Every year, The A.V. Club thoughtfully takes its readers' budgets into account and scours toy stores for the most affordable, least thoughtful presents on the market. After all, we figure, if we can point you toward some cut-rate lump of plastic with a famous face on it, you might save a few bucks you would otherwise spend on your kids and kin, and that leaves you with more money to spend on the licensed Onion merchandise that is the true reason for the season. But this year, with the tanking economy, plummeting stock market, rising unemployment, disappearing industries, and taxpayer-gouging bailouts, we realize you don't have money for us. In all likelihood, you don't even have money for yourself. So this year, we present the Cheap Toy Roundup solely as an altruistic gesture. You can pay us back with cash under the table.
The Incredible Hulk;
Hulkey Pokey Hulk ($23.99, from $32.99)
others preferred Louis Leterrier's more conventional, action-heavy take on the material. But critics and audiences united in their desire to see the Incredible Hulk do more singing and dancing in the lurching animatronic style popularized by recent Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inductee Chuck E. Cheese. Thankfully, Hasbro's Hulkey Pokey Hulk Doll corrects that grievous oversight by giving the young people a soft, cuddly Hulk who speaks in a high-pitched squeak which suggests either that he's an ebullient 5-year-old, or he was recently castrated. Simply press Hulk's big toes, and he wriggles about and sings either "The Hulkey Pokey" or "I'm A Friendly Hulk Hero." ("I'm a friendly Hulk hero / Super-gamma charged / When I flex my muscles, I can lift up cars!") The big green guy has never been more adorable.
DC Super Friends Be Brave Buddies Flash Plush Figure ($9.99, from $16.99)
Johnny Lightning Calendar Cars: Vanessa ($1.99, from $3.33)
drive it. I saved every penny to buy my dream car-this '69 Camaro," gushes Calendar Car Girl "Vanessa" on the package of her installment of "Johnny Lightning Calendar Cars." Vanessa's strangely hypnotic, gravity-defying, silicone-enhanced cleavage, bleached-blonde hair, and sex-robot expression all invite steamy speculation as to how exactly her boyfriend taught her to "really" drive a Camaro. Calendar Cars are approved for children 8 and up, so come Christmas morning, dad and
son can try and fail not to leer at Vanessa's formidable boobage while mom shoots them disapproving glares under the tree. Good times, good times!
Fuzzy Rings ($.33)
day, lemme tell ya, we hunted down our own troll dolls, we killed 'em ourselves, and we made our own grisly trophies out of their scalps. We didn't rely on some cheap-ass Taiwanese manufacturer to do it for us. How do kids these days even manage their coming-of-age ritual-ceremony dances when they haven't been bloodied in the troll hunts?
"Ain't Gonna Happen" Hot Button ($3.99, from $5.99)
7 Glowing Maggots ($.75)
out of your head.
Amazing Animals Panda ($9.89, from $14.99)
The A.V. Club
Mystical UFO Disk ($4.99)
speak Chinese, but that doesn't stop us from mocking the awesome Engrish to be found on the cheapest of cheap toys. Take, for example, this "mystical UFO disk," whose packaging instructs: "The hand seizes the UFO top head. UFO will be able automatic revolving." And when you're done seizing? "Completion." Unlike most cheap-ass Chinese toys, though, this one is a blast: It's a super-fast spinning top, complete with lights and noise guaranteed to annoy parents everywhere. And getting it to stop is a fun game-you have to snatch it and physically subdue it! (We tried to find the official price online, and only found out that it's marketed to wholesalers with the compelling sell-line "It takes the music and can circumvolve on the ground.")
Pro-Bots: Tony Romo ($7.99, from $12.99)
casts a long shadow over this year's Cheap Toy Roundup. For example, The Incredible Hulk is now available in half-vehicle, half-superhero form, as is his pal Iron Man. But that's nothing compared to Pro-Bots, a NFL-licensed toy that finally answers the unasked question "What if Brett Favre were a terrifying android instead of a hundred-year-old man held together by duct tape?" But be sure to keep robot Jessica Simpson away from Pro-Bot Tony Romo; his wiring apparently goes haywire whenever it comes within a hundred feet of the busty robo-songstress. The Pro-Bots send children the inspiring message that professional athletes are just like them, only superhuman and part robot.
The Pick-Up Artist
Hot Wheels Mystery Car ($1.99, from $2.99)
. We'll never know, on account of the car being so damned Mysterious™.
