Cheesy Toy Knockoffs
Way back in the 1990s, your PopCulteer wrote a monthly action figure column for Toy Trader Magazine. In Facts on Figures, I covered the action figure world, and as an adjunct, I would do a sidebar each month called Cheesy Knockoff of the Month, where I would find a cheesy knockoff and sarcastically rip it to shreds.
I have occasionally revisted the idea here in PopCult, even though there are more than a dozen websites that do the same thing on a daily basis now. It’s fun to get out the hatchet and have at some poor unsuspecting delightfully awful imitation toy.
Today we’re going to look at Best Food Friends, a product, which I believe is no longer being produced, by PlayMind Ltd, a Chinese company who’s range of toys is sold at TJ Maxx and several online catalog. My favorite toy that they make is “Licensed Car Collection,” which is, of course, not licensed.
But today we are going to look at their product line that bears more than a passing resemblence to Hasbro’s classic, Mr. Potato Head.
A quick bit of history may be in order. Originally released in 1952, the first version of Mr. Potato Head was just a collection of facial and body parts that kids would attach to a real potato. The first toy advertised on TV, Mr. Potato Head was an instant hit.
In 1964, spurred by the pointy pieces not being safe and parents complaining of their kids playing with rotting food, Hasbro rounded the edges of pieces, and supplied a plastic tuber for Potato-eaded hijinks.
This was the Mr. Potato Head that I grew up with, and his universe expanded to include Mrs. Potato Head, plus assorted plastic veggie and fruit friend like Oranges, Peppers, Cucumbers, Carrots and more. The cool thng was that you could interchange all the eyes, mouths and other features, and if you wanted to, you could create a Picasso-esque portait with unconventional eye alignments and such.
However, the parts of Mr. Potato Head were still too small for the tightening toy safety regulations, so in 1975 Mr. Potato Head was redesigned once again, and took the form that most folks know today, where you can store the pieces inside his potato body, and most folks just try to make him look like he does in the Toy Story movies.
When Hasbro redesigned Mr. Potato Head in 1975, all of his non-potato buddies disappeared.
Mr. Potato Head is, to this day, a top-selling toy icon, and it’s been decades since Hasbro has made any non-spudly friends for him, so PlayMind decided to fill the gap.
That’s where the Best Food Friends come into play. I found these in an online store, Lakeside, and it appears that they are no longer being made, but probably didn’t sell too well to begin with, so they have plenty left in stock.
I don’t know if these were ever sold in brick-and-mortar stores in regular retail packaging, but the white boxes add a cheesy charm to the concept.
The figures are stylistically similar to the post-1975 Mr. Potato Head.
There are three figures, with somewhat odd names. “Violetino” is an eggplant, with male attributes and his accessories are a tie and a tablet. “Beauty Belle” is a feminine red bell pepper, with blonde hair in pigtails, a giant lollipop, and she comes with a pepper stem that can take the place of her hair. Lastly we have a floret of broccoli with the confusing name, “Mrs. Afro.” Mrs. Afro seems to be an older character who comes with glasses, a butterfly for her hair and a shopping bag. She also has no nose, or even a place for one.
Right off the bat, all three figures are smaller than Mr. Potato Head by an inch or two. None of them have a place in their body to store extra pieces, and while the paper insert (printed in color on one side) says that they have compatible parts with each other, that is not entirely true.
In some cases, the parts don’t seem compatible with the figure that they accompany.
Ears don’t like to go in all the way, and on two of them, neither do the arms. The arms are not bendable, but they can hold their accessories.
Then there’s the mystery of the missing Best Food Friend. We’ll get to him in a moment, but let’s look at the figures themselves first…
Violetino, who should be called “Mr. Eggplant Head,” looks the most like his potato-y inspiration. He only comes with one of each of his facial features, so his play value is somewhat limited if you only get the single figure.
His ears and arms don’t fit well, but at least he can stand on his own. He comes with a tablet, which raises a question we’ll look at later.
There are other weird quirks with Violetino (including that name) but the strangest is that his collar and necktie mount behind his mouth.
Next up we have Beauty Belle, who, in spite of her name, appears to be a little girl character. True to form for a cheesy knockoff, my Beauty Belle came with two right ears. Her giant removable hair piece is so heavy that she can’t stand up well on her own. Also, her parts just don’t fit well at all.
She’s a bit of a cool throwback to Mr. Potato Head’s pal, Pete the Pepper, but again, if she’s the only figure you get, you’re stuck with her in one basic mode.
Then we have Mrs. Afro. I suppose she took her name from the fact that her broccoli floret hair does look a bit like an afro hairstyle, but I think it’s safe to assume that this character was named by somebody for whom English is not their native language.
You can trade her parts out with the other figures in the line, but they just don’t look right. Peppers don’t have florets you know.
I did do a little mixing up of the parts. The Pepper works better as a dude. The Egglant looks wrong with blond pigtails.
Lastly, we have to address the missing fourth Best Food Friend. He’s not shown on the instruction sheet, but if you look at Violetino’s tablet, you will see a tiny drawing of Larry The Leek. He looks like the coolest of the bunch and has a ball cap and a basketball. And he’s winking! I mean, how cool is that?
Though his name may sound like an incontinent character from “Guys and Dolls,” Larry The Leek is actually an interesting non-existent addition to the ranks. He would provide an additional set of male face pieces, and would allow for these toys to be used to reenact “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.”
I mean, isn’t that what everybody does with Mr. Potato Head?
But he’s not here. Could it be that, on the slow boat from China, during that long and grueling trip, that the Best Food Friends had a Donner Party moment, and reduced their ranks by one friend?
The world may never know.