12 Toys That Got Pulled From Store Shelves
Toys can get pulled from shelves for almost any reason. Some of them can cause physical harm, others border on being offensive, and some just run afoul of the wrong special interest group. When it does happen, though, toy stores and manufacturers have to go into scramble mode; potential lawsuits and lost inventory can spell the end of any company caught up in a massive recall. From Barbie's pregnant friend to some stubborn Flubber, here are 12 toys that got yanked from shelves.
1. PREGNANT MIDGE
In 2002, Mattel introduced a new version of one of Barbie's best friends, Midge, who joined the Barbieverse in 1963. This doll was part of the company's "Happy Family" line, which included Midge, her husband, Alan, and their son, Ryan. The new Midge doll was also pregnant with a baby named Nikki, and Mattel gave Midge a pop-off stomach so kids could remove the baby inside. Some parents were not pleased: "It's a bad idea. It promotes teenage pregnancy," one KB Toys customer told CBS News. "What would an 8-year-old or 12-year-old get out of that doll baby?" Wal-Mart's customers complained so much that the megachain pulled the doll from its shelves, along with Midge's entire family.
"It was just that customers had a concern about having a pregnant doll," a Wal-Mart spokeswoman said. "What we try to do is listen to what our customers want. In this case, we decided to remove the product from the shelves. I think it was a unique situation." Luckily for Mattel, other stores didn't see the problem with Midge, her family, or her detachable pregnant belly, and allowed the doll to stay put.
2. AQUA DOTS
There’s always a danger that a child could choke on any small, bead-like toys they're playing with—but that wasn't the only danger associated with Aqua Dots. The toy allowed children to assemble colored beads together to create shapes or characters, which they would then spray with water to make the beads adhesive and stick together. Each bead was coated with 1,4-butanediol, which, once metabolized, turns into gamma-hydroxy butyrate, more commonly known as the date-rape drug GHB. In 2007, after a string of children who had ingested the beads fell ill, Aqua Dots were yanked from shelves; 4.2 million units were removed in the United States alone.
The lawsuits surrounding the Aqua Dots continued for years after the recall. In 2015, the family of a boy who had swallowed the beads when he was 16 months old was awarded $435,000 from the company. In court records, it was stated that the boy had suffered brain damage afterwards as a result of the chemical. Companies like Toys “R” Us put the blame on the Chinese manufacturer JSSY Ltd., which they claim switched chemicals during production without notifying them.
3. WWE'S AL SNOW
To understand why this toy was pulled from shelves, you have to understand the state of professional wrestling in 1999. At that time, Al Snow was a WWE superstar whose whole shtick was the mannequin head he carried to the ring every night. He would talk to, argue with, and occasionally wrestle the head, and both Snow and “Head” would have the words “Help Me” emblazoned on their foreheads to really cement the whole lunatic vibe the company was going for. So any Al Snow action figure wouldn't really make sense without a mini version of “Head” to go along with it.
But Sabrena Parton, assistant professor of communications at Kennesaw State University, raised some complaints to Wal-Mart over the head. She argued that Snow carrying around this head glorified violence against women. "My sons are 6 and 11. What kind of message would this toy send them about brutalization of women?" Parton said. The company agreed, and Snow’s figure was pulled from shelves.
WWE (which was known as WWF at the time) claimed Snow’s character was “loads of fun” and “as silly as it gets.” That logic didn’t fly, and Snow’s toy (and "Head") remained off shelves.
4. BREAKING BAD TOYS
Breaking Bad may be one of the most critically acclaimed TV shows of the past decade, but all the praise in the world couldn’t keep the show’s action figures safe from some angry parents. In 2014, a Florida mom launched a petition to have Toys "R" Us remove all Breaking Bad figures from store shelves, saying, “its violent content and celebration of the drug trade make this collection unsuitable to be sold alongside Barbie dolls and Disney characters.”
The toy giant agreed and pulled all Breaking Bad figures from shelves, explaining that Walter White and his friends have “taken an indefinite sabbatical.” The toys in question included bags of cash, drugs, and other accessories that were deemed a bit too risqué for the powers-that-be.
To his credit, the show’s star, Bryan Cranston, managed to find some humor in the ordeal:
"Florida mom petitions against Toys 'R Us over Breaking Bad action figures." I'm so mad, I'm burning my Florida Mom action figure in protest
— Bryan Cranston (@BryanCranston) October 20, 2014
5. MY FRIEND CAYLA
Interactive toys that sync with smartphones are becoming more and more popular, a fact that is concerning to groups like the Consumer Privacy Project, which came out against the doll My Friend Cayla—a toy that can have conversations through the help of a smartphone app—last year. According to CNN, the app "asks children to provide personal information, like their name and their parents' names, their favorite TV show, their favorite meal, where they go to school, their favorite toy and where they live."
The fear is that all this personal information can be stored by the doll and sent back to the company, or is easily accessible to potential hackers. These fears have gotten the doll pulled from shelves in parts of Europe, with Germany going as far as to tell people to destroy the doll if they owned it.
6. NESTLE MAGIC
Chocolate and toys are pretty much the only things kids care about, but literally combining the two is probably not a great idea. Nestle found that out firsthand in 1997 when it released the Nestle Magic, a round chocolate shell that was coating a plastic ball with a small Disney figurine inside. The reaction to the product was intensely negative, with Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal saying, "This illegal product literally sugar-coats potential death and injury—wrapping in chocolate small toys that may cause choking or worse."
The fear was that a child would unknowingly bite into the candy and either choke on part of the plastic ball inside or accidentally swallow the figurine, believing it was candy. According to The New York Times, the FDA had long banned any candy that had a toy inside, but that didn't stop Nestle from attempting to get their product on the market while awaiting FDA approval. The Magic ball also had its enemies on Capitol Hill, as lobbyists for Mars battled to get it off the market. In the end, lobbyist groups, lawyers, and concerned parents put an end to the Magic ball.