Monkey Man action figure from Raiders Of The Lost Ark ($5.99, from $8.99)
Some critics have accused the Indiana Jones franchise of being racist, imperialistic, and condescending in its depiction of other cultures. The Monkey Man action figure from Raiders Of The Lost Ark should single-handedly disprove that contention with its empowering, culturally sensitive depiction of an Arab character known only as Monkey Man. The description on the back delineates a few of Monkey Man's many virtues: He's a knife-wielding, one-eyed mercenary in league with the Nazis who tries to poison Indiana Jones, but succeeds "only in murdering his own pet monkey." So while it'd probably be a stretch to call him a hero, we can all at least agree that he isn't worse than Hitler. That's a start, right?
In The Name Of The King: A Dragon Tale Movie
Matchbox's Hitch 'N Haul Dragon Castle playset ($2.50, from $3.99)
VDub$: Orange Bang ($1.99, from $2.99)
Rocky Balboa: Larry Merchant ($4.99, from $14.99)
series introduced audiences to a slew of iconic characters: big-hearted palooka Rocky Balboa, true-blue wife Adrian, flashy champion Apollo Creed, crusty old trainer Mickey, fearsome Russian killing machine Drago, grappler Thunderlips, and Mr. T's Clubber Lang, just for starters. And of course, who can possibly forget Larry Merchant? What's that? You've never even heard of Larry Merchant? That hasn't kept Jakks Pacific from making an action figure of him. It's apparently for kids who are really
into boxing history.
Spin Combat Bonus 2 Pack ($1.88, from $3.99)
Kitchenware: Let's Be Chefs ($1)
My First Phone
My First Phone ($1) and CutiePals soft-toy phone ($1)
book has a full complement of numbers on it, and is sort of vaguely shaped like an actual cell phone. Inside, a creepy-looking little girl never goes outside to play with her toddler friends-they just talk on the phone. Next in the series: My First Agoraphobic Attack, followed by My First Obesity Diagnosis And Gastric Bypass Surgery.
David Smells! ($4.99, from $6.99) and Get Lost, Becka! ($1.78, from $2.48)
is a simple board-book whose few pages are meant to describe an infant's five senses in a few simple early-reader words, but each sense is accompanied by a garishly distorted picture and the infant Diaper David doing something wrong. "Leave him alone, David!" commands the page on touch, which has David reaching for the dog. Taste is "Don't eat that!" and hearing is "David! That's too loud!" Clearly Diaper David is going to grow up to be a cringing, broken man, desperate for any sign of approval. And check out the other titles available: No, David!
, David In Trouble
, Oh, David!
, and presumably soon David Gets A Severe Thrashing
. Meanwhile, over in girlville, Get Lost, Becka!
features a girl named Becka whose bitchy older sister won't play with her, because she's too little. So she fantasizes in detail about someday being bigger and older than her sister, and driving her to tears by saying "Get lost, Jenny!" Got news for you, Becka-Jenny will always be older. Your only shot at growing up faster is by taking up sex and drugs as soon as possible.
Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull
Indiana Jones: Mutt Williams figure ($4.19, from $5.48)
will be even cheaper. This one features Shia LaBeouf's character Mutt looking dazed and clutching a switchblade. There's also a plastic snake and a special "hidden relic," which turns out to be one of those stupid Egyptian eyes that goth girls like to get tattooed on their arms. Still, playing with this toy is better than watching Crystal Skull
The Price Is Right Electronic Game ($12.48, from $24.99)
The Killing Joke
DC Universe: The Joker Vs. Batgirl Fighting Figures ($6.99, from $8.95)
knows how this story is going to end: with the Joker severing Batgirl's spine and taking humiliating pornographic photos of her, in order to torture her father, Commissioner James Gordon. Try not to dwell on how the Joker might use that Battle Blaster.
Beetle Barn Lifecycle Kit for last year's Cheap Toy Roundup
Buzzerks Eyeware Hornet ($5.99, from $18.30)
is back with these tinted glasses, which let you "Look like a Bug! See like a Bug!" Because you really want to understand the viewpoint of those pets you sent away for, raised in your Beetle Barn, then killed in the freezer when you got bored of them, just like the instructions suggested. The packaging notes that Buzzerks Eyeware glasses "will not protect your eyes while looking directly into the sun." They also won't protect your fragile heart, or contain your many tears, when you see life through bug eyes and come to closely empathize with your poor dead Beetle Barn buddies. Well, if you can get these things to work. Unsurprisingly, they're kinda cheap and face-pinchy, and the little faceted lenses that let you "See like a Bug!" have a tendency to flop around and hit you in the eyes if you look up.
