By Jonathan Alexandratos
“Times are tough” is an understatement. I live in New York City, so, daily, I see all the ways the COVID-19 pandemic has hurt those around me. Thankfully, I am currently healthy, as are my loved ones, but that feels small in the shadow of the unemployed, the sick, and, saddest of all, the dead. It’s hard to find solace when all my old havens are, at least for now, gone.
I social distance. I wear a mask outside. I stay home frequently. All of this makes a city of eight million feel like the loneliest place on Earth. In my isolation, I’ve noticed my mind goes where it often does in trauma: to toys. Toys are public transportation for the mind. They teleport you to myriad fantastical worlds, bygone memories, and perhaps deceptively simpler times. But now, as my gaze settles on my toy collection day after day, these little plastic bodies have offered me a new message: hope.
When I look at certain toys, I think about the stories behind the characters they represent, and my optimism returns. I know this won’t stop the pandemic, but it does help me believe that the pandemic will end, and we’ll be able to go outside with our little plastic friends in search of our human ones once again.
In order to spread a little of that hope, I want to share with you ten toys that are my symbols of a brighter future. Let the countdown begin:
10. Wonder Woman, Mezco Toys
Mezco did a great job capturing Gal Gadot’s likeness for this figure, based on her first film. When I look at it, I’m instantly reminded of what Wonder Woman stands for: truth, strength, and justice. It makes me feel that we can defeat any enemy, even if that enemy is Ares.
9. Vincent Van Gogh, Titan Merchandise
This Vincent Van Gogh vinyl figure is from the Doctor Who episode “Vincent and the Doctor.” From the Matt Smith era, this Whovian version of the master painter is the one I look to for hope. This Van Gogh reminds me of the sensitivity and passion actor Tony Curran showed us in that episode. The ending guts me every time: a (spoiler alert) time-traveled Van Gogh, saddened by the feeling his work is meaningless, gets to see the fervent reception of his work in present-day museums, and becomes overjoyed. Thinking about this invites the feeling that, even if you feel your work doesn’t matter in the moment, it can play an essential role in the bigger scheme of things, and that is oddly comforting.
8. Miguel Rivera and Dante, Mattel
If the movie Coco doesn’t make you tear up, do you even have a heart? I have to break out the Kleenex every time. But when I see my little, plastic Miguel and Dante, I think about walking through the unknown, even when the unknown is scary. While Miguel’s circumstances are vastly different than ours, I find a lot of hope in the idea that doing what terrifies you can make you into the person you long to be. Further, the breaking of the barriers between life and death and family and stranger (on which the film hinges) comforts me by creating a world far more fluid, and therefore malleable, than we know.
7. Power Rangers Turbo Rescue Megazord, Bandai
This Megazord literally makes a super-robot out of the essential workers on the front lines of this pandemic, which is about the level of strength they have (actually, I think they have even more). I have a couple of friends currently working in hospitals, and I hope they all get Zords as part of their thanks for this. They’re already superheroes. When I see them actualized as such, it fills me with hope and support for the people giving everything, daily, to keep us safe.
6. Captain America, Marx
Captain America feels like an obvious choice, but I selected this Captain America for a reason. It’s an older toy, from around 1967. It’s taken a beating. At first glance, it may look like a green blob, but, when you really take the time to appreciate it, you can see the marvelous detail sculpted into the figure. That feels like what the U.S. is to me: an old idea (but not the oldest) that’s been through the wringer, but whose diverse, individual details are so artful that, when put together, they can comprise something wonderful, even with the scars. Pandemics know no borders, so I hope we can put our scrappy little toy up with the rest of the Avengers and create a better, healthier world for us all.
5. Bumblebee, Takara Tomy
If we’re talking about hope in the Transformers universe, Optimus Prime is probably the first to come to mind. However, I chose Bumblebee. And not just any Bumblebee: this Bumblebee is the recently- released Takara Tomy Studio Series “Offroad Bumblebee” from his solo film. I’m a huge fan of this movie, and this toy reminds me of Bumblebee when he first arrives on Earth, a refugee from the war on Cybertron. He’s the little guy, but powerful, clearly capable of evading the worst, even when “the worst” is really bad. Bumblebee finds a friend in Charlie Watson, and the two fight their demons, physical and mental, together. I like thinking about such symbiotic unions because they give me hope that, even when it seems like all is lost, it is still possible to find love and acceptance, even as an alien robot.
4. Captain Kathryn Janeway, Playmates
Lost in the Delta Quadrant, Captain Janeway commands the crew of the U.S.S. Voyager as they fight for their survival in the Star Trek spin-off that shares its name with her ship. The way Janeway prioritizes facts and science offers me a lot of hope for what humanity can do to reach its utopian future (though, according to Trek canon, humanity goes through some rough times before it gets there). She’s a captain who largely rejects panic in favor of a calm exploration of strange, new worlds. In doing that, this Janeway figure reminds me to approach this reality as similarly as I can.
3. Power Rangers Reboot Movie Megazord, Bandai
I know, I know, people hate the Power Rangers movie reboot. I don’t. If you do, Loryn’s got you covered. Given that it’s controversial, I’ll side-step my pro-reboot talking points and get right to why this particular Megazord makes my list. In the 2017 film, this Megazord is formed just as the Rangers think they’re facing certain, fiery doom. They agree that they’re all in this together, and then, out of that teamwork, the Megazord forms around them, forged in their darkest hour. The toy, therefore, is a reminder to me to trust the power of friendship and community, even when it seems like that community is falling apart. Our environment is way more powerful than we realize, and, if we trust it, it can provide.
2. She-Ra, Mattel
Though my photo is of the 1980s’ She-Ra, I’m mostly about the Netflix reboot these days. There, we see Adora start out on the wrong side of history, and witness her evolution into the hero she was destined to be. This is hopeful because it shows how mistakes aren’t necessarily proof that a person isn’t meant for greatness. Since we all make mistakes, the only thing that’s asked is that we confront them in order to create a better world. In order to rebuild anything, that process seems necessary.
1. The SDF-1, ReAction, Super7
In Robotech, the SDF-1 is a fortress with the capability of space flight. When it launches from South Ataria, it accidentally takes a piece of Macross City, which surrounded the SDF-1 on land, with it. As a result, the Macross City residents found themselves surrounded by familiar sights, but within an entirely new, and frightening, context. When I look at Super7’s SDF-1 (which is a lot cheaper than the vintage Matchbox one), I think about Macross City and its people. While their enemy is not a disease, it is a strange force that suddenly threatens them. The citizens of Macross City attempt to continue their lives as normal, but they soon realize they need to make adjustments in order to safely exist within the body of a massive spaceship many miles from home. This story speaks to the resilience of humanity, even when cast against horrific, fantastical circumstances.
Ultimately, these toys carry messages of friendship, community, persistence, and knowledge. Those are all so needed now, and I’m glad to be surrounded by daily reminders that they’re closer than I may think.