Most of the time, Toys of Yesterday is about the toys we loved growing up. And in a way, this week's subject, Stretch Armstrong, was a toy I played with in my younger years, mostly at friend's houses. It was far from a constant companion, but it was a toy I had vague memories of, enough to prompt me to do some research for this month's post.
But if there's one thing that's changed between then and now, it's that Stretch Armstrong now utterly terrifies me. Come with me and find out how something that was once okay is now akin to an evil demon form Toy Hell.
Stretch Armstrong's history begins in 1976. A year before they were to acquire the rights to the Star Wars for a new toy line, Kenner Toys released a muscle-bound, black shorts-wearing gel-filled rubber man upon the world. Stretch Armstrong didn't really look like much when you opened up the box, kind of like a circus strongman.But had he been in the circus, lifting weights would not have been his specialty.
You see, the muscular fellow had powers comparable to Reed Richards of Fantastic Four fame. His limbs could be stretched out into any number of crazy shapes. Usually, this would result in the child who owned Stretch putting him in some compromising position that would get him grounded. But what also was nice was that Stretch would revert to his normal shape when unstretched, meaning you could undo what you did quickly if Mom or Dad was walking around the corner.
And if that wasn't enough, they also came out with Stretch Serpent, which looked a hundred times more phallic. Not shockingly, this one didn't quite take off like Stretch did. Nor did Stretch Olivia and Ollie, who were octopi, or Stretch X-Ray, which had transparent skin so you could see his organs.
Throughout the 1980s, Stretch Armstrong stayed pretty much the same, which probably didn't help too much as toys became more advanced and started competing with video games for kids' attention. Kenner got bought by Tonka (and subsequently by Hasbro), and it seemed like poor Stretch was doomed. Especially since the gel could harden over time, making stretch no longer ... well ... stretch.
But Cap Toys resurrected Stretch in the early 1990s. And the look ... well, in hindsight, he looks terrifying. Like the brother of Punch-Out!'s Super Macho Man. Long story short, his perfectly fine strongman look and the muscles were gone, replaced with that gigantic chin and ridiculously terrifying grin. Just look at that. Let it sink in. It's going to haunt me tonight.
I don't remember it being so creepy as a child, but now ... now I don't think I'd touch it with a ten-foot pole, and I'd probably be ripping Cap Toys a new one for ruining what was a perfectly good figure design with this new one. It's just ... that grin ... AAAAAAAAGH!
Of course, since this was the 1990s, Cap Toys decided that a spin-off figure was needed. And thus entered Fetch Armstrong, Stretch's faithful dachshund with the same terrifying grin and a a stretchable body filled with gel. But if you think that was enough ... you were dead wrong.
They didn't just release spin-offs of Stretch alone like a ninja version, oh no. There was the Stretch Limo, a car that Stretch could not only ride in, but that stretched out as well, complete with that terrifying grin on the front grill. In my later years, I have since wondered why a man who could stretch to great distances and theoretically stretch himself between any two points would need a car. It must have been a status symbol or something, I dunno.
But what good is all of this without a villain? Enter the evil Vac Man! Vac Man was a red, muscular fellow from outer space who also happened to have that hideous grin. But Vac Man was actually different than Stretch in that he was filled with a non-toxic vegetable substance that was hard, and you could vacuum-seal him, essentially, to get him to stay in place ... well, forever. One press of a button and air would come rushing in to restore him to his normal shape. Sadly, it didn't help much because the substance eventually wore down over time, as mine did. Some of the warnings were pretty funny, though.
Eventually, Cap Toys was gobbled up by Hasbro, and around that time, all things Stretch Armstrong faded away. No more frightening grins, no more cheesy commercials ...the world was safe again.
Or so I thought until recently. That's when I was told of some horrible news: there's a movie based on Stretch Armstong in the works. Dead serious, folks. With this guy as the star:
I'm about to have a whole new set of nightmares. And I think there's only one way to really respond to that:
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