It's not all bad news if you crave a toy inside your chocolate egg. After going through a battery of safety tests, the Choco Treasure egg fulfilled all FDA safety standards and hit the market in 2013. Like the Magic, this chocolate egg has a toy inside, but it's designed in such a way as to make it plainly evident to children that they shouldn't just bite right into it.
7. DJANGO UNCHAINED TOYS
While you can find Breaking Bad toys at retailers other than Toys "R" Us, the short-lived Django Unchained action figures were not so lucky. After groups like the National Action Network and Project Islamic Hope criticized releasing toys based on a movie revolving around slavery, The Weinstein Co. and manufacturer NECA stopped production on the products at the source.
The toys were also pulled from eBay, citing that the figures violated the company's "offensive-material policy," which bans products that "promote or glorify hatred, violence, racial, sexual or religious intolerance, or promote organizations with such views." However, now that the storm surrounding the toys has died down, it looks like they're back on eBay at a pretty extravagant price.
8. CSI FINGERPRINT EXAMINATION KIT
Asbestos is usually a concern for people who worked in shipyards and industrial sites in the '50s and '60s, not for young fans of CSI—but somehow, the cancer-causing substance found its way into a CSI Fingerprint Examination Kit from 2007. The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization found asbestos in certain samples of the fingerprint dust the toy used, which caused the manufacturer, Planet Toys Inc., to ask stores to remove the toy from their shelves. Walgreens pulled the toy chain-wide to conduct its own tests.
In a lawsuit filed against CBS, the toy's manufacturer and "several retailers," it was said that the fingerprint dust contained “substantial quantities of tremolite asbestos,” according to The New York Times. Tremolite is one of the most dangerous forms of asbestos and can lead to mesothelioma with enough direct contact. In 2009, the company filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection as lawsuits over the toy mounted, and in 2015, Planet Toys, Inc. went out of business, according to Bloomberg.
9. TALKING FREDDY KRUEGER DOLL
Freddy Krueger's supposed to be scary, but maybe not this scary. After 50,000 Krueger dolls were sold by Matchbox, the toy was unceremoniously pulled from shelves when parent and religious groups complained that it was too vulgar and violent for kids. The doll's most notorious feature was a string that a kid could pull, allowing the doll to say a few choice Freddy quotes (including an absolutely horrifying "Let's be friends!") and a maniacal laugh that were apparently just a bit too much for children.
10. TONKA'S RIDE-ON DUMP TRUCK
In November 2016, Toys "R" Us announced that it would no longer sell the Tonka 12V Ride-On Dump Truck. The reason was simple: One of them burst into flames. The only noted fire happened while a family was bringing the toy home for a Christmas gift. The Tonka truck—which was big enough for two children to ride on—caught fire twice on the ride away and back to the store, taking the owner's vehicle with it.
The item was exclusive to Toys "R" Us stores across the country, and the company pulled it from shelves after the fire was reported. "We made a proactive decision to pull the item out of an abundance of caution and an investigation into the incident is currently taking place," a spokeswoman for the toy chain told NBC.
11. CABBAGE PATCH SNACKTIME KIDS
There are plenty of things that could go wrong with a doll that has a mechanism that allows it to "eat" plastic food, but somehow Mattel didn't see this one coming. Thus, the horror story that was the Cabbage Patch Snacktime Kids was born. This doll looked like other Cabbage Patch Kids, but it had a motorized jaw that would "chew" on plastic carrots and other food provided in the box. The food would then magically reappear in the doll's backpack.
Almost immediately after the toy's release, horror stories began to crop up involving kids being injured by the doll—many of these involving children's fingers or hair getting caught in the doll's mouth. In some cases, the child's hair would be pulled out by the roots. There was a way to turn the doll off in an emergency by taking off its backpack where the batteries were, but it's not clear how many children were reading the instructions beforehand. To add to the terror, the doll didn't have a traditional on/off switch, so once it sensed something in its mouth, it just kept chewing and chewing.
According to the Associated Press, there were around 100 reports of Cabbage Patch Doll mayhem by the time Mattel pulled the toy from shelves. The company offered $40 to anyone who returned the doll. At the time of the recall, around 500,000 dolls had been sold.
To capitalize on the success of 1961's The Absent-Minded Professor, Hasbro released its own version of the film's Flubber substance for kids to play with. But soon after the toy's release—just in time for Christmas 1962—people began complaining that the green globs of goo were causing rashes on their bodies when they played with it. Some estimates state that 35 percent of the children who owned the toy developed some kind of rash.
As the FDA began investigating the substance, Hasbro decided to test its Flubber on inmates, a number of whom developed the same rash. Hasbro ultimately determined that the Flubber caused folliculitis, a painful infection of hair follicles. It's thought that an oil used in conjunction with the polymerized butadiene to create the Flubber was the culprit behind the rash.
Hasbro recalled the product after upwards of 1600 complaints were filed. Getting rid of the Flubber was harder than the company anticipated, though: It tried to incinerate the returned batches, but all that did was produce a thick black smoke without destroying the Flubber. Next, Hasbro tried to weigh it down and sink it in the ocean—but it floated back to the top the next day. Finally, Hasbro buried the Flubber in what would become the parking lot to their new Rhode Island warehouse. According to company lore, even then, the Flubber wouldn't die; legend had it that the stuff would occasionally bleed through to the surface of the pavement on hot days. But a local news company failed to find any evidence of any of these disposal methods, either through Coast Guard records, City Hall records, or an environmental analysis of the warehouse.