A Rolled Up Sock? What Were The Popples?

There was a weird toy from the ’80s that could fold itself into a ball and was the basis for a cartoon show that still exists now.

The Popples were a toy and cartoon from 1986 of brightly colored bears that could tuck into a ball. They were created by Those Characters From Cleveland and were sold to Hasbro in 2018. They would lead to a reboot Netflix series in 2015.

I honestly thought the Popples were OK. My sister and neighbors were into them and sometimes you just had to watch what was on when you didn’t have a say in anything else. I remember thinking the concept was kind of cool and the cartoon wasn’t bad.

I was maybe 9 so I could still get on board with any form of stuffed animal; it wasn’t all just COBRA Commander and the Dinobots.

The Popples were a perfect blend of very bright colors that was hard for a kid to ignore whether it was in toy form or on a cartoon. The Popples didn’t have a super long run during the ‘80s and might not be totally remembered by everyone. There was enough interest however to reintroduce them on Netflix in 2015, of course, they’ll put pretty much anything on there now…

So if you’ve asked What were the Popples you came to the right place

What Is A Popple?

Well, it’s not quite a pet and not quite an apple but oh man! So to answer your question, I don’t know. But a Popple is considered a marsupial teddy bear. They are brightly colored and have a long tail on them with a pom pom at the end of it.

Each Popple “transforms” itself by tucking in and turning into a ball. A brightly colored ball mind you. They were very enjoyable to kick I remember and could also double as a pillow.

It would switch into ball mode from a pouch that could be inverted, so the character rolled into the pouch and Voila! There’s your ball.

The name Popple was given because it was based on the “popping” noise that would be made when they unfold themselves from the ball. Also, a “popping” noise would be made when pulling something from their pouches.

FYI this wasn’t happening with the toys, it’s from their mythology just so we’re clear. If your Popple made those sounds, we have some real problems.

Creating The Popples

So it starts with Those Characters From Cleveland which sounds like either a TV show or indie rock band. They were a division of American Greetings which is the largest greeting card company in the world. Yes, even bigger than those punks at Hallmark. Those Characters From Cleveland would handle more of the toy-related things and would eventually change their name to American Greeting Properties.

And they brought us some pretty significant toys for a card company including:

  • Care Bears
  • Topsy and Time
  • The Get Along Gang
  • Holly Hobbie
  • Strawberry Shortcake

You can see these are a little more geared towards girls and it’s the reason we have My Pet Monster and also Madballs as it was a way to try to crack into the boys market.

Rolling A Pair Of Socks Up?

That joke about the socks in my title wasn’t that misleading. The apparent story on how they came up with the idea of the Popples.

A plush toy designer from Those Characters From Cleveland named Susan Trental is the one who came up with the design for the Popples. She also brought us other heavyweights like Strawberry Shortcake and the Care Bears so she’s pretty much a rock star in the toy hall of fame. Is there a toy hall of fame? There should be.

Anyway, the method for transforming the Popple is said to have come from simply rolling up a pair of socks. She would then work with an art director named Thomas Schneider on creating prototypes for the first Popples.

So  Even though it was created by Those Characters From Cleveland, who was owned by American Greetings it would be Mattel that actually manufactured the Popples and they would be released in 1986

The First Group Of Popples

What the hell do you call a group of Popples? Pod sounds right but maybe it’s a “flock” or “bundle”? Either way the first batch of Popples would be made up of 9 of them and that included:

  • Pretty Cool – a male Popple with blue and pink fur
  • Party- a large female that was pink, hot pink and lavender
  • Pancake – Female with purple, orange, and pink fur
  • Puzzle – medium sized and orange, green, and pink
  • Prize – medium sized with magenta, green, pink, and white fur, or is it hair?
  • Puffball – aren’t they all puffballs?
  • Pretty Bit – a small female who was white, yellow, blue and magenta
  • Potato Chip – small female yellow, pink, magenta and lavender
  • Putter – a small male who was green, orange, pink, blue, and red. Like my prom tux

I’m a moron and just realized that all the names started with P even though I did remember some of these names. Leave me alone, I’m tired.

Other Popple Editions

As I mentioned the Popples weren’t around a very long time and only had a couple of good years. It’s understandable because the ‘80s was probably the most competitive time in the history of toys and cartoons. Leading up to the ‘80s there had been a lot of restrictions on being able to advertise to children and cartoon/toy tie-ins.

