It’s rare for a brand or group of characters to become a toy craze and take a country by storm. The fact that Trolls have done it twice before in the United States means there is something interesting afoot here. In the 1960s these tiny toys rose to became one of the United States’ biggest toy fads. Seeing their height of popularity from 1963 to 1965, they faded in the second half of the 60s. They would make a return in the late 80s when they caught fire for a second time in the US and seemed to be almost everywhere.
Now, following an intellectual property acquisition of the Trolls franchise by DreamWorks Animation, could these toys be ready for a comeback? Are we standing on the verge of a third mad rush of kids and collectors hunting down these furry haired little fellows everywhere? If an upcoming film and an associated toy line are any indication, the seeds are currently being sewn to try and make it happen.
Before we look ahead though, let’s look back. Trolls actually had a very simple start thanks to the creative eye of Thomas Dam. You see Dam was a danish fisherman and woodcutter. One year, he found himself unable to afford a Christmas present for his daughter Lila and carved the first troll dolls from wood he had on hand. His daughter, thrilled with the new toys, showed friends who immediately wanted a set all their own. Thomas quickly put together a company called Dam Things and rolled out a line of rubber dolls that were somewhat closer to the trolls we know today.
At that point he marketed the dolls as “Good Luck Trolls” and the mythology of the creatures began to take shape hinting at their desire to spread cheer and the magic powers that lived in the early toys. Originally called Dam Dolls, these were somewhat high end toys with hair crafted from sheep’s wool and they even sported glass eyes. They were made of natural rubber and filled with wood shavings. The clothes were hand sewn onto each Troll doll. The natural rubber trolls would give over to a newer kind of plastic which could be machine produced in the 60s, allowing for the doll to last longer and keep up with the growing demand of the time, but much of the creative process for these toys remained handmade.
The dolls would catch fire in Europe then make their way to the United States where they became a full on fad, forever changing the life of Thomas Dam and his family. We can only assume he is smiling in this photo taken later in life. Thomas, born in 1915 would die in 1989 just as the second phase of their fandom was exploding.
Like all good things, that US popularity did fade in the 60s but it proved anything but gone. E.F.S. Marketing Associates, Inc were granted approval to import and market Trolls to the United State once again in the late 80s. This time the trolls were known as Norfin Trolls and they asked fans to adopt them through an “Adopt A Norfin Troll” program (and logo on the doll’s tag.) For an entirely new generation, the collector fad exploded once again and this, thus far, is probably the most widely remembered period of Troll collecting.
Initially targeting girls, there were attempts in the early 90s to shift the fandom to boys. As a result you have Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Trolls, the Original Battle Trolls, the Stone Protectors, and many more spin-off brands. During the height of their popularity, there was a cartoon special, a series of video games, and even a direct-to-video musical.
Years later in 2003, the brand was even named to the Toy Industry Association’s celebrated Century of Toys List. This list denoted the dolls as one of the most memorable and creative toys of the past 20th century.
Of course the history isn’t all about success. Trollz, an animated series and fashion doll line created by DIC Entertainment in 2005, failed to catch hold and actually led to a lawsuit between DIC and the Dam Company in 2007, over misrepresentations by DIC of their ability to fully market the project. The Dam Company accused them of damaging the integrity of the brand. It seemed, for a time, like Trolls would fade from history and become simple collector curiosities.
This leads us up to April 2013 which saw DreamWorks Animation announcing the acquisition of all intellectual property for the Trolls franchise from the Dam Family who had held that ownership for roughly 54 years. Now, in 2016 we see announcements of new toys coming out of Toy Fair International and a November film that’s already gathering press steam as the first trailer is released.
Though Trolls have come and gone at least three times in the Unites States, it’s interesting to note that The Dam company never stopped making the dolls in Europe. There, they have remained a popular toy consistently since 1959 and even with the DreamWorks deal, they still remain the primary licensor in Scandinavia. Personally, I find myself rooting for these funky little creatures. That smile has always made me smile and, at its core, that’s all I can ask for from a toy. Make me happy just by looking at you, creep up on me with unexpected 80s/90s nostalgia, and I’ll be in your court hoping for your renewed success every time.