Childhood Rebooted: When Memories Become Retro

jem cartoonLately I’ve been feeling, well, old.  Yes, I’m still in my twenties; that’s not the point.  The point is that my childhood is now ‘retro.’

When I was growing up, modern movies that had flashbacks meant going back to the sixties or maybe early seventies.   You know, like the movie Now and Then, or Dazed and Confused – movies that had a “soundtrack that defined an era,” that kind of stuff.  Flashbacks meant going back to an era when roller skates had keys and toys were made of wood.

Then, recently, Back to the Future had its 25th anniversary.  And someone mentioned that if they were to reboot the movie in the next few years and set it in modern times, Marty McFly would be going back to 1985, not 1955.  And then I felt old.

It doesn’t stop there, though.  Last year Hallmark redesigned Rainbow Brite, someone I watched endlessly in my earliest memories (is it any surprise that my favorite character was Shy Violet, the nerdy one with a bun and glasses?).  Strawberry Shortcake was updated a few years ago.  Still, though, an update just implies… outdated.  So last season.  And sure, it was something from my childhood and I am an adult now.  Doesn’t mean I’m old… right?

Does the name P.J. Sparkles ring a bell?

Chances are it won’t, unless you were either a girl of a very specific age or watched a lot of TV commercials at a very specific time.  P.J. Sparkles was the doll to have when I was around six years old.  She was big – 15 inches tall – and heavy, because she carried a battery in her back.  When you “hugged” the not-so-huggable doll (really pressed a panel in her back) she’d turn into a walking disco, flashing lights out her hairbow, bracelet, earrings, and heart on her chest (think Iron Man).  Yes, I had one.  Of course.

So, in the last year PJ Sparkles has been reintroduced, albeit in a smaller form, with little friends and playsets.  Honestly, looking at it now it all seems derivative and I probably wouldn’t purchase it for a kid unless she specifically asked for it.  But the press release was what got me:

“Moms of today grew up playing with P.J. and have fond memories. They’re now looking forward to sharing those fun experiences with their daughters and P.J. Sparkles.”

Ahhhhhhhh. That’s me, running around and yelling with my hands over my ears.

Yes, I understand that I could be a parent.  Some of my old high school classmates are working on their third kid.  Yes, I understand that Mom is not a dirty word, and I’m not one of those people who still tries to shop in the teen section.  But there’s something about the phrase “Moms of today,” talking about one of my childhood toys, that turns the concept in my head from “individuals are having children” to “you are becoming the middle-aged generation.”

Ahhhhhhhhh. Oops, there I go again.

But in-between waves of panic, I sort of want to embrace this trend.  I want to say to myself, “Albert, you pierced the toast.  So what?” And most importantly, I want to suggest and dictate the terms of these re-releases so that they don’t get butchered like my beloved Rainbow Brite.

For example: instead of PJ Sparkles, who didn’t really have personality to begin with and now has less, what about something like Jem?

Jem was edgy for her time and could still be.  I’m picturing her boyfriend, Rio, with some post-emo hair.  The enemy band the Misfits, of course, are about getting rich, so maybe they’re a band of Ke$ha/Katy Perry-inspired mean girls.  Meanwhile, Jem and the Holograms could be a band that rises from their humble indie roots when they’re suddenly given this flashy technology, and they have to struggle with the questions of musical integrity v. all the production they could ever want…

Sounds over-the-top for a cartoon, I know, but I look at old episodes of Jem and their MTV-inspired storylines and I wonder what I was getting out of that as a four-year-old.  But maybe all that mattered was that I knew I wasn’t being condescended to (unless you count the fact that the whole cartoon was designed to sell toys… oh, whatever).   And hey, wouldn’t you like to own a Jem-themed set of Rock Band instruments?

Anyway, TV, movies and toys from our generation are popping up all over the place.  I see Goonies sequel rumors are making the news, and let’s not forget the always-rumored Ghostbusters 3. So what I want to know is: if you could bring about a sequel, relaunch, or reboot for the next generation, what would you want to see?

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