Every year, tireless A.V. Club representatives stalk the aisles of toy stores, seeking out the most economical gifts for the most economical holiday gift-givers. Staring at all those poorly made stuffed animals and badly modeled action figures can be demoralizing, especially when they stare back pleadingly with their thoroughly unloved, soulless, sloppily painted eyes. But we persevere on behalf of you and those loved ones whom you don't love too lavishly. Once again, The A.V. Club presents its annual guide to the best gifts that very little money can buy.
Thunderbolt Android Realistic ($5.00, from $12.99)
What kind of mind-blowing features does a five-dollar robot have to offer? How does the packaging's bold promise of "sliding forward action" grab ya? Pretty exciting, huh? Then how about the wildly dissimilar "walking action"? Most exhilaratingly, Thunderbolt Android Realistic features "Many colours freely selected by you"! Apparently written by Yoda the box's stilted copy was. It's hard to say exactly what makes the Thunderbolt Android realistic, but it probably has something to do with his giant light-up laser guns, plus the golden helmet that looks unnervingly like a science-fiction version of the headsets worn by drive-in employees at fast-food restaurants.
Preeminent Car ($1, from $1.99)
Ah, crappy Chinese knockoffs. What would the annual Cheap Toy Roundup be without you? For one thing, it'd be a lot shorter on hilarious items like the charmingly confusing "Preeminent Car." Silly Chinese toy manufacturers, that isn't a car, it's a little plastic tour bus. Maybe the flowery stickers on the side proclaiming it to be "Beautiful Fashion Set Super Sweet Motorbus" should have been a hint. On the other hand, the manufacturers apparently aren't too alert, as they somehow missed the photos of Barbie on the top of the bus, and enthusiastically labeled Preeminent Car as "100% New Concept." Still, Preeminent Car's best feature by far is the little plastic "Line Control" device connected to it with a wire, so that while your child is pretending she's playing with an actual Barbie Tour Bus instead of a bargain-basement dollar version, she can also pretend it has a functional remote control. But hey, aren't good toys all about encouraging kids to exercise their creativity?
Shot Botz Marble Man ($.99)
The Shot Botz Marble Man is a cute enough little guy, with his off-kilter smile, wild eyes, fancy black armor, and hollow chest. But beware, because with the proper application of marble to chest hole, and with the push of a plastic back-plunger, Marble Man can fire a projectile upward of a foot and a half. The package comes with two extra marbles, to replace the ones that will inevitably roll under the refrigerator. Or kids can just substitute the glass eyes they'll need after they shoot one of their own out.
Paw Pens ($1.19, from $3.99)
There's nothing quite as fluffy and loveable as a cute little teddy bear… being impaled on a fuzzy-wuzzy widdle stake that's half as wide as its tormented, distorted body. Or is this adorable little teddy just disturbingly well-endowed? You be the judge.
Star Wars Battle Buddies: Darth Vader ($14.99, from $19.99)
Over the course of the Star Wars epic, Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader has been everything from an obnoxious brat to a tormented hero to the personification of evil. With Hasbro's Battle Buddies soft, huggable Darth Vader doll, he assumes a brazen new identity as every child's beloved cuddle-buddy. Give ol' Vader a big hug and he breathes malevolently like a four-pack-a-day smoker, or coos adorable phrases like "You don't know the power of the dark side." That's just too precious! He's the cold-blooded intergalactic mass murderer your child will want to crawl into bed with every night!
Fun With Candles
Fun With Sand ($1.99 each)
It's never too early to urge children to take a deep, calming breath and relax. Ergo these two craft kits, which let kids tap into the Zen within. Imagine the palliative effect of molding lightly scented wax into a pretty butterfly. And then setting it on fire. Or imagine the inner peace that comes from carefully pouring colored sand into quaint pastoral scenes. And then accidentally knocking it into the shag carpet. The little ones will be blissed out, while their parents will be extra-nervous.
MegaBloks Dragons: Spell Casters Unleash ($4.79, from $8.99)
The awkward name of this particular MegaBloks Dragons tableau is "Spell Casters Unleash," but it looks more like "Hangover Dragon Disaster." Atop a plastic perch, a shriveled-looking dragon vomits forth a plastic mass of what's probably supposed to be fire, but looks more like a long evening's worth of partially digested Harvey Wallbangers. Below, a bald, irked-looking warrior hides under what's probably supposed to be a magic shield, but looks more like an umbrella, a.k.a. the latest in anti-dragon-barf technology. Not included with this playset: empty booze bottles, a little shriveled plastic AA handbook, and some dragon-sized Alka Seltzer.
Barbie: Posh Pets ($2.99)
It would be untoward for Barbie to have a baby, but what if her cute little kitty had a cute little kitten? And what if the little kitten had a little bib and a little sippy cup, and a little stroller that bounces up and down when mommy kitty pushes it? Imagine the little kittybaby cutting its first tooth, or uttering its first "meow." Imagine the mommykitty mashing up an anthropomorphic mouse into a bowl for baby to eat. Cute, cute, cute!
