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Plugged In

The Most Controversial Toys of 2013

Plugged In

Some toys are born to greatness, like the Slinky, say, or Barbie. And some toys are born to mediocrity, like Mr. Potato Head, or the rubber duck. And then some toys are born to just rub people the wrong way.

Be it due to bad planning, bad marketing, or just plain bad luck, every year there’s a set of toys that make headlines for all the wrong reasons. Here are 2013’s biggest offenders.

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(Credit: LEGO/Wikimedia)

Lego’s Jabba’s Palace

Key to the spectacular turnaround of Lego’s fortune has been the success of its Star Wars-branded toys. But this blocky rendition of Jabba the Hutt’s palatial residence earned the ire of Muslim pressure groups earlier in the year, who claimed it bears something of a resemblance to a mosque; specifically, to the historic Istanbul mosque-turned-museum, Hagia Sophia.

You can see their point, too. The Lego model sports an elegantly curved dome that’s very reminiscent of Hagia Sophia, and it’s accompanied by a guard tower that indeed resembles a mosque’s minaret. The Jabba’s Palace set is better armed than your standard mosque, and we don’t recall meeting robots, Wookies, or Boba Fett the last time we swung by Istanbul, but nevertheless the two structures do share some common features.

However, it’s hard to lay the blame for that at Lego’s door, as their model looks pretty much identical to Jabba’s Palace as it appears in the Star Wars movies. Lego stuck to its guns: the set was discontinued later in the year, but according to the company that had been the plan long before this controversy broke.

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(Credit: CTA Digital)


Little kids love iPads. Little kids hate going to the bathroom. To most people these two facts are completely unconnected, but not to ridiculous toymaker CTA Digital (remember the Wii Bowling Ball controller?), who put them together and came up with the iPotty, a plastic toilet with an integrated iPad mount. The innovative potty-training tool holds your $500 iPad (protected by a hygienic plastic shield) at a comfortable level for your kids to play games and watch movies while, uh, “on the job.”

If that sounds like a bad idea to you, you are not alone. In addition to the ire of parents, campaigners, and consumer groups, the iPotty won a prestigious TOADY award from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which labeled it “the worst toy of 2013.” And we’d have to agree. We’d never take a tablet into the bathroom. Uh, any plans to make it in an adult size, CTA?

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(Credit: Chuangfa Toys Factory

Army Force Automatic Rifle

It’s been a tough year to be a toy gun. Once an icon of American cowboys-and-Indians childhood, now it seems barely a week goes by without some poor kid getting suspended after bringing a plastic firearm to school or pretending to shoot someone with their finger.

But it fell to pressure group World Against Toys Causing Harm, Inc. (WATCH, to its friends) to point fingers and name names. Here, in WATCH’s opinion, is 2013’s number-one worst toy: the Army Force Automatic Rifle, a plastic toy made to resemble an AK-47. Sure, it has a bright red safety tip, but it could probably pass for the real thing in poor light.

According to WATCH, “there is no excuse for outfitting children with realistic toy weapons designed to produce dangerous and unnecessary thrills…Detailed replicas have resulted in a number of deaths through the years and should never be sold as toys.”

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(Credit: NECA)

“Django Unchained” action figures

Notorious enfant terrible Quentin Tarantino has more than a passing familiarity with controversy. Indeed, by now he probably has it on speed-dial. So it surprised approximately nobody when a range of action figures based on characters from his slavery-era hit “Django Unchained” drew the ire of civil rights activists. Najee Ali, representing advocacy group Project Islamic Hope, was outraged, saying: ”We feel that it trivializes the horrors of slavery and what African Americans experienced.”

The figures were hastily removed from distribution, whereupon their value skyrocketed. Auction site eBay pulled numerous auctions offering the offending dolls, citing its policy against “offensive materials.” Apparently they’re not offensive any more, as several sets have sold on eBay in the last few weeks, and most of the figures in the range are readily available on Amazon these days.

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(Credit: Citizen Brick)

Breaking Bad Meth Lab “Lego”

We’ve seen dinosaur Lego. We’ve seen Minecraft Lego. We’ve even seen Spongebob Lego. But we never thought we’d see Lego based on the totally awesome and definitely not-for-children-even-in-the-slightest TV show, Breaking Bad.

Well, we did this year. Kind of. Although this superb set was indeed put into production and sold, Lego had no part in it, and presumably neither did the show’s producers (though we bet they thought it was pretty cool). It was the work of Citizen Brick, a small company specializing in custom-printed Lego sets. Their meth lab had 500 pieces and cost $250, no doubt down to the slew of intricately detailed one-off blocks and Breaking Bad-inspired minifigures. Sadly, it vanished from Citizen Brick’s web site after the inevitable furor, but the Internet never forgets.

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(Credit: Goldieblox)

Goldieblox and the Spinning Machine

“Toys for Future Engineers,” proclaims the strapline of this innovative hit that’s intended to encourage girls to build problem-solving and spacial skills. Nothing too controversial there, right? Indeed, it was just this time last year everyone was dissing Lego Friends, the “girl-targeted” range of construction toys, for being too pink and lame, not to mention Barbie for promoting unrealistic body images. In comparison, Goldieblox’s progressive, girls-can-do-anything agenda seems positively…well, positive.

That was until the company published an ad on Youtube that took footage of a fantastic, Rube Goldberg-style machine ostensibly created by a smiling trio of ethnically diverse girls and accompanied it with a parody of the Beastie Boys’ tongue-in-cheek 1987 hit, “Girls.” Sample original lyrics: “Girls, to do the dishes/Girls, to clean up my room/Girls, to do the laundry/Girls, and in the bathroom.”

The vid went viral, but the surviving Beasties -- who have long opposed any use of their music in ads, a wish detailed in the will of beloved Beastie Adam Yauch -- asked Goldieblox what the deal was, and a legal storm ensued. Or perhaps “is ensuing” would be more accurate. If you ever wanted to see lawyers argue over the precise meaning of Beastie Boys lyrics in a courtroom, keep your eyes on this case: it’s going to be intergalacticly awesome.

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(Credit: Duck Dynasty)

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