A Christmas Story is the Christmas movie in our house, a yearly tradition that we now know so well that watching it consists of leaving it on while we work in the next room, shouting key dialogue in unison with the film.
If you have yet to see the film, you need to make it a priority. Finish reading this article, subscribe to Caotica, click on a few of our ads, retweet some of our content, then click over to your preferred digital media outlet and download this quintessential piece of Christmas Americana.
(You can also just flip to TBS pretty much any night to watch, they’ve been airing the movie as a daily marathon during Christmas since ’97.)
The story follows Ralphie Parker through a hazily defined, nostalgia tinged Christmas of the late 30’s/early 40’s, and his quest for a Red Ryder BB Rifle. Acquiring the rifle is the protagonist’s sole goal throughout the film, the focus of all his hopes and fantasies. He’s warned away from the toy by everyone he meets, told he’ll shoot his eye out, but no hint of danger stops him from wanting it.
Sure, he does eventually shoot his eye out, but the Red Ryder isn’t the most dangerous toy ever introduced to kids. For starters, it’s a RIFLE. It’s a tamped down version of a deadly weapon, danger and harm are implied by the very nature of the product.
The real dangers are toys that seem innocuous, but provide enormous hazards. Everyone knows what a gun does, and what a gun is intended for. These are the dangerous toys that hide in plain sight. These toys can (and have) killed, without even doing you the service of looking like a deadly weapon.
- Atomic Energy Lab
Okay, so maybe this doesn’t seem so innocuous. At least not today, living in the 21st century, with our advanced scientific knowledge and many years of history films and science textbooks explaining the horrific ways radiation will kill us.
But when A.C. Gilbert’s U-238 Atomic Energy Lab debuted in 1951, radiation was still poorly understood. The Japanese had borne the brunt of any real “human testing”, and nobody seemed too inclined to take all those burn victims and mutated pregnancies that seriously. Fascination outweighed fear at that point, and while the educational bent of this toy can be applauded, it’s inclusion of radioactive materials for children to play with should not.
The toy only lasted a year (thank god), most likely due to the fact the kit cost a prohibitive $350 by today’s standards. Had this been popular, there would’ve been uranium bearing ore and “sources of actual radiation!” in attics and crawl-spaces all over the continent.
- Super Elastic Bubble Plastic
One of the more inventive toys created by Wham-O, this 70s/80s toy let children blow enormous, multi-coloured semi-plastic bubbles. As durable as gum, you had more freedom to mould, stack, or shape these. This was the toy that finally bridged the gap between gum and balloon, a long standing goal of scientists across the world.
Unfortunately, the liquid plastic product contained polyvinyl acetate and had to be blown through a straw. Sealing the bubble by pinching the straw ensured a build-up inside, increase the odds of inhaling these toxic fumes. Inhale, swallow, or touch a spilled bit of liquid… there were too many ways to get in touch with the poison, and the product was thankfully discontinued.
- Moon Shoes/Trampolines
Trampolines are not a safe toy. Maybe they start safe, when it’s just your kid bouncing several feet in the air above the ground, but that plastic surface and those springs start to erode pretty quickly. It doesn’t take long before you’re bouncing on a torn piece of plastic with sharp coils jutting out at the edges.
And this doesn’t take into account that kids love a challenge. Like what kind of tricks you can do on a trampoline, or how many people you can fit on the trampoline, or what extra obstacles you can add in to make the jumping above the ground more challenging. Obstacles like running hose water over the surface for that extra degree of slip, or having friends at the side hucking various sized balls at your head while you bounce.
Attaching trampolines to your feet takes out some of the height problem with the jumps, but really puts those springs close to the skin. It also means that every step is now off-balance, and slip recovery is now a series of outrageous pratfalls.
- BONUS: Romper Stompers
“Teaches coordination & helps develop balance” is a cop-out way of saying that this toy is going to make your child fall over into the sharpest corner of your coffee table.
- BONUS: Romper Stompers
- Lawn Darts
What do you get when you attach wings to bar darts, give them to children, and tell them to use these weapons to play horseshoes in the yard? Roughly six thousand people – young and old – sent to hospital, some with injuries that would debilitate them for life. Three children were actually killed, and another put into a coma, before the toys were pulled off shelves altogether.
A previous ban on the product was avoided by the manufacturer including a “game for adults only” warning on the packaging. They were still sold in toy stores, I suppose by the rule of caveat emptor.
Skydancers are essentially plastic figurines with wings of either soft foam or plastic, mounted on a hand-held base. Pull a ripcord in the base and the figures twirl up into the air, spinning as they float back to the ground.The “boys” model was Dragonflyz – identical toys save for character design – was marketed as a combat version of this, with toys colliding mid-air as though in battle.A neat concept for a toy, the appeal is obvious.
