All Original Toy Concepts, Written and Photographic content is Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT
Their claim to fame was a never-ending series of keychains, most of which featured miniaturized working versions of well-known classic toys and games. I believe my partners first met them when Basic Fun produced a perfect miniature of their father’s iconic Colorforms Toy, “Basic Shapes.”
Soon, they developed an ongoing relationship. And Basic Fun proved to be fun to work with. They offered us several opportunities: The first being a series of Monster Windup Toys that were crafted beautifully, and quite amazing. They did a fabulous job executing these. Their team overseas was the best I encountered in the toy industry. I’ll write about the "Wicked Windups" here, eventually. This led to an invitation to conceive a series of windup toys that featured all the Peanuts characters, but mostly Snoopy.
“Basic Fun” was a bright young toy company, born in 1991. They appeared to be open to trying anything unique. They manufactured a wide variety of items that one might classify as novelties. Their fast growing inventory of chatskis reminded me of the Johnson Smith Company, brought up to date.
My direct line of communication with Basic Fun, was with one of the owners, a nice guy, named, Mike. I’d forgotten his last name. To tell the truth, I forgot his first name, too, but it was on the informal correspondence that I found recently. Mike’s response was very positive. So, we began a back and forth conversation, in words and pictures. Some of the words are below.
And here are some of the pictures! There were more. Hopefully, I will find them later. The first sketch represents one of the items that Basic Fun would actually come to produce. Snoopy and Woodstock playing ice hockey in Woodstock’s birdbath. This is an action right out of the comic strip. It was a natural for a wind up.
Other ideas were not as easy to come up with. Snoopy and his Peanuts friends didn’t do a lot in the comic strip, but talk, talk, talk. And, in previous attempts to create Snoopy windups, of which there had been many, all he did was walk, walk, walk
To be perfectly honest, I had completely forgotten ever working on this project, until I came across these drawings, last week. This was, no doubt, because I didn't have to actually sculpt anything. I just supplied some drawings, and then, my role was done. An able team of artisans, in China, carried on from there.
Working with Basic Fun on Wicked Windups, proved to be such a great experience that they just sort of assumed that I would be the perfect person to design the Peanuts windups. They had already procured the license, and they offered us a full royalty for my help. Would that all toy negotiations were this easy! Therefore, to begin with, I submitted a drawing of three potential items, all featuring Snoopy’s doghouse with a windup mechanism, inside, and Snoopy on the rooftop. Then, I added an overlay with explanatory type. The lettering appears when you move your “Mouse Over” the image.
I tried to come up with concepts that had a subtle twist.
Apparently, Mike didn’t bite for this on the first drawing, so, I tried again. I thought it would be adorable with the typewriter going, “Ding!”
When I discovered these drawings, last week, I looked up Snoopy Wind-Ups on the internet. Low and behold! There were two toys I designed there that I remember vividly. I never received any samples of these, twenty-five years ago, nor have I ever seen them in person. I wonder if KISCOM got samples, and forgot to give me any? Now, here they were on eBay, advertised as, “Buy It Now!” So, unable to resist the sudden urge to Buy It Now, I did!
They were something of a revelation to me: First of all, I noticed that Basic Fun arbitrarily added keychains. I guess, the thinking might have been to make them seem like part of their traditional line. This was, of course, pure marketing. No one would be likely to carry a sizeable windup toy in their pocket, attached to a bunch of keys. These really are not keychains; they are simply windup novelties. Secondly, I see that the back of the packages read: “Collect both of these!”
That poses a mystery. I’m certain there were more than just two windups in the series. Years ago, when I first got a computer, I frequently saw others, advertised online. The repertoire also included Snoopy, walking with a dinner dish, Linus playing the Piano, (without Snoopy) and Charlie Brown, kicking a football. Back then, they were all available.
Snoopy on his doghouse is quite conventional. One might even call it dull.
But Snoopy and Woodstock, playing hockey is adorable, if I do say so myself!
When I sent away for these, a note of irony occurred to me: It’s been many years since I bought myself a toy, be it new, or antique. Now here I was for the first, and, perhaps, the final time, purchasing toys that I designed, and should have got for free.