Friends, in the later part of the ’80s it seemed like toy manufacturers were leaning pretty heavily into toy and playsets that featured monsters and a high gross out factor. You had the likes of Mattel’s Boglins toy puppets and even their popular Masters of the Universe series had the iconic Slime Pit. The toy company doubled down however with the Mad Scientist series – including the Dissect-An-Alien kit – where you could cut open alien beasts and scoop out their oozing organs. Perhaps the greatest playset in that series of toys though was the Monster Lab. You could build a skeleton for your monster creation, apply monster flesh to it and then cackle manically as you dipped them in the “Monster Vat” and watched the skin dissolve.
This was also around the same time that Hasbro began producing the Inhumanoids toy line as well as its more popular animated series. It certainly was a very good time to be a monster kid – but perhaps all of these toy lines were inspired by the initial success of the Madballs?
You might find it interesting that the Madballs, those distorted and hilarious monster bouncing balls, were the brainchild of Those Characters From Cleveland – the branding division of the American Greetings card company. Those Characters from Cleveland were responsible for Strawberry Shortcake, The Care Bears, Popples, and The Get Along Gang to name a few properties. From what I’ve read online it was the success of the Garbage Pail Kids line of collectible stickers by Topps in ’85 that got the… ball… rolling though on the Madballs toys.
The first set of Madballs included eight different ‘characters’ ranging from a mummy inspired bouncing ball to a cyclops. The toy line did quite well, ending up in the number 4 slot of the best-selling toys list for 1986. That success meant of course that a new series of characters would be released, eight more in total, and even a limited Marvel Comics series and a home video game for the Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, and ZX Spectrum personal computers were produced. In addition to two direct-to-home video specials beginning in 1986 with Madballs: Escape from Orb and Madballs: Gross Jokes the following year. Furthermore the animation was handled by Nelvana, the Canadian animation studio that I have talked about on the site and podcasts.
Fans of the Madballs were given a backstory in the first animated special, it turns out that that Screamin’ Meemie, Skull Face, Dusty Dustbrain (who is now female), Slobulus, Aargh, Horn Head, and the newly created Freakella are a rock band on the run from their home planet of Orb. With Madballs: Gross Jokes however it is a collection of skits and jokes featuring the characters – with an interesting choice of different animation styles for each segment.