Friday, October 20, 2017

Woktots: Kenner's Preschool Star Wars Toys

Ron writes:

 Is it possible to show your face on Facebook after admitting that you collect the Preschool Ewoks line? I mean, Ewoks are bad enough without an explicit connection to small illiterate people who sometimes eat paste.

Yet the range was a significant part of Kenner's 1984 lineup. Like the Micro Collection before it, it was a major extension of the Star Wars brand that lasted a little over a year. Silly or not, it holds a significant place in the history of Kenner Star Wars toys.

What I'm trying to say is that, if you don't collect this line, you're not a real Star Wars fan.

The roots of the Preschool line actually extend back to the earliest days of Kenner's association with Star Wars. In those days, one of the company's bestselling products was Treetots, a line focused on a family whose home is a tree.

Yes, Treetots: the toys that encourage children to develop an impossibly idealized notion of homelessness.

By the way, did you know that the patriarch of the Treetot family was named Treemont Treetot?

Treetots being such a success, it was natural for Kenner to consider releasing a similar Star Wars-themed line. At least four figures and two vehicles were prototyped for this line, often referred to as Star Tots, but they appear to have never made it beyond the earliest stages of development. 

As you can tell by looking at the above photo, Star Tots would have featured chunky, buttplug-like figures very similar to those of the Treetots line.


As you might expect, Treetots and Star Tots informed the look and feel of their Ewoks descendant, the -- uh -- Woktots.

The Woktot line was announced to retailers in 1983 via an advertisement that dropped the hint of "new stories for the Ewoks." Presumably, Kenner's marketing folks were thinking of the Ewok TV movie, Caravan of Courage, as well as the Nelvana animated series of 1985 and 1986, but didn't yet have permission to mention either.

Keep in mind that this period in Star Wars merchandising was an unsure one. Return of the Jedi was wrapping up its theatrical run and the future popularity of Star Wars was uncertain.

Dig the trying-too-hard quality of the final statement of the ad's copy: "all of our toys featuring Ewoks will be surefire winners in 1983."

In what was left of 1983, maybe. But what about 1984? Or 1985?

This promotional flier, from early in 1984, makes the connection to the TV movie explicit. It also mentions some of the products developed for the Woktot line.

"So get in on the ground floor and watch your sales figures go sky high."

There's that trying-too-hard quality again.

The flier was packaged with this cardboard diorama including seven Woktot figures. Presumably, these were mailed to retail buyers as a means of promoting the line. Though the figures included with this particular example are glued to the display platform, they seem to have shipped in sealed plastic bags. This example originated with a Kenner source; I believe it was used as a display model.

I'm aware of only a few examples of the Ewok Family diorama; it's probably one of the rarest promotional Star Wars items released by Kenner.


What about commercial Woktot products? Well, they fell into two general categories: those with figures and those without figures. I'll discuss the latter group first.

The earliest products in the line bore "Discovery Time" branding, indicating that they were released in the latter part of 1983.

Come 1984, Kenner's Preschool division ditched the rainbow-colored Discovery Time look in favor of a simple blue bar enclosing the words "Kenner Preschool."

The two products released with rainbow branding were the Give-A-Show Projector and Sit 'n Spin.

The Sit 'n Spin pictured on the above catalog page is a prototype; when the item was produced, it was green rather than orange. Of course, Sit 'n Spin was a classic Kenner product, having brought joy and debilitating motion sickness to thousands of children.

Although Ewoks and Sit 'n Spin may seem like an odd marriage, the preexisting nature of the ride-on toy meant that Ewokizing the product involved little developmental cost. What's more, Sit 'n Spin was a proven seller.

So confident was Kenner in their ability to sell branded Sit 'n Spins, the company released Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake versions alongside this Ewoks one.

The second Discovery Time product was another revamped version of an evergreen Kenner property -- the Give-A-Show Projector.

Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back iterations of Give-A-Show had already hit the market, making this the third pairing of a Lucasfilm property with the cheap-o plastic slide-viewer.

In 1984, after the abandonment of the Discovery Time branding, the Give-A-Show Projector was released in the green packaging unique to the Woktot line. Judging by the photo used on the box, the color of the projector and its decal were also changed to conform to the new look.

The green-box version of the Give-A-Show is rarely seen, suggesting that it was on the market for a very limited time.

Although I think it's likely that a green-box version of the Sit 'n Spin was also produced, I haven't been able to track down a photo of one.

The largest no-figures-included toy in the 1984 Preschool line was this Ewok Talking Telephone. It boasted a nicely detailed representation of Wicket holding a telephone receiver -- because everyone knows how much Ewoks love to talk on the telephone.

If an Ewoks telephone doesn't strike you as weird, what about an Ewoks soap dish? That's right, Kenner appears to have considered reworking the Wicket figure from the telephone into the base of a bathroom product.

"What child wouldn't be thrilled to get a phone call from an Ewok?"

Now, I've seen Return of the Jedi a few times, and I like to think I'm pretty familiar with the Ewoks' linguistic capabilities. The most famous Ewok utterance is "yub nub"; it's like their Gettysburg Address.

That being the case, what the hell is Wicket going to say to your kid?

If the Talking Telephone was uninspired, the Ewok Teaching Clock was close to incomprehensible. I've owned an example for many years, and it wasn't until I sat down to write this article that I realized that I have no idea what it does.

You know that a toy is lame when the designer of its packaging chooses to emphasize its reset button.

The catalog copy reveals that the number of Ewoks displayed at the base of the clock changed depending on the time indicated by the position of Wicket's hands.

Can you imagine a child playing with this and not weeping from boredom? I can't. Personally, I'd rather play with the soap dish.

Somewhat more appealing was the Ewok Music Box Radio. At least it didn't try to teach you something.

