Author Archives: Shawn Robare

Reclaiming another small piece of my childhood…

I think it might surprise folks that I don’t have a huge collection of vintage toys from the 80s.  Almost none of my original toys made it through the plethora of family moves throughout the 90s (my parents secretly disposed of most of my childhood things claiming they were lost), the the few pieces that survived were either foolishly destroyed or traded away.  It didn’t help matters that as a kid I was always a “trader” swapping toys with friends as a means of getting stuff my parents didn’t gift me on birthdays and Christmas.  My history is littered with boneheaded toy transactions where I was most assuredly on the losing end of the bargain.

Case in point, my rash decision at age 12 to trade a garbage bag full of my Transformers for a Hot Wheels Rally Case full of about  40 Micro Machines cars and planes.  For some reason my parents ignored my pleas for some of these, and the rad commercials staring John Moschitta were driving me crazy with tiny vehicle lust.  Since I never had an allowance until in my later teen years, there was no way I could buy these on my own (40 MM, at $4 per pack of 5, works out to about $32 which to me at the time was nearing Scrooge McDuck net worth territory.)  So it made perfect sense to trade almost all of my transformers.  What did I give up?  Optimus Prime, Red Alert, Ironhide, Ratchet, Inferno, Sideswipe, Swoop, Soundwave, Buzzsaw, Dirge, Shrapnel, Kickback, Bombshell, Crosshairs, all five Terrorcons, a couple of Stunticons, Wreckgar, Beachcomber, Brawn, Warpath, Cliffjumper, and all of Computron.  Easily $250 worth of toys for a measly handful of Micro Machines.  I’m super glad my parents never found out (or let me know if they did uncover my black market toy swaps.)  For years I’d regretted it, and it wasn’t until the past six or seven years that I was able to come to terms with it after replacing a few of these toys with some Toys R Us reissues.  But there are a bunch of Transformers what weren’t put out again, and have been way too over-priced to even contemplate picking up mint on card or MIB.  This past weekend though, after visiting a toy store I thought was no longer open, I finally managed to reconnect with another of these lost Transformers (well, sort of.)

Afterburner 1

While browsing the tiny, impossibly cramped vintage toy shop I locked eyes with one of my favorite Transformers, Computron’s right arm, the Techobot Afterburner.  I’m not sure whether it’s his Tron-esque design, the cool looking white canopy/cockpit, the orange color scheme or the simple fact that he was one of the rare 80s era motorcycle toys, but Afterburner has always been burned into my psyche as a childhood favorite toy.  When I saw this carded figure I had to have it and was temporarily blinded by the fact that the bubble had been lifter and he was missing his rad pulse cannon.

Afterburner 4

Honestly, I didn’t care all that much because missing pieces or not, this was still a brand new Afterburner complete with card.  I’ve mentioned in the past that I have some weird issues when it comes to “buying back my childhood” and how I’m not all that keen on acquiring vintage opened toys as they’re essentially someone else’s memories.  Sure, we all share the common pop culture pool of toys and cartoons which binds us in a sense, but the specific toys that were loved and played with are very individual.  So when I happen upon old/new stock at a reasonable price it’s like having my birthday and Christmas all rolled up in one.  Extra added bonus with this particular Afterburner is that it was also packaged with a Transformers Decoy minifig, something I never had and have always wanted.  Win Win!

Afterburner 2

I immediately purchased the figure and the first thing I did on the way to the car was take a snapshot to share on instagram, twitter and facebook.  Inevitably the question came up about whether I intended to open the figure or to keep him (relatively) sealed.  Well I ended up opening him and here’s why…

Afterburner 3

First of all, the card and bubble weren’t in the best shape, and the bubble had been lifted further off the card that I realized initially (in my excitement I didn’t inspect it too closely, I just assumed the one pulse cannon had been removed.)  That alone would have bugged me, what with the staples used to close the bottom bubble and all.  More importantly I just really wanted to hold the toy again and to transform and pose him.  So I took out my sharpest knife and proceeded to cut away the portions of the bubble that weren’t glued down to free my new treasure…

Well, it was mush to my chagrin after opening Afterburner when I realized that this was not an almost mint on card toy.  In fact, this was a well played with and kinda grungy figure!  I should have realized this as the stickers had already been placed on the toy, but I really figured it out when I took him out and the side of the toy that was facing inward towards the card was dirty as all hell.  There was some sort of sticky gunk in the wheel well and there were years of dust and dirt in the crevasses.  Sigh.  I’m 95% sure this specific figure and card weren’t originally together either.  If I had to guess, the shop owner found the card with the bubble, weapons, and Decoy attached and put in a loose Afterburner he had on hand.  The fact that the one side was all clean sort of confirms that for me.  Am I pissed?  No.  But it confirmed that my decision to open the toy was the best bet.

Afterburner 7

Not only was the toy dirty, but he was a bitch and a half to transform.  I thought for certain that I was going to snap it in half while trying to bend the waist joint.  Judging by what looks like some super glue residue at the base of his head (which doubles as the connecting pin for attaching it as Computron’s arm), the head/neck piece was also broken and glued back on.  Still though, after I cleaned him up and very gingerly transformed him I did get a little thrill and it felt nice to hold him in my hands almost 25 years after stupidly giving him up.  Seriously, is his alt mode not the coolest toy motorcycle since Condor from M.A.S.K?

Afterburner 5

Afterburner 8

Luckily I was able to preserve his cardback and the inserts.  Because the package came from a Decoy edition, it was packed with a mini fold out comic which is really fun.  There was also a mail in form for Reflector (something I’ve coveted for years), as well as instructions on how to form Computron.  Isn’t this card artwork just the coolest?!?  I’m so happy that a nice hardcover book featuring Transformers box art is coming out in May (I’ve already pre-ordered my copy!)

Transformers Afterburner Cardback 1987 front

Transformers Afterburner Cardback 1987

Here’s the Decoy minicomic…

Transformers Decoy mini comic 1987 2

Transformers Decoy mini comic 1987 1

And that rad Reflector mail-away…

Transformers Reflector Mailaway 2 1987

Transformers Reflector Mailaway 1 1987

Only 2 Robot Points huh?  Well, I guess I only need one and a half more!!!

