In a scene about halfway through 2002's The Santa Clause 2, Santa (as played by Tim Allen) needs to remind a roomful of cynical schoolteachers about the magic of the season. So, with a twinkling of his Tim Allen eyes and a twist of his Tim Allen head, he magically grants them toys they wanted, but never received, as children. Once the shock wears off, they delight in the Colecovisions and Barbie play-sets of their dreams. So, what stuffed their stockings instead, back when they were deprived kids? Most likely, the antecedents of this year's Cheap Toy Roundup, The Onion A.V. Club's annual gift guide for grownups who are either trying to work within a budget or just buying presents for particularly crappy kids.
Make Your Own Body Glitter
($8.99, from $11.99)
Why simply purchase inexpensive tubes of body glitter when you can spend more money and create a mess making your own? This kit allows girls and sexually ambiguous boys an opportunity to make a "push pop" of glitter that looks and smells like candy, but is not candy and should not be eaten. The note "Makes Scented Cosmetics Not Candy!" underlines this point, although with ingredients like Triethanolamine, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate, and DMDM Hydantoin, Make Your Own Body Glitter sounds delicious anyway.
Money Talks Animated Talking Bank
($6.99, from $9.99)
It's never too early to start teaching kids about the importance of materialism. And how better to instill this message than via a plastic, monocle-sporting, anthropomorphic stack of dollar bills that wiggles suggestively as it talks? The Money Talks Animated Talking Bank hammers the point home by repeating the following sayings: "Money's not important… once you have it!," "Money can't buy happiness… but it sure does help!," and, puzzlingly, "If you've got the money… I've got the time." Budding Donald Trumps will love its teachings, assuming they don't run away in horror.
Real Heroes, Bomb Tech
($7.98, from $19.97)
If there's a better way to scare the shit out of a 4-year-old than by explaining the world's need for a bomb-disposal technician, it isn't available at Toys 'R' Us. With his head-to-toe black outfit, menacing metal devices, and Anton LaVey beard, Bomb Tech looks more like Darth Vader than a neighborhood cop. He also comes equipped with a bomb-disposal robot–which, it might be argued, is the real hero here. And how about our Real Hero's assignment, as stated on the box? "Mission: Big Bang" is probably the last thing he wants to hear.
The Gurlz Interactive Doll: Franika & Tiko
($4.99, from $14.99)
It's hard to tell why the Gurlz Interactive Doll hasn't taken off the way Bratz or Furby or electronic pets have in the past: After all, why wouldn't American kids be taken with a collection of ugly, attitude-copping monstrosities that arrive complete with wild green hair, grinning pets, and skimpy backstories? Franika is "the try anything sports freak" from Planet Mrgh, and she's got 100 catch phrases at her disposal, from "Hey! Who's up for some exercise!" to "This hairdo is outrageous!" Even Tiko the hideous robot dog can talk–with a snooty English accent, no less–when his leash is plugged into Franika's rib cage: "You're rad, Franika!" Indeed, old chum. Indeed.
Concert Date Ken
($9.98, from $10.98)
Like Barbie would go out with this tool. The only reason Concert Date Ken is even invited to Barbie's townhouse is that he's got a pair of killer tickets rubber-banded to his left hand, and enough money in his rolled-up denim pants to get her a genuine concert program. Everyone knows that Barbie–at least the one pictured on this package, with her tantalizing miniskirt and schoolgirl knee-socks–wants a take-control rocker boyfriend, not some boy-band reject. This Ken, with his neon-green shirt and flat-fronted hairdo, will be lucky to get a handshake at the end of the night, assuming Backstage Barbie doesn't ditch him halfway through the show.
Treasure Planet's John Silver Keychain
The Official Lee Dansie-Team Jugular Street Luge Keychain
($2.99, from $3.99)
($1.99, from $2.99)
Why carry a slim, pocket-friendly keychain when an awkwardly shaped extreme-sports souvenir or a bulky reminder of the film that almost killed off conventional animation is available? "Press John Silver down on his peg leg and his robotic arm will come to life!," the packaging of the Treasure Planet-themed keychain promises. (Warning: This does not work on real-life peg-legged pirates.) For a bigger thrill, place John Silver atop the miniaturized street-luge keychain piloted by 1999 Gravity Games gold medalist/Vanilla Ice look-alike Lee Dansie, and watch him go, go, go. Will Silver beat Dansie's 73 mph world record? Probably not, unless he's dropped from a tall building.
