Christmas then and now: Nostalgic gifts get a digital makeover | PDD


December 15 2015
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Christmas then and now: Nostalgic gifts get a digital makeover

As is customary at this time of year, many of us have given some thought as to what we’d like for Christmas. Leo, my three-year-old nephew, has his wish list sorted. First up, he wants a Jessie the Yodelling Cowgirl figure – she of Toy Story film fame – who was, according to the Wall Street Journal, one of the hottest toys of the season back at Christmas 1999.

Dolls. Image credit: left – Jessie –, right – Hello Barbie –

Although Jessie ‘talks’, she’s hardly hi-tech.  The battery-operated figure says 17 different phrases at the pull of a string. Compare this to the interactive Hello Barbie™ toy by Mattel. Possibly the most advanced of artificial intelligence (A.I.) toys currently in the market, the Internet-connected Hello Barbie™ doll uses speech recognition technology to engage in a conversation, “just like a real friend.


Racing car sets. Image credit: top –, bottom –

Leo’s also gone old-school for his second toy request – a Scalextric (slot car racing) set. I remember when my brother got one of these for Christmas in the Eighties. What a let-down. Hours we’d spend painstakingly putting the circuit together. And for what? I could never see the point of a racing car game that’s clearly anti-speeding.  In the case of my brother’s set, if we dared ratchet up the speed, the little cars would go flying off the track. Every. Single. Time. Thankfully, Scalextric has since gone digital and may well provide an improved user experience. Still, why bother with slot cars when you can now get slot-less racing with robotic supercars? The Anki Overdrive features a ‘smart track’ that can be rolled out onto any surface and matchbox-sized cars that are controlled via an app on your mobile device. Better still, the cars keep themselves on the track at all times.


Image credit: top –, bottom –

But renewed versions of classic toys and games aren’t necessarily more desirable than the original. Take the Star Wars: The Force Awakens Battle Action Millennium Falcon (BAMF). The Telegraph deems BAMF the best toy for Christmas 2015. And while the latest Millennium Falcon can fire foam darts, there are some who would argue that the iconic 1979 original is still the best design. (I’m not getting involved in this debate. Keen PULSE readers may remember that I haven’t even watched the Star Wars films, let alone played with one of the toys.)

Polaroids. Image credit: left – All About Gestaltung, right –

It’s nice to see that, true to the original, the new pocket-sized Polaroid camera has kept the fun factor. Kind of the ‘smart’ camera of its day (the 80s again), the pre-digital Polaroid was exciting for us kids. The camera would make a pleasant whirring sound while ‘making’ the photo and we’d take turns waving the photo about in an effort to speed up its development time. Although the recently launched Polaroid Snap does away with the whirring and waving about, it does offer users the option to print off vintage Polaroid style images.

Image credit:

Back to Leo and his one other wish for Christmas, which is: to be a mermaid. Now you’re talking! This I can work with. Given that the little lad lives nowhere near a beach in North London, I’m thinking that the closest he’ll get to living the mermaid dream is via Melanie Campbell’s crocheted mermaid tail blanket. (I’ve also added this to my own Christmas list.)

Image credit: left –, right –

Finally, I hear that Santa will be topping up Leo’s stocking with this year’s hottest holiday toy. Popular in the mid-1960s, the Pie Face game has been relaunched after a video of a grandfather and grandson playing the game became a viral sensation in the summer. Apparently, kids everywhere are going crazy for Pie Face, and I can’t say I blame them. Who needs a talking doll when you can get splatted in the face with whipped cream? Now that’s a game that will never get old.

Happy holidays!

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