There was a terrific article by Neil Swidey in the Boston Sunday Globe on Hasbro's development and introduction of a new animatronic pony that whinnies, shakes its head, and chomps on a carrot - and only costs $300.
Forget the obscene price point, and the insidious marketing aimed at little girls 4-8.
The story about the 3-year effort to bring the product from sketch to prime positioning at Wal-Mark and Target (admittedly, at the big box stores, ol' Butterscotch retails for less than the sticker price) is completely fascinating. For someone who's spent her entire career in B2B software and tech services, well, just the notion of all the expense, risk, and complexity that goes into developing a manufactured product for the fickle kid consumer market is mind boggling.
But when I saw the picture of a little girl feeding a fake carrot to this quasi life-sized toy, I couldn't help but shudder.
This may be a toy that a little girl would crave and whine for, but it's not something that she's going to snuggle up with. And since it already does so much, there's that much that's no longer left to the child's precious imagination, other than imaginary horse poops.
Compare and contrast Butterscotch the pony to Sniffy the mutt, a long-lived survivor of my own childhood.
Sniffy couldn't do much, and was only about 9" long, and - I just put him on the postage scale - weighing in at 3.5 ounces - but he was, along with my imaginary friends Dooley and Allagy, a boon companion until I learned to read.
Sniffy might not have had any animatronic powers, but that just meant that there was nothing that could break. He could do whatever I wanted him to do, and I didn't ever have to worry about his forgetting how. For the record, Sniffy could growl, bite, talk, talk-back, mock, laugh, double as a pony (with my tiny-little Ginette doll on his back), jump, sing, sniff, and fly. Unlike the rigid Butterscotch, Sniffy was cuddly. And he was small enough to discretely tuck under the pillow for a little extra companionship long after I discovered that a book and a flashlight made wonderful bedtime friends.
Sniffy is pretty ratty looking now, and I don't pay him much attention. His "fur" is matted and worn through to the "skin" in many places. His stuffing was long ago replaced by my mother with cut up nylon stockings. His shoe-button eyes are long gone, too, as are the non-shoe button eyes my mother sewed on in their place. Yet he is still, quite remarkably, here after all these years.
Long decades out, I wonder how many of these $300 ponies are still going to be in the lives of their little owners.