Sunday, March 31, 2013

Nostalgia Theater: Kenner's Jurassic Park -- Merchandise 65 Million Years in the Making

If there's one notion that's been cemented by my time in the trenches as a parent, it's that kids love dinosaurs.

This Friday sees the re-release of Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park to theaters -- now spiffed up with a new transfer and 3D -- to celebrate the seminal dino-flick's twentieth anniversary. I've got plenty to say about the film itself these many years removed from its initial theatrical foray, but I'll save those thoughts for my retro review later in the week. Now, after the sticker shock of Jurassic Park being twenty years old wears off, join me  for this week's Nostalgia Theater as we take an excursion through the mists of marketing cynicism and navigate the rapids of absurd brand management. Jurassic Park. Action figures.

The Jurassic Park toyline was produced by Kenner, a company we've already established had zero issues with turning entirely inappropriate properties into playtime for kiddies. And on that front, at least Jurassic Park was a bit more "toyetic," packed to the gills with the kinds creatures, characters, and gadgets that set little boys' hearts a-flutter. This was in 1993, so I was pretty much out of my regular toy-buying days (nowadays I only buy as a *ahem* "collector"), but I remember the figures hitting Toys 'R' Us and Target pegs several months before the movie hit. And right around that same time, if you were watching Saturday morning cartoons, it wasn't too long before you saw stuff like this:

(FYI, the second and third spots are from 1997 and 2001, for The Lost World: Jurassic Park, and Jurassic Park III toylines, respectively, proving just how long-winded the toymaker's efforts ended up being.)

While kids will forever love dinosaurs, the Jurassic Park toys finally let them own miniature plastic versions of Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum (how else to re-enact The Fly?), their prayers were answered. I especially dig the action figure of Tim Murphy, the little kid who's trapped in the park with Sam Neill's Dr. Alan Grant, who comes equipped with some kind of a dinosaur snare or something. In fact, I remember there being a fair bit of controversy at the time what with how heavily a PG-13 flick was being marketed toward an audience that, the vast majority of which, couldn't even watch the thing.

That didn't stop the merchandise machine from rolling out at full roar, though, and given how wildly successful the filmic Jurassic Park was upon its release, it's no surprise that Kenner enjoyed some very flush times with their action figure assortment (bear in mind, also, that this was in that strange interregnum between Star Wars trilogies, when the toymaker didn't have that evergreen Force to fall back on), enough to power it through '93 and into '94. It's kind of hilarious that the big competition that summer in marketing terms was mooted to come from Mattel's toys based on...wait for it...The Last Action Hero. Yep, that one. True fact.

Needless to say, that was a total non-threat, but still, Jurassic Park doesn't exactly lend itself to marketing ad infinitum a la Luke Skywalker and pals. A handful of characters. A bunch of dinosaurs. That's it. Thus, no surprise that Kenner/Hasbro's efforts to keep the dino DNA flowing led them to expand the roster with weird made-for-toy characters like "Dr. Snare" and "'Jaws' Jackson" (who the...?). Don't take my word for that, just look at this list. Personally I'm just disappointed we didn't get a Sam Jackson action figure (with severed, blood-drenched arm, natch). Amazingly, Jurassic toys have endured, in fits and starts, all the way to the present day, proving that the kiddies' love for dinos outpaces even the exigencies of Chaos Theory. Take that, Jeff Goldblum.

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