Sure, if you compare it to the technology introduced in recent years, the Fisher Price Movie Viewer looks pretty darn antiquated. But for a youngster growing up in 1973, the idea of being able to play your own movies on a handheld device, wherever and whenever you wanted, was cutting-edge stuff. Let’s look back at this well-remembered toy.
It’s no surprise that a device as magical as this would come from the toy designers at Fisher-Price; they already had plenty of experience when it came to creating innovative optical-based toys for young children. The Movie Viewer, geared for 3-10 year-olds was a simple but nifty device. Looking a bit more like a crème colored ray gun than a movie camera, the front of the device accepted cartridges that you could buy separately, each containing a short film clip. The film was illuminated thanks to a little window that could be held up to any light source. Simply look through the viewer and start cranking the arm on the side and, voila, your very own movie screening. Inside, each cartridge contained an 8mm film that was looped so that, once you reached the end, you were right back at the beginning. No rewinding necessary. Of course, that didn’t mean you couldn’t rewind – and view all the action in reverse! Since you had complete control of the device, via the hand crank, you not only controlled the speed of the film, but also the direction.
Surprisingly, a decent library of cartridges were available, each of which usually contained a small clip from a movie or TV show, or a short cartoon. Disney movies were rather popular and Cinderella, Bambi and an assortment of other Disney cartoons were available. Warner Brothers cartoons such as Bugs Bunny were also distributed, as well as Peanuts cartoons. TV shows like Sesame Street were also well-represented, and later, feature films like Disney’s The Black Hole would make their way to the cartridge library.
Taking things to the next level, Fisher-Price released a Theater Viewer in 1978, so you could finally watch cartridges with friends, thanks to a backlit screen. They sold respectfully but certainly not at the levels of the original handheld version. Another interesting tidbit about the handheld viewer is that it would find its way into the hands of a number of adults. Up and coming filmmakers learned that it wasn’t very hard to open the cartridges and replace Bambi with their own 8mm movie clips. They could then distribute the devices to promote their films. Even they thought the Fisher Price Movie Viewer was pretty darn cool.
And you know what, it really was. Consider that it needed no batteries to operate, nor any electrical hookups. It was entirely kid-powered – a dying art in the toy world and one that is especially appreciated by parents on Christmas Day. It might have met its demise in 1985 but it certainly made an impact during its respectable run. This was handheld self-contained fun of the highest order, and a glimpse of 30 years into the future, when handheld movies would become commonplace. How many toys can boast something like that?
Did you and your friends entertain yourself with the Fisher-Price Movie Viewer? Tell us all about it in our comments section as we tip our hats to this toy that was well before its time.