Transformers Robot Points 1987

Lastly, for anyone curious about how to form Computron, here you go…

Transformers Computron Instructions

I sure would love to have the other 4 figures to be able to form the full Computron again.  Since this Afterburner was originally someone else’s memory maybe I’ll be able to make an exception and pick up some opened figures.  Who knows.  Maybe someday…

Afterburner 6

Punching in for 9 to 5 Warriors

One of the really cool aspects of the 80s/90s era nostalgia boom is getting a chance to see certain aspects and pop culture fads of the past re-embraced.  Sure, it’s cool when popular brands make a comeback, like all of the 80s cartoons and toy lines, but what I get a little more excited about is when more general (yet specific) aspects of these properties are revived.  Like when the 25th anniversary G.I. Joe figures were released by Hasbro and they brought back the painted package art for the figures or when some recent horror movies had special VHS edition releases or packaging.  Granted, there are usually good reasons why companies have moved on from some of these things (better technology, cheaper production, etc), but it’s always fun when they or the community gives a nod back to what came before.  One of the really cool things that’s been making a resurgence over the last five years or so has been wax wrapper packaging for trading cards.  Though the major card companies aren’t embracing this per-se, I’ve seen a lot of third-parties embracing it.  Whether it’s the super awesome dust covers on the Abrams Topps books (like the Garbage Pail Kids, Wacky Packages, or Mars Attacks volumes) or the interest in using vintage wax packs as either bonus swag shipped with orders (very common when you order from nostalgia-minded companies like 8-Bit Zombie.)  Heck, there are also folks selling these as the main product itself, like my good friend Tommy’s rad Boxsome (where you can build your own gift bag of vintage trading card packs.)

What’s been really exciting is watching as this has evolved from a nostalgic look backwards into an integration in all new art, which is what the talented Brandon Braswell is doing which is new project 9 to 5 Warriors!

9to5warriros

Taking his inspiration from 80s/90s era cartoons, trading cards and minifigures, Brandon has created his own story about the epic struggle between good and evil and he’s utilizing vintage merchandising and packaging to get that story across.  So what’s the story?  I’ll let Brandon spell it out…

“A warm cup of joe isn’t the only thing brewing inside the cubicles of McMillians Plastic Co, underneath the desks is a full scale war between the Water Cooler Commandos (W.C.C.) and the Break Room Bandits. During regular business hours, these 9 to 5 Warriors move in the shadows but when it’s quitting time, the real work begins. It all started when a can of Jinsei, a potent foreign energy drink, is accidentally spilled onto a surge protector that sparks life into a trash can full of discarded supplies and food. Soon after coming into existence, the group of 10 split into 2 factions of 5.

Led by the battle-hardened Major Eraser, a supply known to fix any mistake, The W.C.C. puts in the overtime to thwart the evil mastermind of the Bandits, Colonel Custard. This ‘Mad Dough’ is hell bent on total office domination after realizing the power of ‘Jinsei’. Now he and his rotten goons search the office for every last drop, creating new and loyal soldiers along the way. Will the Commandos sweep the office free of leftover trash, or will the Bandits reign supreme and retire the supplies for good? Only time will tell…

When you punch out, they come punching in.  They’re the 9 to 5 Warriors!”

9to5warriors2s

The first product to launch are the vintage-style trading cards complete with awesomely authentic wax wrappers…

9to5Warriors 4

I love the attention to detail Brandon has put into these trading cards from the coffee cup numbering to the stylized character borders on the cardbacks.

9to5Warriors 5

The coup de grâce are the way the trading cards were shipped out complete with pencil shavings, misc. office supplies, sugar packets and sticky notes!

9to5Warriors 1

These trading card packs are seriously awesome and I love that there’s a who new story to experience collecting one card at a time.  Opening these up I was getting flashbacks of what it was like getting into Garbage Pail Kids and Zero Heroes as a kid.  I love the homages to toys like the Food Fighters, movies like Small Soldiers, and the off the wall action humor that reminds me so much of cartoons like The Tick and Freakazoid!  You can really see that in the animated cartoon intro that Brandon created as well…

That theme song is totally stuck in my head.  I’m really stoked to see where Brandon and company are going to take the 9 to 5 Warriors, in particular the mini figure line that’s planned.  I can also imagine this making for a great series of 5 minute cartoon shorts as well.  So head on over and like their facebook page, check out the site and more importantly pick up some of the trading cards and start collecting the 9 to 5 Warriors!

Did I mention that all of the wax packs are sorted and sealed by hand!

Getting Slimed by the Oral History of Nickelodeon…

Sometimes it’s really hard to find the balance between being a fan of something and being, well, fanatical. I’m not making a judgment call on one being better or worse, it’s more of a perspective thing; how often times I have a hard time knowing where the line is between wading out far enough into the pop culture sea to swim and where it begins to get so deep that I’m constantly worried about drowning in useless knowledge. I’ve been thinking about this idea a lot while reading the recently published book, Slimed!: An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age by Mathew Klickstein. When I saw the book on Amazon I immediately put it on my wish list as I’m a huge fan of Nick, particularly the stuff that aired between ’81-’95 or so. I grew up on the fledgling channel’s syndicated content like Pinwheel, Mr. Wizard’s World, Out of Control, Danger Mouse, Count Duckula, Paddington Bear, and You Can’t Do That on Television, and loved the shift into original programming in the mid to late 80s through the 90s with stuff like Double Dare, Nick Arcade, Hey Dude, Welcome Freshman, Salute Your Shorts, The Adventures of Pete & Pete, and Clarissa Explains It All, not to mention their groundbreaking foray into animation with shows like Rugrats, Ren & Stimpy, Doug, and Rocko’s Modern Life. I was lucky to be one of the kids with access to cable in the early 80s and had a chance to watch the network blossom from a very independent-minded kids channel into the juggernaut of a brand that it is today.

