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Cheap Toy Roundup 2006

Remember in Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer when Rudolph ends up on the Island Of Misfit Toys, a magical place filled with mismatched but oh-so-loveable unwanted playthings? It's a sweet scene, but it's also a lie. In fact, misfit toys can be found all over the place, clogging up store aisles with detritus from yesterday's would-be blockbuster movies and knock-offs of passing fads. Each year, The A.V. Club plunges into this not-so-adorable world to rescue the most interesting items before they vanish into well-deserved oblivion. Here's the best/worst of what this year had to offer.

Rnimrl Robot ($1)

Remember the Transformers? Kinda cool back in the '80s, weren't they? So cool, in fact, that cheap knockoffs are still being made today. For instance, "Rnimrl Robot," whose packaging randomly proclaims "Feral King Big Match," "Modern Style," and "New Cantury Meccano." With a great deal of wrestling and determination, you can in fact transform these things from lumpy, animal-like shapes into lumpy microcephalic robots. Now if only there was an animated series available to explain what the hell a "rnimrl" is.

Instant Circus ($1)

Part of the ever-expanding line of "drop something small and compact in warm water and watch it grow into a little formless sponge" toys, the "Instant Circus" is noteworthy for its generous assortment of capsules—12 little lumps that, when moistened, almost look like animals!—and for its hoity-toity packaging, which insists that Instant Products are "used by educators worldwide," and proves its case by including a fairly well-written history of the circus on the back of the box. (It's only a paragraph, but drop it in water, and it expands to an encyclopedia entry.) An even more compelling story could be written about the drawing on the front, which has a green capsule with a ringmaster's hat, riding on the back of an elephant, which presumably used to be a capsule itself. Philosophical question: Who's happier?

Joke Teller ($3.99, marked down from $5.99)

This plastic keychain, which scrolls bad riddles across its tiny screen, then laughs histrionically at them, is automatically better than most items in The A.V. Club's annual Cheap Toy Roundup in that it "Really works!" Or so proclaims the excited packaging. Several times. So much better than all those toys with "Completely nonfunctional!" and "Utterly worthless!" printed on the box! Unfortunately, the fact that it functions means that parents will be subject to their children learning a whopping 200 terrible jokes, like "Q: What did Captain Hook say to his friend? A: Can you lend me a hand?" Fortunately, the jokes scroll across the screen so painfully slowly that this toy is likely to occupy kids for hours at a time, as they wait a silent eternity to learn why the baseball player went to baking school, or what a monster reads every day in the paper. Then again, kids may just run around holding down the "laugh" button, and gaining unearned self-esteem from the toy's enthusiastic support of every dumb thing they do.

Dora The Explorer Inflatable Swiper ($4.99, from $6.99)

Speaking of non-functional toys, this inflatable plastic toy—a fox character named Swiper, though he looks more like the result of a drunken mating between a weasel and a banana, with the Hamburglar as godfather—is apparently useless for any purpose, to judge from the long list of cautions and warnings on the front of the box. It's a choking hazard for those under 3. Children of any age shouldn't be left alone with it. (Why not? Will it molest them?) It should be kept away from fire and water. Children must not be permitted to jump on it or dive onto it. It shouldn't be overinflated, and it must be checked regularly "for leakage and tears." Presumably, that's "tears" as in the tears your children will be weeping if you give them this thing, then sit in the room staring at them while they play, and listing off all the caveats and regulations associated with it. All that's missing is the warning from plastic grocery bags: "THIS IS NOT A TOY."

Pickles Cucumbers ($1)

Yep, it's a miniature plastic jar containing plastic pickles: five whole, two sliced. Now kids can simulate the fun of struggling to open the lid, and cursing the gods for making their grips so weak and their hunger for garnish so strong. No brine is included, but children can easily fill the jar with water, so they can enjoy getting their index and middle fingers wet while they fish for that elusive bread-and-butter chip that keeps swimming just out of reach.

Noah's Wife, Ham, Shem, and Japheth ($2.99, from $4.99)

Let's face it: That shameless attention-hog Noah dominates the story of the great flood with his flashy, in-your-face ark-building, animal-gathering, and order-following. But what about Noah's posse? The half-forgotten D12 to his Eminem? Heroes Of Faith gives long-overdue props to the other folks aboard Noah's life-sustaining love boat: Noah's Wife and his three sons, Ham, Shem, and the irrepressible Japheth, are each represented by small, choking-hazardriffic plastic figurines just begging to get stuck in the windpipe of a pious toddler. Yes, the obnoxiously devout Rod and Todd Flanders of your world will derive minutes of fun watching these God-loving Biblical also-rans fight to save humanity from becoming extinct.

