All Original Toy Concepts, Written and Photographic content is Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT
“Roly Pokeys” was a long shot. It was not a great idea to begin with, and, in the end, did not succeed. But there is something pleasant about the drawing, so, I will include it here. The fact is, I am really enjoying finding all these pieces of lost artwork that are scattered everywhere. As I discover one mislaid artifact after another, I’m gathering them together, scanning what I can, and placing all the artwork in large cartons, so, if I, or anyone, should ever want to look at any of this stuff again, one will know, if not exactly where it is, at least, where to begin to look for it.
This humble Roly Pokey drawing grew out of our involvement with Basic Fun, and the windup projects that we developed, for a while, with them. The best of these efforts was Wicked Windups, and even as I write this I am still gathering the stuff that I will need to give them a respectful showing here. It was a small project , but one that was more fun than Snoopy.
While we were working on the above, Basic Fun mentioned that they had acquired the license to do products related to Pokémon, which was then just beginning to invade the USA. I remember watching this onslaught of small creatures from Japan, with both awe and trepidation. The appeared to be part of a new trend that did not bode well for the likes of yours truly, and other toy inventors in the USA. The days when an American could show a toy company a simple sketch and hope that they would develop it into a product line were coming to an end. Who could compete with the mind boggling tsunami of readymade licensed properties, that had already become fads in Japan? These properties arrived, complete with a finished toy line, and several years of TV in the can.
Around this time, I had been working on another of my monumental failures, a short lived, but enormous windup toy project with Playmates, called, “Fuzzy Buzzies.” The concept involved insects, which anyone who has ever tried to create a property based on bugs, has learned the hard way, is a bad idea to begin with. Among the denizens of this small universe were a group of “Baby Buggies”, as cute, or so the saying goes, as a bug’s ear.
Among the mass of wasted sketches, was one called, “Roly Poly Baby Buggies.”
Now, in a flash of inspiration, I translated the Roly Poly Baby Buggies into Pikachu and his Pokémon friends, and called them “Roly Pokeys.” Roly Pokeys were quite round in shape, and had a counter weighted windup motor, inside them, that, when wound, by means of a pull string on each figure’s tummy, caused the Roly Pokeys to rock and roll with gusto. At the same time, their heads, like Linda Blair’s, rotated 360 degrees.
Then, attempting to emulate restraint and tasteful understatement, in the style of all things Japanese, I colored the drawing with Magic Markers.
Last of all, I labeled everything clearly, to make the concept self-explanatory, and sent the art to Basic Fun, along with several other drawings that pictured another windup concept, called “Noddlers,” a product that we all thought was a sure winner.
Alas, a few days later, in the great tradition of toy invention, we got both concepts back again.