Ronald Reagan deregulated all this in the’80s and this opened the floodgates for not only toys and the commercials for them but all the cartoons that acted as basically a 30-minute long commercial. There were so many products, shows, and cartoons that it was impossible to really stand out so to get a few good years is a pretty big accomplishment.

So here were a few other variations of the Popples they brought out:

ROCK STAR POPPLES & BABY POPPLES– These were sort of punk rock Popples and little baby ones. The babies had rattles in their tails and came with little squeeking baby bottles. Cute af.

SPORTS POPPLES- I definitely remember these and they were a blatant attempt to crossover and get more of the boy market. These were sports Popples that turned into balls and you had:

  • Big Kick (soccer ball)
  • Dunkster (hockey puck. Basketball obviously)
  • Touchdown (I’m not answering this one)
  • PC Pitcher (baseball)
  • Net Set (Tennis Ball)
  • Cuester (turned into an 8 ball, for pool not cocaine)

PUFFLINGS– These were like little Popple pets, but weren’t Popples already a pet? They were literal fluff balls that had a face with tiny paws and a tail coming out.

POCKET POPPLES– These were pretty successful apparently and were basically scaled down Popples that could, you guessed it, fit in your pocket. I vaguely remember seeing these in stores. You could move their arms and legs and tails.

The Popples Cartoon

As I said, I remember the cartoon, as I’m sure most people did but didn realize how it all came together. Do you remember that the first pilot episode was a live action special? Do you know that Shelley Duvall actually made this?!

Yes Shelly Duvall aka Olive Oyl and the biggest aka ever; WENDY TORRANCE IN THE SHINING. How the hell was she involved with making the Popples?

The Popples cartoon started with this live-action pilot that was really successful and they decided to make a cartoon series with all the same Characters. It ran from 1986 to 87 and the pilot included the use of marionettes and puppets. You can watch it on YouTube and it’s a little bit creepy. Actually a lot bit creepy. I was waiting for a tennis ball to roll in out of nowhere.

The basic premise is 9 of the Popples (from that original release) live with human brother and sister named Billy and Bonnie. They think they are the only kids that know about Popples until they find out that their neighbours also have some too. The neighbours have the Rock Stars, Pufflings and Baby Popples which was a perfect way to spread around the brand.

The kids try to hide the existence of the Popples from their parents but in the live-action show the parents find out but they never do in the cartoon.

Season 1 would have 24 episodes along with 20 from season 2.  One of the voice actors in the show, Noam Zylberman also did voices in the ALF cartoon, the Police Academy cartoon, Hello Kitty, Star Wars: Droids and was the voice of Split Kid from Garbage Pail Kids.

Fun Fact:  Rob Meurer who wrote the Popples song “Popple Magic” at the end of the live action pilot helped write and play on “Sailing” by Christopher Cross. OK, it’s not fun, but it’s a fact.

The Netflix Reboot & Other Releases

I didn realize there was that much interest in Popples in 2015 but it’s always worth taking a crack at something from the past and seeing if it can catch on again. It beats having to come up with oringal programming…

So this thing has actually been on for three seasons. The premise this time around is following the comedic adventures of Bubbles, Sunny, Lulu, Izzy, and Yikes.

The series came out on October 30, 2015, and started with 10 episodes.

As far as toy reboots the company Toymax started making the Popples again in 2001. They released new characters that still looked a bit like the old ones and a bunch named after celebrities such as Jessica Biel and Melissa Joan Hart of all people.

In 2007 Playmates Toys (who also owns other American Greetings toys like Strawberry Shortcake now) put out four new characters called “Pop n Giggles Popples”. This time they include a sound box which actually makes the pop noise when they come out.

To coincide with the new Netflix series a company called Spin Master and Saban Brands put out toys of the five new versions from the series. Saban is the group that brought back Power Rangers

Wrapping It Up

So what are the Popples? Turns out they came and went pretty quick but made enough of an impact in 1986. They were a unique Idea and pretty creative if you compare them to a lot of the other crap you saw flooding the market at the time.

I understand the appeal and am honestly surprised they didn’t last longer than they did. But then again I guess they have if I can still binge watch them on Netflix today.