My Scene: Hudson ($8.99, from $16.99)
Don't get it twisted: blandly hunky My Scene teen dream Hudson comes with a soccer ball, trophy, and wife-beater shirt, but he ain't about perpetuating no lazy stereotypes, fool. "Being an athlete doesn't mean you have to be a jock, know what I'm saying?" he pleads on the back of his box in his signature Wafrican-American version o' Ebonics. He goes on to explain that he plays in a co-ed league with "some total hotties." What kind of total hotties? "This girl Madison," for starters. Then, in a daring rhetorical move, Hudson shifts to addressing Madison directly: "Wassup, girl?" That's some seriously dope flava you're kickin' there, Hudson! Madison won't be able to resist your smooth moves. The back of the box goes on to insist that Hudson and the rest of his My Scene boyz are "Street cause they wannabe, fresh 'cause they have to be."
Star Wars: Jedi Force: Han Solo With Jet Bike ($6.89, from $10.99)
The Han Solo Jedi Force action figure comes with a sweet-ass jet bike for Han to tool around on as he explores the universe. But in order to accommodate the bike's contours, he unfortunately boasts freakishly large hands, and feet roughly twice as large as his unnervingly tiny head. It's the toy-world version of adaptation taken to its terrifying extreme!
Adorable Dalmatians Bop Bag ($2.99)
There aren't quite 101 dalmatians on this punchable inflatable tube, but any similarities between these smiling spotted dogs and those in a certain Disney cartoon are purely intentional. The more urgent question: What kind of person would take the time to blow up this toy, just for the satisfaction of socking a friendly dog? (That is, aside from everyone who saw the Disney live-action remakes?)
Stretchy Body Bits ($1.19, from $2.99)
In spite of the package's educational, upbeat blurb about the importance of maintaining a "body working as a healthy whole," this sack of miniature rubbery severed body parts–an ear, nose, hand, and foot–looks more like some murderous psychopath missed a few chunks when hiding his latest crop of dismembered corpses in a distinctly unhealthy hole. At least he's an equal-opportunity murderer, judging from the variety of skin colors on display in his leftovers bin.
Caroling Kids ($9.99, from $19.99)
In spite of her awkwardly huge feet, ill-fitting clothing, disturbingly stiff posture, creepy fake hair, and eerily flat face, this Caroling Kid–one of a collectable series–is still a source of fun for the whole family. Pop some popcorn, kindle a blaze in the ol' fireplace, and then settle in for a warm family game of "What Does That Hideous Expression Remind You Of?" Edvard Munch's The Scream? The stretchy plastic-faced vampires from Van Helsing? Nah… she really looks more like a blow-up sex doll. One that jerks back and forth and sings "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" when you poke her hand.
1 Modern Circle: Barbie Producer ($9.99, from $28.99)
At this point in her auspicious career, Barbie has toiled in every trade short of truck-stop hooker. The 1 Modern Circle Barbie Producer doll thrillingly reintroduces Barbie as an "indie film producer looking to cast her leading man." The back of the box offers a tantalizing glimpse into Barbie's life: "Barbie immediately turns to her trusted assistant Melody and says 'Melody, your priority is to set up interviews with prospective additional crew.'" Can your child handle the excitement? Producer Barbie, the Christine Vachon of the doll world, comes with a laptop, midriff-baring outfit, and cell phone to hurl angrily at Melody's stupid fucking head after she forgets to pick up Barbie's toy poodle from the groomer.
Clothes That Went To A Party DVD
Film! Film! Film! DVD ($2 each, from $7.99)
Inexplicable, yet appealingly cheap, Media Movies & More's cut-rate DVD collection includes such familiar, beloved, grainily reproduced childhood fables as The Little Mermaid, Snow White, Hansel And Gretel, and, er, Clothes That Went To A Party. No word yet on the availability of the sequel, Shoes That Stayed Home And Got Miserably, Stinking Drunk On Their Own. Attempts to actually view and comprehend Clothes That Went To A Party were baffled by a disc so flawed that it won't play past the first excruciating 11 seconds. Attempts to view another MMM title, Film! Film! Film! (or, as the title song puts it, "Feeeeeeelm, feeeeeeelm, feeeeeeelm!") were more successful in that the DVD played, but less successful in that The A.V. Club actually ended up watching it. Brrrr.
Battery Operated Jungle Hunt ($4.99)
The problem with Whack-A-Mole is that even after the player conks those little critters on the head, they just return to their holes and come back refreshed. There's no such problem with Battery Operated Jungle Hunt, which employs a little suction-cup mallet that plucks tiny lions and hippos from their plastic habitat and removes them for good. It's like a little safari, or an illustration of what globalization has wrought.
Fairy Princess ($1, from $1.99)
Fairy-princess accoutrements of yesteryear: A poofy dress, a tiara, a wand, maybe some fairy wings. Fairy-princess accoutrements of today: A fake pink plastic cell phone and a couple of hairclips shaped like clunky, uncomfortable shoes. With, um, fairy wings on them. Oh, the magic!
Hot Wheels Auto Showroom ($5.99)
Who needs thrill-a-minute racetracks with loops, banks, ramps, and accelerators, when you can recreate the equally nerve-wracking experience of walking into an auto dealership? Watch the cars swivel on the dais! Use the car lift to deliver them to the showroom floor! Go into the sales office to discuss credit terms! (Yes, there's a sales office.) For added realism, walk away without buying anything. Awesome! You've just wasted everyone's time.