Slimed

I was super stoked when my parents sent me the book for Christmas and immediately tore into it looking for the story behind the network and shows I loved so much as a kid. But after only a few pages I noticed something that really started to bug me, specifically with the format the author chose to deliver the history of Nickelodeon, the “oral history”. For those unfamiliar, oral histories utilize firsthand accounts on a subject via interviews with those who were intimately involved. Whether it’s using vintage print or video interviews, or new ones with pointed questions to document a specific period of time or event, the idea is to capture the thoughts and feelings unfiltered by a single person’s perspective (outside of editing of course.) Though information gathered in this manner is still biased from interviewee to interviewee, a balance forms as more and more subjects are brought in to speak on a particular subject. Though the technique is far from new, there have been a bunch of books utilizing this format to tackle sprawling subjects like the birth and rise of punk rock (Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain’s Please Kill Me), the Post Punk music landscape (Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life), or the history of Saturday Night Live (Tom Shale’s Live From New York.) These books range from brilliant (Please Kill Me) to brilliant train wrecks (Live From New York), with much of the praise or problems falling squarely on how well organized the information is presented. You see these books are largely if not completely a collection of attributed quotes; page after page of snippets strung together by theme or timeline (or both), with little to no summation by the author/editor. In the case of Please Kill Me, McNeil and McCain exhaustively separate the interview snippets in bite-size four-year chunks, sub-categorized by theme (or band.) Though there is an appendix listing every participating interviewee and how they fit into the story of punk, the way they’re presented you get to know these contributors and the need to flip to the end of the book to figure out who is speaking is rare. On the other end of the spectrum you have Live From New York, which flits from topic to topic with little to no connective tissues between interview blurbs.

Unfortunately Slimed! falls into the category of brilliant train wreck. How many of you recognize the laundry list of shows I mentioned in the opening paragraph? Okay, for all those that raised their hand, how many of you can name the actual actors, voice actors, animators, directors and producers on more than one of those shows? I’m betting a lot of those hands dropped. I hardly consider myself a Nick historian, but after a bunch of conversations with friends I’ve found that I’ve managed to remember way more stuff about the channel than I probably should know. But if my life depended on naming anyone in the cast of Clarissa Explains It All besides Melissa Joan Hart, well, let’s just say I’d be price-shopping for cheap cremations. This is the first place where this book falls down. Though there is a detailed alphabetically ordered list of interviewees at the back of the book, I found myself constantly flipping to the back to figure out who was talking. Though the author goes to pains to defend his formatting choices (specifically in response to any 1-3 star reviews on Amazon that mention the formatting issues) stating that he put a lot of thought into trying to make sure each person’s opening quote mentioned any pertinent shows they were involved in, I think he’s deluded himself into thinking that the readers are as versed in Nickelodeon as he’s become over conducting the numerous interviews and research to put the book together. Klickstein goes on to champion the “oral history” format by mentioning the thematic threads in the seven chapters of the book (target demographics, music & sound design, visual design, diversity in cast & crew, problems at the network, and the end of the pre-corporate era) and how they supposedly help to keep the reader engaged in the “story of Nickelodeon”, any tonal threads he attempts to weave are dashed by the reader consistently having to flip to the back to figure out who is talking, and about which show. The author/editor references McNeil and McCain’s Please Kill Me numerous times (in the acknowledgements and in responses to reviews on Amazon) as the gold standard and what he took inspiration from when formatting his Nick history. Unfortunately he seems to have missed the forest for the trees as he utilizes little to none of the clear organization of that book. PKM goes year by year, band by band, whereas Slimed! constantly jumps around throughout the 80s and 90s, and never stays on a show for more than a quote or two at a time. While he would like to think that the thematical separation addresses this, the first three chapters have a ton of overlap that makes the initial hundred pages annoying to try and follow.

The formatting issue is compounded by Klickstein’s reluctance to insert his presence into the book as the interviewer. With absolutely no summary or synopsis to lead the interviewee responses the reader is left with only the very general themed topics to try and figure out what the conversation is driving at during a good chunk of the book. There are things brought up that aren’t explained, like the failed Clarissa sequel series pilot called Clarissa Now or references to people who weren’t interviewed (and thus not given a bio in the book), which requires some time spent on Wikipedia to fill in the gaps that the book just does not even bother to try addressing. There are also frequent points in which the quotes reference the inferred questions Klickstein asked, which makes it awkward when you’re left guessing exactly what that question is.  I find it hard to believe that the idea of ordering the quotes by year or grouping them show by show (or at least adding a series annotation by each quote instead of just the name of the person speaking) would have hurt the narrative flow of the book that Klickstein is trying to establish.

For all my nit picking about format, I want to stress that this book is a “brilliant” train wreck. Just because it’s super annoying to try and sift through, doesn’t mean that it’s not well worth the time as it’s chock full of interesting facts and observations from the folks that brought Nickelodeon to life. There’s some great background on You Can’t Do That On Television that wasn’t covered in David Dillehunt’s documentary (You Can’t Do That On Film), as well as some amazing behind the scenes stories about that first wave of Nicktoons (particularly Doug which is a show that seems to get lost between the insanity of Ren & Stimpy and the popularity of Rugrats.) I loved reading about the thought put into the Double Dare obstacle course, how ahead of its time Nick Arcade was, finding out about the awkward teenage romance and breakups behind the scenes of shows like Hey Dude, Clarissa Explains It All and Welcome Freshman. Did you know Michael “Donkey Lips” Bower actually broke that fishing reel in the credits sequence of Salute Your Shorts (and ending up ad-libbing the line about it falling apart?) The book is a treasure trove of fun trivia and helps to pull the curtain back on the shows and a network that helped to define our collective childhoods. It’s just unfortunate that getting through it all is a lot like reading stereo instructions.

