I recently went back to my childhood home and rummaged through my old toy collection. Amid the eclectic pile of plastic was a bizarre one-off figure that sparked a whole slew of memories. The figure, proclaimed the “Fire-Power Rambo,” features the titular character in jeans and a white tank top sporting the “Force of Freedom” logo. The figure also included such accessories as a flame-thrower, two (long lost) grenades, an assault rifle that doubles as an anti-tank rocket launcher, and of course Rambo’s trademark bowie knife.
I remember that figure going everywhere with me. To a New Year’s Eve celebration at a nearby soccer club, and to my parents’ weekly bowling league. Now that I think about it, I feel like Rambo and his flamethrower even went to church with me once. It was really strange that amid a group of over-the-top Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles b-characters is a figure that looks like it walked right out of Over the Top. And that I loved it so damn much.
The irony of having that figure back in 1985 was that I wasn’t actually allowed to watch a Rambo film until about ten years later. Nor had I even seen the animated series spin-off, most likely commissioned to justify the merchandise tie-ins. In fact, I had no idea that there was an animated Rambo series until writing this article. That ownership of a toy for a movie I had never seen seems to be a trend that repeated throughout my childhood. Including Rambo, there were at least five figures I probably shouldn’t have owned as a kid. But did. And dug.
RoboCop and its Kenner action figure line should always be at the top of these types of lists. I owned several RoboCop figures, but I didn’t see the original RoboCop until junior high school. And I didn’t fully appreciate Paul Verhoeven’s commentary on violence until far later. Despite that, two of my most-prized figures still in that box I found in my parent’s house are from RoboCop. One is Robo himself. The other is a stereotypical cop wearing Ray-Bans and some leftover chrome Silverhawks material turned into a vest. I couldn’t for the life of me remember this character’s name until doing a quick Google search (for the record, his name is Ace Jackson). Both have cap guns built into them, presumably to recreate the horrifying mutilation of Alex Murphy’s body in your own home. Fun for the whole family!
Flipping through one of the many Kenny Action Toy Guides I’ve kept from nearly every Batman or Real Ghostbusters purchase I made, I realized that I longed for Police Academy toys as a kid. But I’m not entirely sure why. I hadn’t seen a Police Academy film at that point. I had zero knowledge of the series outside of Larvell Jones making cool noises. And the “police headquarters” looked awfully similar to a certain firehouse that I had always wanted as a kid but never had. It had been years since I’d seen Police Academy, and rewatching it not all that long ago, I’d forgotten just how offensive that first movie really was from the opening title cards toward literally everyone. But for some reason, the franchise, the Venkman-like character of Officer Mahoney, the desire to be as talented as Michael Winslow, and that police headquarters I never had, stick with me to this day.
Back to that Fire-Power Rambo figure that inspired this discussion. Being that I was visiting home, I picked the brain of my parents. Why did I have this figure as a kid? Especially considering the figure is inspired by the scene in First Blood where PTSD victim Rambo fights his way out of the sheriff’s department, brutalizing a ton of cops in the process. (And why is Tommy Boy’s dad so upset?) Anyway, my mom couldn’t recall the purchase, thinking that it must have been a gift received at a birthday or holiday. Admittedly, I couldn’t remember where the figure came from either. But upon further reflection, my mom says that she and my dad did their best to keep me from having guns as toys. Not that it stopped me. Apparently, I was turning sticks into pulse rifles and going on Aliens-inspired bug hunts through the Colorado woods with or without the purchase of one as a toy.
This isn’t intended to be an examination of violence or guns and their impression on kids. To paraphrase John Lennon, I’ll leave that to the experts and let them get it wrong. But, going back to my parents’ house and going through my toys in preparation for my daughter to soon be sifting through them, I was surprised at just how many toys I have from movies that weren’t really for kids. Being an adult and going back to revisit classic action movies, especially as they air on CHARGE!, it seems nuts that some of their toy spin-offs were hanging on the K-Mart pegs, ready for purchase.
Was it ridiculous that these toys existed? Maybe. Am I glad to have had them? Hell yes. And I think, at least I hope, I turned out okay in the end.