far, we feel it makes a fitting epilogue.
The CPSC, which we forgot to mention is responsible for monitoring consumer products (including toys) for unreasonable risks, once had to recall its own product for posing unreasonable risks. From The Wall Street Journal:
“In 1974, the commission recalled 80,000 of its own lapel buttons promoting toy safety. The buttons had paint with too much lead, sharp edges and clips that could be broken off and swallowed.”
(All images: www.cpsc.gov)