Though I wish the formatting had kept the reader in mind, and it would have been nice to get more information oon the ’79-’85 Nick lineup of series (it barely mentions stuff like Pinwheel, Out of Control, Mr. Wizard’s World or the slew of other early shows, and completely omits Turkey Television, Belle and Sebastian, The Mysterious Cities of Gold and The Little Prince), I’d have to recommend the book on the trivia alone.  If you’re a fan of the channel and don’t mind risking a case of carpel tunnel after flipping to the back of the book six billion times, check out Slimed!: An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age

Awesome 80s Bedrooms: Pee Wee’s Big Adventure Edition

In my quest to search through and document all the fun junk in 80s era pop culture bedrooms there are a few films that I thought I was going to have to skip over because I figured there wouldn’t be much fun 80s stuff.  Like say, Stand By Me, which features a scene in Gordie’s room, but being set in 1959 it kind of rules itself out in terms of rad 80s stuff.  Similarly I knew that there was a super cool room in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure but honestly I didn’t remember much in the way of stuff that would make much sense to talk about here.  I mean Pee Wee, and most likely Tim Burton, is really deep into the whole kitsch movement of collecting and decorating (he’s close friends with Allee Willis, the Queen of Kitsch), and a lot of that stuff hails from the 50s, 60s, and 70s.  Sure, there are definitely things in the 80s that would eventually become kitsch, but I figured they’s be largely absent from his room.  Well, I stuck the film in the other night just to scope out his room anyway, and I was surprised by a handful of the items I saw laying around and figured, what the heck, lets dissect Pee Wee’s bedroom…

Pee Wees Big Adventure

Before I get into, I just want to say that I’m not documenting every single thing in the room (or house as lets be realistic here, that whole place is worthy of dissection.)  For one, there’s just too much stuff, and for another, a lot of it is pretty much beyond the scope of this site and my pop culture knowledge.  I will try and point out a couple things from the 50s and 60s I recognize, but I’m not gonna beat myself up over missing stuff…

pee wee 2

1). Ultraman, Godzilla and some T-Rex plastic dinosaurs…

2). Zoids Gojulas (for Godzilla-esque Zoid)

zoids gojulas

3). Howdy Doody

4). Giant Stripe from LJN’s Gremlins line

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So, if I’m learning anything from some of the recent rooms I’ve been studying, it’s that the Gremlins was way more popular that I remembered.  I mean stuff shows up in The Explorers (granted, directed by Joe Dante), Goonies, and now Pee Wee’s Big Adventure!  As for the rest of the stuff in this screengrab, there’s some sort of Disney Pluto statue or toy (not sure), a giant coloring book I can’t make out, some toys in boxes on the floor and a bunch of dolls hanging from the ceiling and beams around Howdy Doody.

pee wee 1

5). Gilbert Stuart’s unfinished portrait of George Washington

gilbert-stuart-portrait-george-washington-1796

6). Giant Gumby Toy

7). Mr. Potato Head

8). Late 60′s Red Tin Batmobile

late 60s era Japanese tin Batmobile

9). Saturn Robot

Saturn Toy Robot

10). Huckleberry Hound Marionette

11). Disney Drum Set from the 70s

Disney 70s era drum set

Again, there’s a lot to process in this shot, from the evil-eyed ostrich with the African pigmy warrior on its back to the giant wooden Jack-o-lantern man sitting on the windowsill.  Looks like there’s a set of the Encyclopedia Britannica there, a weird UFO diorama, there’s a toy train around the fireman’s pole, multiple fire truck toys, and a little wooden alligator pull toy.  Again, lots to take in…

pee wee 3

12). Bambi rug

I’ll be honest, I never noticed what was on this rug because I was always transfixed by the utter cuteness of Pee Wee putting on the bunny slippers and having them go after that weird anthropomorphic carrot!  So, that’s the bulk of the stuff in his room, but I’m going to go ahead and look at a few more rooms just because there is so much fun stuff…

pee wee 4

13). Mister Action Scuba Diver (though it might be a MA Scuba outfit on another doll, not sure if these came in all sorts of varieties, with/without beard, etc.)

Mister Action Scuba Diver

14). Bugs Bunny Electric Toothbrush Set

Bugs Bunny elestric toothbrush set

Is, uh, Bugs giving me the finger?  I think he’s giving me the finger.  “Eh, brush up, Doc!” indeed…

pee wee 5

15). Planters Cheez Curls can

Planters Cheese Curls

16). E.T. metal lunchbox

ET Lunchbox

So, I wanted to point out the can of Planters Cheez Curls because, one, I miss the ever living crap out of them and used to eat them all the time, and also because I still think it’s weird to see non-nut products from Planters.  Seriously though, I prefer the Planters Cheez Curls and Balls over Cheetos any day.

So last, but certainly not least, I felt it was only appropriate to point to the super fun sprinkler system outside…

pee wee 6

17). Whammo Willy Water Bug

Whamo Willy Water Bug

So, anything I missed, or anything from a an earlier decade that you feel deserves a mention?  Oh, and I’m well aware that I left out the Mr. T cereal ’cause that one’s pretty obvious…

Other Awesome Bedrooms I’ve covered…

Sara’s Room from Adventures in Babysitting

Eugene’s Room from The Monster Squad

Mikey’s room from the Goonies

David’s room from Flight of the Navigator

Robbie’s room from Poltergeist

Ben’s room from The Explorers

Elliot’s room from E.T.

Fred Savage’s room from The Princess Bride

Josh’s room from Big

Spotting some fun stuff in the new Robo Force comic!

So, as I mentioned last month the 1980′s era toyline Robo Force has made a triumphant return with new customizable figure sets from the fine folks over at Toyfinity.  Along with this relaunch of the toys, head honcho John Kent has tapped Jerzy Drozd to help him bring the story of the new Robo Force to life with a webcomic.  The first handful of pages have begun to update and the latest page is slap full of some fun, hidden, 80s cartoon and toy homages!  I thought it would be fun to break them down and see all the cool stuff Jerzy packed in the panels…

Robo Force Comic Page Six labeled

1). First and foremost there’s a little bit of foreshadowing on this page.  In the large middle monitor you can see the shoulder spikes, arm, and chest of Robo Force villain Hun-Dred!

Roboforce 3

2). Speaking of 80s Robot Evil Villains, there is a decimated Slaughter Steelgrave on the floor.  Arch nemesis of Hot Shot from the Starriors figures by Tomy.  I’ve talked about my love for these rad interchangeable wind-up figures before

Slaughter Steelgrave

3). Now I didn’t catch this at first (I needed a hint from Jerzy to figure it out), but up in insert panel you can see the avian hood ornament from the Masters of the Universe Wind Raider!

