The 1980s was a decade that had a lot of toys that are still popular and relevant today. However, in this article, we will talk about a particular toy line that became quite popular in the 1980s but faded into obscurity by the 2010s. This toy line is Popples, which was first released in 1986 by American Greetings, the second-largest greeting card producer in the world. Despite being a relatively obscure toy line, Popples still has a following today. To know more, here is the nostalgic history of Popples.
What are Popples?
Popples are a line of stuffed toys that look like marsupials like koalas, kangaroos, bandicoots, and opossums. These stuffed toys have brightly colored fur that makes them look more appealing to children. In addition, the toys also have long tails that end in a furry pom-pom.
An interesting feature that each Popple has is that it can transform into a ball by tucking its body inward. There is a pouch behind each Popple that tucks in their bodies firmly so that they remain in their ball form. The ball form of the Popple can then be used to play catch and other ball games, and it can even be used as a pillow for taking a nap or sleeping.
The name of the toy line is believed to have been inspired by the popping noise that the toy makes whenever it transforms from a ball to a marsupial. However, the popping noise was just present in the ads and commercials for Popples and not for the actual toys.
The Origins of Popples
Before Popples were created, American Greetings found success in Care Bears, which are multi-colored bears that were created in 1981 by artist Elena Kucharik. Care Bears were first used as characters for numerous postcards produced by American Greetings, but they would later be sold as stuffed toys that became incredibly popular in the 1980s.
Wanting to replicate the success of Care Bears, American Greetings tasked their subsidiary Those Characters From Cleveland to come up with a new toy line. Susan Trentel, an employee of Those Character From Cleveland and the designer of the prototypes for Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake (another popular character by American Greetings), designed the Popples and their ability to transform into a fluffy ball.
According to Trentel, the idea for the transforming Popples came from the way some people roll up socks to store them in a cabinet. Trentel would later work with art director Thomas Schneider in order to create the prototypes for Popples.  The toy line would then be licensed to Mattel, one of the biggest toy companies in the world. Mattel launched the first batch of Popples in 1986.
The Original Line of Popples
The original batch of Popples released by Mattel featured three different sizes, which were 13”, 11”, and 8”. Besides sizes, the Popples available back then have different names and color schemes. Here is a list of the first Popples sold by Mattel.
- Pretty Cool (P.C.) – a 13” male Popple that has pink hair, blue fur, orange cheeks, and ears that are colored yellow and orange.
- Pancake – a 13” female Popple that has orange hair, purple fur, pink cheeks, and pink and blue ears.
- Party – a 13” female Popple that has hot pink hair, pink fur, lavender cheeks, and pink and blue ears.
- Puffball – an 11” female Popple that has yellow hair, white fur, orange cheeks, and magenta and blue ears.
- Prize – an 11” female Popple that has white hair, dark magenta fur, lavender cheeks, and pink and green ears.
- Puzzle – an 11” male Popple that has green hair, orange fur, pink cheeks, and red and blue ears.
- Potato Chip – an 8” female Popple that has pink hair, yellow fur, pink cheeks, and magenta and lavender ears.
- Pretty Bit – an 8” female Popple with hot pink hair, lavender fur, pink cheeks, and blue and pink ears.
- Putter – an 8” male Popple with orange hair, green fur, pink cheeks, and blue and red ears.
The original line of Popples stuffed toys was accompanied by an animated T.V. show that was produced by two production companies, namely DIC Enterprises and LBS Communications. It aired in syndication in the United States from 1986 to 1987, while it also aired in the United Kingdom from 1987 to 1988.
The T.V. show featured all of the original Popples, and they are depicted in the show as whimsical beings that stutter whenever they say the word that has the letter “P.” In addition to transforming into balls, the Popples can also store an unlimited number of items inside their pouches. These pouches are also portals to a location called “Popples Alley,” where objects just float in a void. In addition to the TV, Popple also had a comic book series that was published by Star Comics, an imprint of Marvel Comics that existed from 1984 to 1988.
The Other Popples
Besides the original Popples, Mattel also produced other Popples in order to keep the toy line fresh for children. Here are some of the most notable variants of Popples that were available in the 1980s and 1990s.
- Rock Star Popples – as this variant’s name already suggests, Rock Star Popples are composed of music-loving Popples that have rock-theme designs on their body. Two Popples were released under this line, and these are Punkster (a male Popple with a guitar and a lightning bolt design on his belly) and Punkity (a female Popple with a microphone and a star design on her belly).
- Baby Popples – this variant featured smaller Popples that have rattles in their tails and are paired with a squeaking baby bottle. Baby Popples is composed of Bibsy (a baby Popple with white fur and a purple and white hat) and Cribsy (a baby Popple with pink fur and a blue and white hat).
- Sports Popples – this line of Popples featured stuffed toys that can transform into sports balls. The line consisted of Dunker (basketball), Big Kick (soccer ball), Touchdown (football), and Net Set (tennis ball).
- Pufflings – these stuffed toys are basically the pets of the Popples, and they are designed to look like a fluffy ball that has a face and tiny paws. When they are flipped inside out, the pufflings will look similar to a sea anemone.
- Pocket Popples – these Popples are the same characters as the original line of Popples, but they are reduced in size so that they can fit perfectly in pockets.
Popples by Toymax
In 2001, a toy company called Toymax received the Popples brand by releasing the “Glow ‘n’ Charm Popples,” which featured Popples stuffed toys that were much more colorful than the original lineup. Toymax also released their own version of regular Popples, which they named Pinwheel Penny, Polka Dottie, and Pixie Doodle.
Besides stuffed toys, Toymax also released merchandise based on the original 80s Popples. The merchandise included notebooks, folders, keyrings, pens, and stickers. Toymax produced Popples birthday cards, too, and these cards may have served as a tribute to the company where Popples originated, American Greetings.
Revival of Popples in 2015 and 2020
In 2015, toy company Spin Master and investment firm Saban Brands revived the Popples toy line by releasing new stuffed toys, as well as producing and releasing a new Popple animated T.V. show on Netflix, which is one of the most popular video streaming platforms in the world. The new Popples T.V. show introduced new characters, such as Lulu, Bubbles, Izzy, Yikes, and Sunny.
In 2020, a popular toy company called Hasbro released a line of Funko POP vinyl toys that featured classic Popples characters like P.C. and Prize. It is expected that other Popples will be released in Funko POP form in the future. Besides Funko Pop figures, a brand of mini-bags and purses called Loungefly also released a special Popples edition of their mini backpack and wallet. Here are links to the products we have mentioned:
- Funko POP P.C. Popple Vinyl Figure
- Funko POP Prize Popple Vinyl Figure
- Loungefly Popples Cosplay Plush Mini Backpack
- Loungefly Popples Cosplay Plush Zip-Around Wallet
Popples may have been forgotten by many, but there are still some people who have fond memories of playing with the colorful and transforming stuffed toys from the toy line. Fortunately, as Popples is gaining a small following in the present time, there may be a chance that the classic Popples toys will be revived and will be available for everyone to buy. For now, all we can do is hope for the possible return of the underrated toy line.
 Jamie. (2019, January 26). A Rolled Up Sock? What Were The Popples? Everything 80s Podcast. Retrieved November 16, 2023, from https://www.everything80spodcast.com/the-popples/