Lovely Baby ($1.99, from $2.99)

Okay, seriously, what's creepier, the Lovely Baby's swollen ankles and clearly deformed, twisted legs, or the "TRY ME" label positioned above its crotch? (Poke it there, and it plays a tinny version of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," just like a real baby.)


Future Gun ($1)

Strangely, the Future Gun is a crossbow, which makes it very difficult to distinguish from Historical Gun. Maybe it's futuristic because it's made out of cheap plastic? Or maybe it comes from some grim, low-tech Mad Max kind of future, where small plastic crossbows with suction-cup darts will be the cutting edge in weaponry? (That might explain why the packaging claims that Future Gun is "winner superior.") Actually, the most laughable thing about Future Gun is the words "Try Me" emblazoned on the package. Never mind that the thing is disassembled and tightly sealed in plastic, and absolutely no part of it can be tried until you pony up your buck and take it home, Future Sucker.

Ping-Pong Super Gun ($1)

Then again, it might be a lot more fun to plop down the dollar for "Ping-Pong Super Gun," which promises "Unbelievable Stimulation" and "Stimulation FUN game." Whoo!

Plastic Bobbing Head Graduation Frame ($1)

This little statuette of a gowned and hatted graduate will provide endless hours of family fun: Just cut the head off a picture of your favorite graduate, put it in the bobblehead frame, and listen to hours of said graduate complaining that he or she doesn't actually have pointy yellow hair and Parkinson's disease. Alternately, give the thing to your small children and let them play Faceless Scary Pointy-Hat Tentacle-Head Monster.

Metallic Insect Punch Pens ($1 each)

Remember all those cute bugs from A Bug's Life and Antz? Didn't you secretly want to see them pound the shit out of each other? Well, now you can. And then you can write about their trip to the insect hospital. At least, if you can pry the stiff plastic caps off the pens.

Learning Town: Happy Home ($12.99)

In this tidy bit of block-based social engineering, a young family of cubes inhabits a split-level starter home with a one-car garage and two conveniently square rooftop perches for Mommy, Daddy, and Baby. When placed in the right spot and pressed, the cubelings play chirpy messages like "Daddy can hug! Can you hug?" and "Daddy's cooking in the kitchen today!" and "Shhh! Baby is sleeping!" (Translation for that last one: "Can you stop yammering about what a sensitive dude you are for one goddamned second, Daddy?") Other cool facts about Daddy: He's grown a little moustache! And while his wife and kid have words like "flower," "milk," and "giggle" written on their sides, Daddy has "spoon" and "shirt." The people who made this toy have no idea what a father is, says, or does, do they?

Sonic Sound Sizzlers Noise-Magnets ($1.99)

The "sizzle" sound that these two heavy block magnets make when they clack together is really just the sound of two metal surfaces rapidly settling against each other, not any kind of electromagnetic shock. But that doesn't make it any less cool when you toss the magnets into the air separately and they charge into each other with a zesty "zap." When you've had all the fun you can have with the tossing game—after about 30 seconds, in other words—you can put one magnet on either side of a finger and marvel as they hang suspended. There, that's 10 more seconds of fun. Now it's time to get down to what you really bought these magnets for: discreetly playing havoc with personal computers and credit cards, in an effort to smash the state.

Girly Goodies ($4.99)

Inside this oversized nail-polish bottle, your sweet little girl will find: one chiffon scrunchie, one lipstick pen, one notebook keychain, two metallic pom-pom ponytail holders, one glitter gem tattoo, one beaded elastic ponytail holder, and one sheet of silver-edged prism decals. Yes, the notebook keychain has a picture of a puppy on it. (Awwwww.) And yes, the metallic pom-pom ponytail holders resemble a pair of pink, spiky testicles. (Ewwwww.)

Goof-Around Golf ($9.99)

Of all the classic Tomy wind-up sports games, none is as winningly ridiculous as "Goof-Around Golf," in which a golf ball with feet hops down a narrow game board toward a comfortable resting hole that can only seem like a pipe dream to this haplessly lurching little sphere. If par for this course is anything less than 100, someone should alert the PGA.

Electronic DJ Mixer ($7.99)

Once upon a time, kids played toy guitars by turning a little crank. Now it's all about two toy turntables and a toy microphone. The pre-set principle remains the same, though. Any kid expecting to make like DJ Shadow with this device is going to be sorely disappointed both by the limited number of beats and "scratch sounds" the toy can make, and by the way every noise coming out of the "Electronic DJ Mixer" sounds like a radio stuck between stations. Ain't nothin' like a party, ya'll.