Wind Raider

4). Speaking of cool animal-themed 80s vehicles, jutting out from underneath that insert panel is none other than one of the arms from the ThunderCats Thunder Tank!

thunder tank

5). But not all of these references are from the far flung corners of the galaxy, off to the right in that above mentioned insert panel you can catch a glimpse at part of Cobra’s Weather Dominator from G.I. Joe!

Weather Dominator

6). If you’ve been following this Robo Force comic then so far we’ve seen a very wrecked looking Wrecker and the sad sight of Maxx Zero (Maxx Steele from the original toys) in pieces.  Looks like he could use this next item to light his darkest hour, the Autobot Matrix of Leadership from the Transformers!

Autobot Matrix

7 & 8). The next two hidden items get a little more obscure and are linked to the same character.  The helmet and power staff of the villainous Cravex from the Visionaries!

Visionaries_Cravex_Cut_Bubble

9). This last hidden item made me blush, and that’s all I’m gonna say about that… ;)

So, if you’re a fan of 80s toys and haven’t had a chance to pick up one of the rad new Robo Force figure sets, keep your eyes peeled on the Toyfinty site for an announcement on the next drop of new stock.  In the meantime head on over to their comic and keep up as the story of the new Robo Force unfolds with a new page each week!  I’ve known Jerzy for a number of years, have tabled with him at conventions, talked at length with him and other friends about 80s cartoons and have loved reading his comics work over the years so believe me when I say that he’s putting his all into this new Robo Force comic and it’s well worth your attention!

 

8-Bit Christmas is the Fruitcake of 80s Nostalgia Novels…

This is the first year in a long time when I’m doing my best to get into the holiday spirit for the Christmas season. For a good portion of my life Halloween has basically been my “Christmas”, and for all intents and purposes the period between November 1st through to January 1st is usually a time when I duck my head down and try and run as fast as I can through the rest of the year trying my best not to knock down any family and friends along the way. It’s a mixture of being burnt out after celebrating a month-long Halloween, and trying to fend off the insanity that comes with trying to find the perfect gifts, visiting with a modern fractured family and trying my best not to go broke in the process. But this year? I’m going all out by letting go of my worries and embracing the holiday.

So I was pretty stoked when I was approached by DB Press to take a look at the first novel from scriptwriter Kevin Jakubowski titled 8-Bit Christmas. Being described as “…A Christmas Story for the Nintendo generation…” (by author James Frey), 8-Bit Christmas tells the story of one kid’s epic quest of Super Mario Bros. proportions to secure a NES for Christmas. Amidst flaming wreaths, speeding minivans, lost retainers, fake Santas, hot teachers, snotty sisters, “Super Bowl Shuffles” and one very naked Cabbage Patch Kid, Kevin’s book vividly weaves a nostalgic tale of Christmas magic and 8-bit glory. Honestly this book being touted as packed with 80s era Christmas nostalgia sounded like just what I needed to kick off my own attempt to embrace the holiday again.

8-bit christmas

First and foremost, 8-Bit Christmas delivers on the nostalgia. Set in the late 80s and centering on Jake Doyle, a nine year-old who covets a neighbor’s NES to the extent where it borders on single-minded stalker-level obsession, the book makes reference to practically every major pop culture aspects from the decade. The Super Bowl Shuffle, baseball card collecting, Showbiz pizza and the Rock-Afire Explosion, the Pizza Hut Book It program, KangaRoos zipper pocket shoes, Max Headroom, Members Only Jackets, Moon Boots, as well as a litany of bands, cartoons, movies, TV shows, and toys way too numerous to name. Karate Kid references? Yup, there’s more than the entire Cobra Kai can battle. Star Wars? G.I. Joe? Transformers? Go Bots? Strawberry Shortcake? Cabbage Patch Kids? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. Much like Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One before it, the novel is an outlet to celebrate all of the stuff we 30-Somethings loved so much about our 80s childhoods, and all of our hyper-collective shared experiences. If there’s one thing our generation does well, it’s bonding over the insane level of pop culture awareness and merchandising from that decade. Jakubowski does an admirable job of shoehorning in so many references, and touching on so many aspects of what it was like being a kid during that time that I’d be hard-pressed to imagine any rock he left unturned. Well, he does skip over the mentioning branded lunchboxes when comparing and contrasting packed lunches versus buying the hot tray at school. Is every reference accurate and researched? No. He fudges release dates (mentioning the Karate Kid cartoon as a favorite even though it didn’t debut until a year after the winter of ’88 when the book is set) and mashes together experiences (like listing cartoons that only aired during the after school animation blocks or on cable like Inspector Gadget, Transformers and G.I. Joe as Saturday Morning cartoons.) But when you consider the sheer volume of nostalgic references, nit picking the errors and decade blending is pretty pointless.

8-bit christmas 2

Where the book sort of falls apart for me can be summed up by James Frey’s pull quote from above which evokes the film A Christmas Story; Jakubowski doesn’t just shoot for ACS‘s tone, he basically uses it as a point-for-point outline. Whether it’s aping the aged and slightly sarcastic narration of the main character reflecting on his youth, the plot device of a kid yearning for that one specific Christmas gift and then dealing with parents that basically tell him he’ll shoot his eye out with the NES Zapper, being forced to wear an item of goofy, girly clothing, reminiscing over the old man’s curmudgeonly ways, dealing with an annoying and whiny younger sibling, battling the town bully, or using the exact turn of phrases that seem uniquely in the voice of A Christmas Story, the book starts to feel a little hollow when you get past 80s homages. This is amp-ed up by a sort of ridiculous conceit that in 1988 only one kid in an entire Illinois county has a Nintendo Entertainment System, and only because his parents are filthy stinking rich. Having grown up in a decidedly middle class family with plenty of friends on both sides of the financial spectrum, I’m having a hard time remembering many kids who DIDN’T have an NES. Amp the story up even further with a Footloose-level county-wide ban on both owning AND selling Nintendo after the system is blamed for the accidental death of a yappy dog and all the reader is left being able to relate to is the plethora of 80s references. I think the problem lies with Jakubowski slavishly relying on A Christmas Story for inspiration. He riffs on Ralphie’s obsessive daydreams in that film as a jumping off point to tell Jake Doyle’s story, but forgets that with the exception of an all out attack by a pack of wild neighbor dogs on the family’s beloved turkey and an outlandishly sexualized leg lamp, that film is pretty firmly grounded in a very believable reality. 8-Bit Christmas has its head in the clouds and packs the book so full of wacky adventures in addition to Doyle’s Nintendo obsessed daydreams, that for me it was hard to relate to the story. As a film it would probably be easier to get behind, with only an hour and a half’s investment, but spending 8 or so hours reading a book it just sort of left me a little cold. It also doesn’t help that the singular obsession with obtaining an NES overshadows most if not all of the Christmas spirit in the book. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that instead of helping me get into the mood the book kind of reinforced a lot of insanity I’ve been trying to avoid for the past 15 years.

