Top 25 "It" products of all time: #20 -- The Transformers

Bruce Watson

With the 2007 release of Michael Bay's Transformers movie, it's easy to forget that the toys have been with us for over 20 years. An adaptation of Japan's Microman and Diaclone lines, the Transformers offered something truly unique: toys that could, with a few deft moves, morph from one thing to another.

For a child in the early 1980's, they were revolutionary. Not only were they scads of fun to play with, but they also latched onto the mythos of childhood in a truly fantastic way. They were inherently secretive, and could be disguised as anything from a miniature cassette player to a Walther PPK pistol. Laying on a counter, they didn't really look like toys, which made them perfect for tricking parents and nosy younger siblings.

Another key element of the Transformers' popularity lay in the simple act of manipulating them. Like a secret handshake or a special code, the ability to deftly manipulate the toys was something that separated the men from the boys. In a grown-ups clumsy hands, Transformers might as well have been non-articulated lumps of plastic, but in the speeding digits of a motivated, excited child, they were the source of endless fun. Years later, when I saw the demonic Rubiks cube-like Lament configuration boxes in Clive Barkers' Hellraiser series, I recognized a play on the Transformer's theme: just as Barkers' devilish boxes opened the door to hell, so the Transformers could open the door to endless hours of play.