The "radio" part of the title should be in quotes, because it was basically a straight-up music box. It played a tinkly version of John Williams' Star Wars theme.

The final entry in the non-figure line was this Ewok Toothbrush. I'd write something about it, but I already have, in this post about Kenner's electric toothbrushes.


In addition to the above-mentioned products, the Woktot line consisted of three items designed to be used with small, one-piece figures made of hard plastic. The figures, 11 in number, came packaged with the toys, just like misery and disillusionment come packaged with your life choices.

Though you wouldn't know it from watching Return of the Jedi, the Ewoks had a fire department.

Hey, do you think it was the Ewok fire department that put out the Darth Vader fire at the end of Jedi?

I can just imagine Lando, having downed a few too many Colt 45s during the course of the celebration, looking at Logray and saying, "Well, this fire ain't gonna pee itself out."

According to Kenner's 1984 catalog, the figures included with the Ewok Fire Cart represent Wicket and Kneesaa, meaning that Chief Chirpa, who was obviously the Ewok Fire Chief, got majorly shafted by not being included in this toy.

The referenced "noise maker" must be that yellow acorn-looking thing that hangs from the front of the wagon.

Is it just me, or is the inclusion of a stretcher a bit gruesome?

Okay, so the Ewok Woodland Wagon was way too similar to the Ewok Fire Cart, and perhaps both were too similar to the Ewok Battle Wagon.

But we're talking about the Ewoks here. They haven't even gotten around to inventing pants. Let's not humiliate them by reminding them that their culture has barely advanced beyond the wheelbarrow phase.

The fundamentally unsanitary conditions that prevailed within the Ewok community are indicated by the above photo, particularly the puddle of filth that Paploo and Latara have allowed to accumulate below baby Mookiee. Indeed, this is a sad step down from the bourgeois comfiness of the Treetots Family Treehouse. What would Treemont Treetot think?

Actually, the box refers to the puddle as a "rug." Is that why the included horsey creature is smiling -- because he's anticipating a happy afterlife as an Ewok doormat?

Actually, the horsey is called Baga.

I've seen enough samurai movies to know that in Japanese "baga," or "baka," means something like "stupid."

From this we can conclude two things: 1) Baga is a moron, and 2) the Ewoks are Japanese.

If the Woktot line had a Death Star, it was the Ewok Family Hut.

As I pointed out in this piece on recycled Star Wars toys, it was a reworked version of the Treetot Family Treehouse, though it was updated to make it look less like a tree and more like a place where cannibals might live.

By the way, did a more conflicted-looking kid ever appear on a Kenner package? He seems to not be looking at the toy but rather pondering something far in the future -- something profoundly upsetting, like dying alone or Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.

Please let me die.

Fear not -- the Woktot Hut included yet another wagon. Because what would an Ewok toy be without a wagon? It also included a second Baga, this one slightly different from, but just as stupid as, the one that came packaged with the Woodland Wagon.

Actually, I believe the box and catalog photos show the wrong Baga. The one that came packaged with the Woodland Wagon had a halter sculpted onto its head, whereas the one included with the Hut did not.

In all honesty, the Family Hut was a pretty nice toy: It came with lots of interesting accessories, including a hang glider and a hammock. It also included bongos, to recreate those rare occasions on which the Ewoks performed beatnik poetry.

Weirdly, it's the only Woktot toy whose figures are not identified by name in Kenner's 1984 catalog. I'm guessing the larger figures represent Wicket, Kneesaa, and Zephee. The wokling is probably named Gizmo or Twiki or something. Oh, and don't forget Baga.

In case you've been laboring under the impression that the Woktots weren't important enough to have their own mail-away promotion, feast your eyes upon the above page from Kenner's 1984 "Go for the Gold" catalog. It spotlights a promotion that was tied in to the Preschool line as a whole, including the Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake portions of it.

Interested parents could fill out the form found on the back page of the above-pictured in-pack catalog, and send it to Kenner. Then their child would receive a birthday card along with a $1.00 rebate on Kenner Preschool products.

The birthday card is rarely seen. I'm still looking for an example!


The products discussed above comprise the Woktot line of late 1983 and 1984. What was released in later years?


After being introduced with great fanfare, the line disappeared. By 1985 it no longer appeared in Kenner's Toy Fair catalog. Presumably, its sales didn't warrant the continued investment. Also, I think it's likely that the introduction of the Ewoks action figure line generated concerns of Ewoks oversaturation.

One interesting relic of the Woktots' cancellation is the above advertising insert, from a copy of Playthings magazine dated February 1985. As you can see, it features Woktot products front and center. I'm guessing it was put together just before Kenner decided to pull the plug on the Preschool range.

The publication's interior contains a blurb claiming that the Woktot line "promises to turn an entire new generation of toddlers into Star Wars fans."

Can you smell the desperation?

So desperate was Kenner to convince buyers that Star Wars would continue to rule the toy galaxy, they misrepresented the lifespan of the action figure line, pegging it at 10 years.

Maybe they were hoping it'd last 10 years. In reality, it lasted seven.

In the 1985 catalog the Kenner Preschool line covered a meager two pages. One was devoted to a generic version of Sit 'n Spin, the other displayed a new version of the Give-A-Show Projector -- one that included slide strips based on several different licensed properties.

One can be forgiven for mistaking the Ewoks for Care Bears.

Special thanks to Jarrod Clark for supplying a few key photos.

1 comment:

  1. "Star Tots would have featured chunky, buttplug-like figures very similar to those of the Treetots line..."

    Not having any knowledge, or experience, of rectal inserts, I debated whether to Google up an image - so as to determine if the stated comparison was accurate.

    Thanks a lot, Mr. Salvatore. I now know firsthand what "a new definition of pain and suffering" looks like.