When all is said and done, even though the story didn’t resonate with me as much as I’d hoped, I can’t help but recommend 8-Bit Christmas purely on the richness of the 80s pop culture experience. There are enough obscure observations to balance the obvious references and that alone makes the book a worthwhile read.  It’s so literally heavy and densely packed, it’s like the fruitcake of 80s nostalgia novels…

Awesome 80s Bedrooms: Goonies Edition

In my quest to document some of the awesome kid’s bedrooms from 80s flicks I’ve been kind of bummed that some of my favorite flicks don’t really have any bedroom scenes, or if they do they’re super abbreviated.  A movie like SpaceCamp only features the communal bunks at, er, Space Camp, while films like Wargames, The Wizard, and Little Monsters have super boring rooms with little to nothing to really comment on.  There are also some that are featured so quickly that it’s hard to really get a good look at anything.  Today’s awesome 80s bedroom, Mikey’s room from The Goonies, fits in that latter category, even though it’s a brief appearance there are still a handful of fun things to be spotted…

Goonies

This main shot has the bulk of the fun junk (even though there is a second shot as Mikey walks out of the room where you can see his work bench, there’s not a lot to comment on…)

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1). The Jacksons Poster clipping (most likely from their 1984 tour) *Corrected* Prince and the Revolution!  Dude, the white glove tricked me!!!  Thanks to The Navigator (as in Flight Of) for pointing out this poster clipping error!

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2). MSA All Service Gas Mask Model S.

MSA All Service Gas Mask Model S 1

3). 1984 LJN Gremlins PVC figures (featuring the Gizmo and Stripe Mogwai)

LJN Gremlins Figures

4). Tomy Zoids ZRK model

zrk

5). 1978 Superman Sheets

Superman Sheets

So there’s a handful of fun stuff in this shot.  I was really happy to spot the Zoids toy as well as the Gremlins Mogwai figures (a nice nod to Spielberg), but also the ’78 era Superman bed sheets!  Richard Donner having a past film in the set dressing is pretty rad.  There’s a bunch of magazines and comics on the dresser that are impossible to identify, as well as an interesting looking pink book that I have no idea what it is.  Also, I love the skull light on the bed post!  Speaking of magazines though…

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6). Coconut Pirate Head

7). Mad Magazine issue 227

MAD Magazine issue 227

This isn’t the only Mad magazine in the flick.  Though Mikey is looking at this issue in his room, in a moment, after he walks out and gets a pep talk from Bran, he throws himself on the couch where he picks up another issue, again making reference to Donner’s 1978 Superman film…

Goonies 1

8). Mad Magazine issue 208

Mad magazine 208

So, even though this was a really quick sequence, it illustrates that Mikey still had a pretty awesome bedroom!

So, did I miss anything?

Other Awesome Bedrooms I’ve covered…

Sara’s Room from Adventures in Babysitting

Eugene’s Room from The Monster Squad

David’s room from Flight of the Navigator

Robbie’s room from Poltergeist

Ben’s room from The Explorers

Pee Wee’s room from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure

Elliot’s room from E.T.

Fred Savage’s room from The Princess Bride

Josh’s room from Big

X-Men, Go and Save the City!!!

I’ve mentioned a few times on this site how much I love the Konami 6-Player X-Men Arcade game from 1992 (as a part of my dream arcade or while rambling about the Pryde of the X-Men Cartoon), and in general the X-Men have come up a few times (like when I was re-gifted my old comic collection or when discussing the Essential X-Men Crossover ads.)  Let’s just say that it’s a safe assumption that the X-Men were a pretty big part of my pop culture experience as a tween and teen.  In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say that I feel lucky to have grown up during some of the best years for that comic property, getting into them around 1987 and sticking with them until the departure of the main series writer, Chris Claremont, around 1991-92.  I was there for the VHS release of the very under-appreciated Sunbow pilot, Pryde of the X-Men, I remember staring slack-jawed at the pegs when the 91 Toy Biz X-Men action figures were released, and was one of six billion people who fell in love with the artwork of Jim Lee as he came onto the Uncanny X-Men comic.  But getting back to the arcade game, that game was released right as my love for the X-Men was at its height.  My small group of friends at the time were all also x-fanatics and there were a number of birthdays celebrated at a local go-cart/arcade establishment called Malibu Grand Prix where the five of us spent all of our money on that beautiful 6-player machine…

X-Men Small

If there’s one thing that I miss about the disappearance of arcades across the country it’s the ability to step up to the above machine, plunk in a bunch of quarters and kick some Brotherhood of Evil Mutant butt with Wolverine, Dazzler and Colossus.  A few years ago I had the opportunity to pick up one of these cabinets for about $500, which as I understand it is a steal, but I ended up passing based on pure logistics.  Where in the hell was I going to put this behemoth?!?  It has to weigh at least 750lbs and there is no way it would fit through my front door let alone trying to find a place for it in a 2 bedroom apartment.  No, owning one of these machines is pretty much out of the question and so I resigned myself to never getting another chance to try and take down Magneto and his minions.  Well, that’s what I thought until this past weekend when Glen Manders, the gentleman spearheading the release of the Cheestroyer vinyl toy I blogged about this past weekend, pointed out that the game is available for iPad and android tablets.  Um, HOLY CRAP!

