The 1990s was known as the era of gross-out comedy. All things horror, weird and grotesque proved to be exceptionally popular, with shows like Beavis and Butt-Head, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters and The Ren & Stimpy Show entertaining and grossing out a legion of fans.
This gross out trend extended to toys, with products that oozed slime, popped eyeballs and featured all manner of violence and gore proving to be exceptionally popular. This included the range of Mighty Max toys that promised “Horror in the Palm of Your Hand!”.
The range was inspired by Polly Pocket, which included self-contained mini playsets in colourful, closable cases that you could easily fit in your pocket. The Polly Pocket range was geared toward little girls, but the Mighty Max range was firmly angled toward boys and the gross out trend of the 1990s.
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Polly Pocket And The Beginnings of Mighty Max
Chris Wiggs created the Polly Pocket range for his daughter in the 1980s, putting together a makeup compact that included the mini-doll and a home for her locked inside. He took the idea to Bluebird who loved it and launched a line of Polly Pocket toys in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s.
What Bluebird didn’t tell Wiggs at the time was that the company was going bust. Polly Pocket not only saved Bluebird, but catapulted them into the same stratosphere as the big toy brands. Bluebird executives were not content to rest on their laurels, though. After all, they were only reaching half of the children’s market with female-centric toys.
So they decided to emulate the success of Polly Pocket with a similar line of toys for boys. While Polly Pocket mini items were focused on real-world items like furniture, books, tea sets etc, it was decided that the Mighty Max range would tap into horror tropes like werewolves, zombies and skulls. The launch was an instant success.
Mighty Max: A Hero For The Boys of The 1990s
The Mighty Max range was not just about random horror, it needed a face and an icon to carry the toy line so Max was created as the hero of the playsets. He was quintessentially 1990s, sporting a sideways baseball cap, basketball shoes, a shock of blonde hair and determination to beat the villains of each playset.
Each Mighty Max set would feature a cluster of horror villains, traps and horror themes like dungeons and graveyards. Max would be given clues to solve each puzzle and vanquish his foes, with ice running in his veins. He was an instant hit with boys across the United Kingdom.
Following the success of Polly Pocket and Mighty Max, it was time for Bluebird to expand their wings and a new toy deal was struck with industry giants Mattel to bring their products to the world – including the lucrative United States market.
In order to promote the toys, a cartoon was created: The Adventures of Mighty Max. Changes were made, upgrading Max to become a teenage boy with a red cap and a gold “M” emblazoned on his shirt. It also allowed Bluebird/Mattel to expand the range of toys to include characters from the cartoon including his bodyguard Warrior Norman and mentor Virgil.
Max’s nemesis Skull Master was given a makeover as well, transformed from a wizard-like character to a more brutal and scary appearance. These changes were only the beginning, though.
The Rise and Demise of Mighty Max
Kids in the United States could not get enough of Mighty Max, so new toys were created to meet the demand. There were shrunken heads that stood just 2cm tall with a Max figurine inside. Dread Heads where the playset was housed inside the monster’s mouth. Heroes and villains were sold independently without playsets. Battle Warriors housed the figurines inside the stomach of monsters and villains.
The 1990s also saw the explosion of handheld video games so the Mighty Max range was expanded to include LCD watches that opened up just like the toys, a Tiger Electronics handheld game system and even a full-fledged video game for the Super Nintendo and Sega Megadrive produced by Ocean (which was terrible).
Merchandising went through the roof with everything from stickers to stationary released on the market. It seemed like there was no ceiling for the success of Mighty Max, however, all good things must come to an end.
Mighty Max’s candle burned brightly and at both ends. While it enjoyed enormous success, it was fleeting and by 1996 the toys were discontinued. By 1998, Mattel had closed Bluebird’s UK headquarters down for good. The kids had moved on to new things now, the Sony PlayStation, South Park and the new franchises and cartoons of the late 1990s.
But Mighty Max’s memory lingers on, remembered with fondness by adults who grew up in the 1990s.