Star Wars: Army Of The Republic Anakin Skywalker
($5.99, from $6.99)
Some toys will always be with us. In the case of Barbie, Monopoly, Scrabble, or G.I. Joe, it's because they're beloved holiday perennials. For the cursed toys of the Cheap Toy Roundup, it's because they sit on shelves for years, unsold and unloved. A dusty veteran of the toy-store shelf, the Star Wars Army Of The Republic Anakin Skywalker figure comes with a lightsaber and what's cryptically called "enhanced mission gear." He also sports a 1986-era, trailer-park-style rat-tail that stands as an enduring testament to just how out of touch George Lucas is with the rest of the world.
McDonald's Play Food Set
($7.99, from $8.99)
It's easy to explain the ubiquity of latter-day Star Wars toys: About nine trillion pieces were manufactured, and many were purchased by obsessive types who collect 'em all when they're not expressing their intense hatred of the movies themselves. But what's with the year-in, year-out availability of toy McDonald's food, toy McDonald's kitchens, and toy McDonald's drive-thru windows? Sure, it never hurts to instill in children an early love of Big Macs, McFlurries, Hotcakes, and Chicken McNuggets–if not for their diet, then at least for their careers–but shouldn't McDonald's be giving this shit away with Happy Meals?
Looking Good Evening Shoes
($1, from $2.99)
Cheap toys are a great way to inform children about the grim, dispiriting realities of adult life. The high heels on Looking Good Evening Shoes, for example, let little girls know just how important it is to sacrifice their own comfort and safety in order to conform to society's oppressive beauty standards. Consider them training wheels for the eventual purchase of shoes with sadistic stiletto heels.
DJ Battle Mix
($17.99, from $19.99)
What better way to introduce your child to hip-hop than with a cheap electronic game that makes a mockery out of a subculture sacred to millions? The DJ Battle Mix affords aspiring Funkmaster Flexes and DJ Clue?s an opportunity to pursue glory as either "DJ Zee" or "MC Scratch." DJ Battle Mix advertises itself as "the game with its own MC inside!," which suggests its makers are laboring under the delusion that an MC either acts like a DJ (like MC Scratch) or merely offers encouragement, instructions, and criticism to DJs. Kids who cut up a storm will hear a voice praise them for "Keepin' the party jumpin!'" Players who fuck up are told, "It ain't happening," a nice way of saying "You suck."
Harry Potter Iced Pumpkin Drink Maker
($12.99, from $22.99)
The good folks at Mattel help battle childhood obesity with the Harry Potter Iced Pumpkin Drink Maker, which forces kids to put in an afternoon of hard labor for every vile, sludgy, vaguely sno-cone-like "wizard treat" they produce. If nothing else, it's a litmus test: If your kids can not only stomach the idea of a pumpkin-flavored "slush drink," but are also willing to spend hours running ice through a pencil sharpener in order to get one–and are willing to eat it even after it drips through the bottom of what looks like a constipated jack-o'-lantern–then they're damn well destined to grow up fat. Which, coincidentally, will give them a good start on being alienated, misunderstood outcasts, just like Harry Potter.
Chicken Soup For The Teenage Soul Plush Dolls
($3.99, from $5.99)
Nothing provides moral support and uplift to addled, emotionally adrift adolescents quite like floppy beanbag dolls. This two-doll set (bespectacled teacher and backpack-wearing student, each with a Chicken Soup For The Soul shirt) comes with a mini-booklet telling the story of an unattractive, unappreciated teacher whose students assaulted her with a pie. Much later, once it was too late to share the revelation, the author realized that the teacher's classes had been inspiring. Teenagers who still play with dolls can use their Chicken Soup For The Soul plushies to act out this depressing, anomie-inducing scenario on their own. Pie not included.