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I was a little skeptical at first as I’m not a huge fan of playing games from the arcade or home systems ported to the iPad.  I just don’t like using the touchscreen as a d-pad, it’s not comfortable in my hands typically.  I feel the same way about emulators on the computer.  I can’t use a keyboard to play them for crap, and I’ve yet to invest in a usb controller.  Honestly I’m just not enough of a rabid gamer to bother with it, at least not to invest the $20 or so I’d have to in order to make the gaming experience more in line with what I remember as a kid.  Anyway, I went into the X-Men Arcade game app pretty skeptical.  But after messing around with the settings for a bit, I was completely won over and was sitting in amazement as I got a chance to play this long lost arcade game again…

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As I booted it up and watched the opening sequence it was like being 15 years old again…

Cut Scene 2

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Just like in the arcade you have six X-Men to choose from, Cyclops, Storm, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Colossus, and Dazzler…

X-Men

…and you play through 7-8 levels battling against the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, more or less the exact line up from the Pryde of the X-Men cartoon, including Pyro, the Blob, the White Queen, Juggernaut and eventually Magneto.  Not sure why Toad got the shaft and left out of the game…

Brotherhood

For the most part you’re fighting your way through a city against mini Sentinels and armored brutes with cannons, but you also do battle with a series of other X-Men villains including the Reavers (well, a few variations of the tank-treaded punk Bonebreaker), Wendigo, Mastermold, and Mystique.  There’s also a handful of Egyptian statues in there that I think were supposed to point towards Apocalypse, but I’m not sure…

Cyclops 1

Wendigo

Reavers

So many familiar things came flooding back while playing this game, from Wendigo shouting his name as he pummeled the crap out of me, to how it kind of sucked that in order to use your mutant powers you had to spend heath points!

Storm 2

Back in the arcade days, this totally sucked because it meant plunking in more and more quarters as you killed yourself in order to have Storm summon a tornado, Cyclops fire his optic blasts, Dazzler set off a light bomb, or have Nightcrawler teleport.  It made a little more sense with Wolverine, who goes into a berserker rage, or Colossus, who shifts from metal to human back to metal with a sudden explosion.  At least you get to walk around skewering Sentinels as Logan and beating the crap out of armored villains with Peter’s Russian metal fists.  But the rest of the X-men are a little more hampered by sacrificing their innate mutant abilities in lieu of punching and kicking (or in the case of Storm, smacking people upside the head with a scepter?!?)

Colossus 1

Dazzler 2

Even so, the game is still super fun and with this tablet app version you have the amazing benefit of unlimited continues, so you can totally let loose with all your mutant abilities!

Continue

I was a little surprised how short the game is, considering my friends and I were never able to beat it back in the 90s.  I was able to play through and beat the game twice in an hour!  Granted, I had it set on the Easy difficulty, but still, it played through pretty quickly.  This is hardly a complaint though, as I had a lot of fun making my way through the levels, and plan on going back and beating the game with all six of the X-Men…

Mystique 2

There were also little things that I forgot like Nightcrawler’s ability to stomp on villains that have been knocked to the ground, and Magneto declaring that “You’re Dead!” when he takes one of your player lives…

Nightcrawler 1

There’s also a multiplayer function, but I haven’t had the opportunity to check it out.  All in all, for $0.99, if you’re a fan of the original arcade game you can’t go wrong.  There’s so much nostalgia to be relived with this game, and it takes the edge off of not buying that hulking cabinet when I had the chance!

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Cheestroyer is eating his way into my heart…

You ever stumble upon a piece of art that feels like it was designed specifically for you, the artist tapped into your brain and cherry-picked a bunch of cool imagery that you love and mashed it up into something new and incredibly awesome?  Well, for me that piece of art just happens to be the Cheestroyer, a rad independent toy created by the fine folks at Bad Teeth & Double Haunt.  He’s a little Mayor McCheese (cheeseburger head), a little Gamera (turtle kaiju), and a little Skeletor (the skull and furry underpants) with a dash of cephalopod for good measure!

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Hailing from Australia,Bad Teeth & Double Haunt are preparing to unleash their Mini-Cheestroyer figurine in 2014.  Their recent resin releases have all sold out, so the guys have decided to produce the “little cheeseburger monster” in a vinyl edition, but they need a little help to get everything up and running so they set up a Kickstarter for the production of the toy.  The first planned wave will consist of Glow in the Dark, Crystal Clear vinyl and Clear with Guts editions! Other pledge rewards include hand-painted resins, clear resins and copies of the Cheestroyer comic book.  I mean seriously, look how ferociously cute this monster is!

Cheestroyer

There’s only one week left to get this rad little creature funded and unleashed on the world, so if you dig art toys and turtle monsters with cheesburger heads, go pick yourself up a Cheestroyer!

 

Awesome 80s Bedrooms: E.T. Edition…

It’s been a few weeks since I sat down and got all OCD combing through a DVD looking for an awesome 80s bedroom.  Last night I popped my special edition of E.T. the Extra Terrestrial into the computer and spent a couple hours staring at Ellitot’s room looking for some fun stuff to talk about.  At first I was a little disappointed because so many of the scenes were in silhouette, but with a quick finger on the pause button I managed to find some nice shots with a lot of fun junk lying around, in particular I realized that Elliott has a favorite comic book hero that I never noticed before!

ET One Sheet

So, with any Spielberg flick from this period there is always going to nods to Star Wars, and E.T. is no exception, but there are a lot of other interesting things lying around Elliott’s room…

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1). Star Worlds Planetarium playset

Star-Worlds-Planetarium

2). Coors Beer baseball cap (because you know, drunk E.T. and Coors is totally the official beer of earnest sci-fi flicks…)

3). Viewmaster Theater projector by GAF

Viewmaster-Theater-Projector-GAF

4). Star Wars Hoth Turret and Imperial Probe Droid playset

Turret and Probot

5). Han Solo’s Blaster

Han Solo Laser Pistol

One of the things I love about Elliott’s room is all of the little items that represent space travel, be it the plethora of Star Wars toys, the space shuttle hanging from his ceiling (in a later screen shot) or his planetarium play set.  It’s subtle for sure, but still welcome for a movie about meeting an alien.

