The first “hot” Christmas toy I recall from my own distant childhood is probably the Cabbage Patch Kid. Cabbage Patch Kids were launched into the world in 1982, and have been a mainstay at toy shops ever since, having produced hundreds of variants over the decades. The gimmick behind the hard-headed, soft-bodied baby dolls was that each came with its own unique name and birth certificate, allowing the owners to (more or less) “raise” their own stylized moppet from birth (or growth, as the case may be; Cabbage Patch Kids apparently grew out of cabbages, and were not born in the usual fashion).
Assorted Cabbage Patch variants were often cute and fun: Some had their first teeth, some were sticking out their tongues, and some had real yarn hair, ready for braiding. There was even a line of preemie baby Cabbies, encouraging kids to normalize premature birth. Most every model, however, was incredibly popular, and there was a time when no child’s bedroom was missing one. They were so ubiquitous, in fact, they spawned an equally popular line of parody trading cards, wherein Cabbage Patch Kids were mutilated and mutated: Garbage Pail Kids.
Oddly enough, those gross-out parodies were not the most grotesque thing to be spawned by the Cabbage Patch phenomenon; indeed, one of the Cabbage Patch toys was so unsettling, it had to be discontinued rather quickly.
Let us now recall, dear readers, the horrors of “The Snacktime Kid.”
By 1995, the Cabbage Patch line had passed through the hands of several high-profile toy companies — starting with Coleco, then Hasbro, and finally ending in the hands of Mattel. Needing to innovate with the brand, Mattel began introducing all-vinyl versions of the Kids that could do more physical activities — I recall a swimming Cabbage Patch Kid, as well as one with a creepy growing ponytail that could be cut and replaced (replacements sold separately, of course). It was Mattel that innovated The Snacktime Kid, introduced to the public for the Christmas 1996 shopping season.
The gimmick with The Snacktime Kid was that it could eat. A child would place plastic foods — carrot sticks, french fries, whatever — near the doll’s lips, and thanks to a powerful battery-powered motor, it would begin to move its lips and jaws, “chewing” and sucking the food into a cavity in its abdomen. The cavity could then be emptied and the food reused. Watching The Snacktime Kid in action was a rather disconcerting experience; watching a Cabbage Patch Kid eat food was about as pleasant as watching the aliens from V swallow live guinea pigs.
The jaws on The Snacktime Kid were also quite powerful, having been constructed out of a series of small plastic rollers that would push food backward into its head — very much like the grinding mechanisms in the mouths of stingrays. These rollers were designed to roll in one direction, and to continue rolling until the mouth was clear of food. In other words… once The Snacktime Kid began eating, it wouldn’t stop until it was done.
The biggest problem with The Snacktime Kid — and one that got it into big trouble with consumers — was that it wouldn’t just eat the plastic food it came with; it would eat anything you put near its mouth. This meant it would crunch on pencils, paper, shoelaces, and, most disconcertingly, human hair and children’s fingers. Yes, Mattel marketed a doll that would, given the opportunity, eat your children alive.
The Snacktime Kid sold incredibly well for Christmas of 1996, and moved about 500,000 units. A few weeks later, however, complaints began pouring in — parents calling in distress, screaming that wild and uncontrolled Snacktime Kids were consuming their daughters’ hair. Because the mouths would not “spit out” food, at least one parent had to cut her child’s hair out of the mouths of the trichophagic doll and remove the batteries as to not cause any more damage. The Snacktime Kid was, no doubt, the cause of some pretty unhappy Christmases… and likely more than one panicked phone call.
After Mattel received over a hundred complaints about their cannibal dolls, they decided — in the company’s biggest recall to date — to pull the remaining 200,000 Snacktime Kids from toy stores, and offer a full refund to the 500,000 buyers. The dolls cost $40 each at the time; these days, one can get a rare collectible Snacktime Kid on eBay for upwards of $500. (If you want true horror, you gotta pay for it.)
The Cabbage Patch Kids have since passed out of the purview of Mattel, and through several more companies since — complete with new innovations with each change. There has been a line of porcelain collectible Cabbies, talking Cabbies, and even 2008 Presidential election Cabbies (yes, Sarah Palin had her very own doll). Nothing, however, has come along to replace the horror of The Snacktime Kid… not yet, anyway.