Instant Railroad ($.99, from $2)
Milli Zilla ($1.99, from $4.99)
, which can grow up to almost a foot in length, and has stripey red legs). As a toy, though, this Milli Zilla just ain't that freaky. It's almost as if Club Earth had a spare millipede mold at their factory, and the marketing team convinced themselves that kids were more likely to buy a replica creepy-crawly if it were pitched as some kind of alien grotesquerie. Granted, the science-fiction spin does make the environmental movement more exciting. Wouldn't some stupid old-growth forest be cooler if those trees were recast as rampaging monsters?
American Idol FM Wireless Mic ($5.99, from $24.89)
fans reach audition age, they can be all the more indignant when the judges don't vote for them. "But in my room, I sound just like Carrie Underwood!"
Hannah Montana Fact Or Fancy Game ($5.99, from $19.99)
enjoy an entertainer. You have to put in the time to become an extra-defensive, easily heartbroken expert, or else what's the point?
Pro Skaters Collectors Series 2: Alex Sherman ($6.99, from $12.99)
Little Tikes DiscoverSounds PDA ($4.99, from $27.99)
Nose Flute ($.99)
Kidfun Keychain ($.33)
Billonaire Cashier ($2)
Are You A Raging Alcoholic Who Has Alienated His Entire Family?
Do You Look Like Your Dog? ($12.99, from $16.99)
and Do You Have An STD?
Mega Bloks Noah's Ark Sea Shore Friends ($5, from $7.99)
Bathtime Fun Book ($1)
The Dark Knight Scarecrow, With Crime Scene Evidence ($10.89)
Flip To Win Wooden Game Hangman ($9.99, from $12.99)
Much of the fun and much of the point of Hangman is that it can readily be played with a scrap of paper and a pencil, anytime or anywhere-in the car, in class while the professor's droning on about something boring, in jail while you're awaiting execution by hanging. It doesn't need any bulky, clunky special equipment. So hey, here's a piece of bulky, clunky special equipment to help you play it! If we ever do a Least Essential Toys list, this one's going right at the top. It's shockingly heavy, too, since it's made of thick, solid wood, and it bears a choking-hazard warning to boot. Sometimes even cheap toys are overpriced.
Barbie Luv Me 3 ($13.89, from $17.99)
Barbie just gets more whorish every year, which makes it feel fairly weird when Mattel puts her in settings that are supposed to be sort of maternal. Dig this puppy playset: She's wearing a boob-hugging halter, a midriff-baring top, garish purple lipstick, and enough eye makeup for three kids playing dress-up, plus one drag queen. And she's also holding a cute little pink baby bottle. It all adds up to "lactation-fetish hooker." Maybe this is meant to be the Shoot 'Em Up playset? (Clive Owen Ken doll with carrot sold separately.) Still, that's far from the most disturbing thing about this set, which includes a large, hard plastic dog covered in salmon-colored peach fuzz, and three puppies with distorted oversized heads, bobblehead action, and magnets in their noses so they can "snuggle" with mom. ("Try me Pull!" commands a cardboard tag attached to one puppy, so parents can preview the nose-rubbing action and determine whether the adorabililty reaches acceptable levels.) Still, the most disturbing thing about the Hydrocephalitic Puppy Lactation Fetish Vegas Whore Playset is the way it enthusiastically advertises "Puppy is thirsty then makes a puddle!" In other words, one of the puppies is hollow, and if you squirt water in one end with the baby bottle, it runs straight out out the other. Well hell, why not save a step and just dump a cup of water on the floor?
Pirates Action Figure ($2)
For a while, pirates were really hot, thanks to Pirates Of The Caribbean, so every knockoff toy company in the world was churning them out. Now vampires are really hot, thanks to Twilight, which means cheap plastic pirates like this one are sitting alone and unloved on the shelves. Maybe that's why this one is screaming in plasticky distorted rage. Either that, or he's had a little too much rum, sodomy, and the lash-not necessarily in that order. Then again, what could be more Christmas-y than that?