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6). Star Wars Greedo action figure

Star Wars Greedo

7). Captain America Pez dispenser

Captain America Pez

8). Frozen Moments fake spilled can of Coke

9). “Jaws” shark pincher/grabber wand

Shark Pincher

10). Star Wars 2-1B Medic Droid (in the football helmet)

Star Wars 2-1B

So, I have to assume that the shark pincher wand was an in-joke/reference to Jaws right?  There are a lot of Star Wars figures scattered around on Elliott’s desk, but these are the only two we get to see clearly and not just in silhouette.  Also, the Pez dispenser was a bitch to identify.  Even though Elliott holds it up to E.T. to show him how to fill and eat the candy there’s only a split second or two where there’s enough light to identify it.  Also, this is not the favorite super hero I alluded to before.  That’s still to come…

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11). Star Wars X-Wing Fighter

Star Wars X-Wing

12). Darth Vader’s Tie Fighter

Star Wars Darth Vader Tie Fighter

13). Incredible Hulk Poster

So, as I started to pay closer attention to the set dressing in E.T. I started to notice a lot of Incredible Hulk items hanging around.  Granted, this was smack in the middle of the character’s popularity thanks to the Bixby/Ferrigno TV show, but I like to image Elliott being a huge fan of the Hulk because he was a middle child and always seemed like he was being put down by his brother and all his friends.  Like maybe he identified with that inner rage or something.  Anyway, there are a couple of other toys in the above screenshot, the aforementioned space shuttle and another toy hanging from the ceiling at the top right of the frame that I can’t identify…

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14). Elvis Costello poster (so Elliott has good taste in music)

15). Weird dart board cabinet.  Artful Dodger Dartboard Cabinet (see update below)

16). Mighty Marvel Incredible Hulk Glowplate light switch cover

Might Marvel Glowplate

17). Star Wars Tie Fighter

Star Wars Tie Fighter

Alright, the dart board cabinet.  The main reason I pointed to this is that I’d love to find out what that weird Jack the Ripper-looking design is on the cabinet (MYSTERY SOLVED!)  Also, there’s an weird amount of dart boards in Elliott’s room!  Not only does he have this cabinet on the wall but there’s an additional dart board to the left.  Also, that other dart board?  It changes through out the film.  There’s another design that’s strictly black and white that’s hanging in other scenes (which you can see in the screenshot with items 6-10 above.)

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18). Star Wars Hammerhead Action figure (as well as Snaggletooth, Walrusman, Lando Calrissian, and Boba Fett.)

Star Wars Hammerhead

I didn’t want to clutter this will all of the screenshots detailing the various Star Wars figures Elliott shows E.T. in silhouette, but they’re all listed above.

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19). Star Wars Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer Playset

Star Wars Darth Vaders Star Destroyer Playset

20). Stratego and Chutes & Ladders board games (as well as a Lego set to the right of those)

In the screenshot above there is a weird looking clown/egg head toy that I can’t identify.  The nose lights up and there’s a tuft of hair that pops up and down as well, but I’ve never seen it before and couldn’t figure it out from google.  Anyone know what this freakish thing is?  Also, there’s one additional Star Wars item, a Tauntaun up high on a shelf with some wooden dinosaur puzzle toys…

Okay, one last cool item that’s not technically in Elliott’s room, but goes to proving his love for the Incredible Hulk…

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21). Incredible Hulk Sleeping Bag

Hulk Sleeping Bag

I think part of the reason that discovering all of this Hulk merchandise in Elliott’s room made me so happy is that I was a pretty big fan of the character at the time too.  That TV show had a huge impact on me and I remember begging my mom for the Ben Cooper costume for Halloween around this time as well as having my own Hulk Sleeping bag and Hulk plush toy (that had velcro hands so you could make him hug your arm…)

While I’m talking about E.T. and stuff I noticed in the background, there’s another little thing that I noticed during the opening scenes with all the kids in the house playing Dungeons & Dragons.  It’s just a little thing but I noticed that C. Thomas Howell is smoking while they’re playing, but it’s only in a quick shot and the cigarette and ashtray disappear pretty quickly…

ET Smoke

I wonder if that was a mistake, like Spielberg didn’t intent for it to end up in the film, or was it placed to show the kids being a little rebellious?

**UPDATE**

I recently had the opportunity to catch E.T. on the big screen so I took extra special care to keep an eye out for details in Elliot’s room since I’d been having so much fun analyzing the bedrooms in 80s kid’s flicks recently. First of all, when I originally dissected the room there was a weird dart board cabinet that I couldn’t identify (number 15 in the above screen shot…) Well, it was as plain as day on the big screen. #15 is in fact an Artful Dodger dart board cabinet from Oliver Twist!

artful dodger

Now that I’ve identified that it doesn’t do much to explain why the Artful Dodger is on a dart board cabinet, but still, mystery solved. In addition to this I also noticed some more toys in Elliot’s room, as well as in their living room!

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1). Chutes and Ladders boardgame

2). Magic 8 Ball

Magic-8-Ball-Fortune-Teller-Alabe-Late-1960s

3). Lego Universal Building Set

4). Empire Strikes Back Twin-Pod Cloud Car

cloud car

5). Super Simon Electronic Game

super simon

Though the Super Simon box is in the screen shot above (in Elliot’s room), the game itself is actually on a shelf in the living room…

ET 2

But for the first time I noticed that there are also some other fun things in the living room like…

6). An Atari 2600

7). Big Trak from Milton Bradley

big trax

There were also a bunch of other small, fun things I noticed throughout the film. Little details, like how John Williams drops into Yoda’s Theme for a could of beats during the Halloween scene when E.T. sees a kid dressed up in a Don Post Yoda mask…

ET 3

…or the fact that Dee Wallace is wearing a really weird handgun pin on her vest in one sequence…

ET 4

Sure, these things haven’t radically changed my outlook on the film, but any time I have the opportunity to learn something new about a film I thought I knew everything about, well that’s worth a full-priced movie ticket if you ask me.

So, anything I missed?

Other Awesome Bedrooms I’ve covered…

Sara’s Room from Adventures in Babysitting

Eugene’s Room from The Monster Squad

Mikey’s room from the Goonies

David’s room from Flight of the Navigator

Robbie’s room from Poltergeist

Ben’s room from The Explorers

Pee Wee’s room from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure

Fred Savage’s room from The Princess Bride

Josh’s room from Big