The problem is that, basically, you’re randomly launching a spinning chunk of plastic into the air at high speeds. If they floated gently to the ground you were lucky, as these toys were just as likely to plummet down on top of you.
When somebody came to their senses in 2000 and recalled the toys, the Consumer Produce Safety Commission reported that manufacturer had received 170 reports of injuries in both adults and children: eye injuries (scratched corneas and incidents of temporary blindness), broken teeth, mild concussions, a broken rib, and facial lacerations that required stitches.
- CSI: Fingerprint Examination Kit
Asbestos for the rest of us.
This semi-educational gift was a great idea for any budding forensic scientist. or any budding character actor who dreamed of playing David Caruso’s support staff on CSI. Practice dusting for fingerprints, taking fingerprint samples from suspects, comparing the two in painstaking detail, and delivering pithy one liners to your leading man. What’s not to love? The staggering amount of asbestos in the toy, sadly.
A report by the Environmental Working Group showed the fingerprint powder contained up to 7% of tremolite, an extremely dangerous form of asbestos that can cause cancer later in life. The product quickly vanished from shelves.An added danger was the trauma resulting from comparing Santa’s fingerprints on that glass of milk with your parents.But that’s the kind of risk that Big Toy and corporate America just doesn’t care about these days.
- Creepy Crawlers
Kids love molten plastic.
Despite design corrections made to the product since it’s introduction in the 1960’s, Creepy Crawlers is a dangerous toy at heart: it’s an electric oven for children to mould hot liquid plastic.Make that an open-face electric hot-plate oven that heats up to 390 degrees fahrenheit. Wow.Did we mention that the plastic was also toxic?
Sure, the box says non-toxic, but this is sixties. That doesn’t mean anything.You’re heating plastic in an open mould, those fumes aren’t good for anyone.There’s no good plastic for a child to eat, and no easier plastic to swallow than a liquid one. These are the kind of toys that gets branded as “character building” or “educational”.
- Ninja Turtles Pizza Thrower
During the first wave of the Ninja Turtles mainstream popularity, this toy was an absolute get. The cartoon was an absurd mix of action, sci-fi, and pizza that provided toy makers with endless opportunities for cheap plastic action figures. And this ridiculous contraption was far and away the most popular of the series. I mean, the TMNT blimp looked cool on the box, but it didn’t fly. The pizza thrower actually threw pizzas.
While it doesn’t contain the high toxicity, sharp edges, or stopping power of some of our other entries, it does have those tiny little pizzas as choking hazards. The launcher was designed well enough that you could dent drywall with a well launched pizza pie, so kids had access to the firing power necessary to launch those choking hazards straight down a child-sized throat.
However, the real danger came with the envy of other children. This pizza flipping bit of plastic nonsense was the cause of many a Lord of the Flies style confrontation.
- Sock Em Boppers
They’re inflatable boxing gloves, except they inevitably run out of air, leaving you punching your brother in the face with plastic wrapped fists.
- 1989 Die-Cast Batwing
I had one of these beauties as a child, and loved it. I like to think it’s still lurking around my parent’s house somewhere, a long forgotten piece of memorabilia from the original Batman franchise that I’ll stumble upon someday.
The downside of this toy is that it’s a multi-pointed piece of pure steel slightly larger than my hand as an adult. So a child, attempting to imitate the Batwing’s flight over Gotham, is likely to be throwing this around with no thought for the consequences.
I never did this. I was a good child.
I chose the Batwing for purposes of my own nostalgia, but the criticism extends to ANY die-cut toys, such as the Tonka die-cut truck line that’s currently making a comeback. These toys are beautiful and long lasting pieces of craftsmanship, but if you give children pieces of steel then children are going to get hit with pieces of steel.
- Aqua Dots
This mid 2000’s Chinese-manufactured disaster is a parents worst nightmare. Safety officials in the United States had to recall over 4 million units of this bead toy when it was discovered the toy coating would metabolize into gamma-hydroxy butyrate, better known as GHB, better known as the date-rape drug.
There were multiple cases of children vomiting or becoming comatose after swallowing the product. Again, these are tiny beads so swallowing would be inevitable.
Sadly, this product was named “toy of the year” in Australia at the time, where it was sold under the name “Bindeez Beads.” Walmart had also promoted it heavily in North America, possibly their largest marketing misstep of 2007.
Yeah, ponies are cute, everybody wants one, we get it. They eat apples and sugar cubes and prance about in meadows.
But you know what else ponies do? Ponies bite people with their massive horse teeth, and kick through doors with their hooves, and fall over on top of riders when they get into one of their inscrutable pony moods. Unless you’re planning to get your kid a year of lessons in horsemanship first, don’t get your kid a pony.
It’s only a few days to Christmas now, so if you’ve gotten any of these toys for any of your loved ones, you still have time to take them back. Or don’t! It’s never too early for a “character building” experience”.