The mind of a child is a difficult thing to tame. With no space for historically significant events, mathematics, or any practical kind of information, kids instead possess minds that are full of fanciful imaginings. Monsters, magic, faraway lands and their toy collections are far more likely to occupy their rapidly-developing brains than any kind of scholastic lesson. However, there is one thing that can captures a child’s attention like lint on tape: icky, slimy, disgusting bugs.
Originally made by Mattel in 1964, Creepy Crawlers is a creative toy for kids who are old enough to play with hot things without horribly burning themselves. Basically, the toy consists of die-cast metal molds of assorted critters that are a receptacle for an oozing, liquid chemical substance called Plastigoop. The goop is heated in the machine until it set into a semi-solid, rubbery form and then the critters are popped out of their metal molds once cooled. The result is endless amounts of rubbery bug toys that make any kid squeal with joy.
The problem with the older models is that they actually contained an electric hot plate oven. In a kid’s hands, this thing might have well been an unattended pack of matches. With all of the concerns over child safety, Mattel released a 2.0 version in 1978 in which the Plastigoop was heated by itself and then poured into cold molds. It was a failure because this method took over an hour to make a completed creature and the reformulated Plastigoop did not work well at all. The attempted revival faded into obscurity.
It wasn’t until the patents that Mattel held expired and they were snatched up by a company called ToyMax in 1992 that I was introduced to the wonderful world of Creepy Crawlers. After being out of the public eye for more than a decade, the Creepy Crawlers brand was resuscitated with a whole new look. The updated version of the toy reintroduced the metal molds and original Plastigoop formula, but also had the added bonus of using a light-bulb-powered “Magic Maker” heating system that was far safer than handing idiotic children a functional hot plate. The new Creepy Crawlers oven also contained a built-in safety device that would remain closed until the mold had cooled enough to be handled.
I remember receiving one of these sets as a child after seeing one of those infectiously amazing “Cree-ee-ee-py Crawlers!” TV advertisements and begging my parents incessantly until they caved. I spent hours with the thing and it went great alongside my older sister’s Easy Bake Oven. She’d be feeding me those putrid lightbulb-cooked brownies while I’d be making bright red earthworms in my Creepy Crawlers oven. There is no better microcosm of tender sibling coexistence than this example.
It seemed like every couple of months a new kind of mold would be introduced as well. There were licensed ones for the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Batman, and The Mask among others. One set I remember being really cool involved multi-part alien creatures. You had to cast each part of their body separately and then assemble them together to form giant monsters. I can’t think of a better toy for a young boy. I hereby declare that someday my eventual offspring will know the joys of using Plastigoop to create molds of giant rubber aliens. It’s their fucking birth rite.
It was also great how ToyMax never had any shortage of new ideas for Plastigoop expansions as well. There were glow in the dark goops, scented goops, glitter goops, stretch goops, color change goops, and even goops that could double as erasers. Talk about knowing your target audience. ToyMax must have been run by an evil super genius.
The play set was a must have for any self-respecting 8-year-old. I specifically remember using the above scorpion mold more than any other in the original set. By the end of my love affair with the device, I had used the mold so much that it was rendered inoperable. There was so much excess Plastigoop caked around the outer edges and inside each of the respective bug slots that I was unable to make my beloved scorpions ever again. If you didn’t have at least 3 of these floppy creatures in your pencil box in elementary school, you were shunned like the everlasting loser you most probably are.
After trying again to revitalize the brand after its popularity waned and its fans grew too old to be playing with toys, ToyMax introduced a redesigned oven. The mold packs were becoming few and far between, however, and in 2001 ToyMax closed their doors for good. Fortunately, a third company called Jakks Pacific took the reigns where ToyMax left off and has still been releasing new versions of Creepy Crawlers to this day. From Pokemon-themed molds to Star Wars and liquid-filled squishable bug varieties, the Creepy Crawlers legacy is still going strong and that makes me very happy.
Recently, there’s been talk of a 3D printer version of Creepy Crawlers:
The ThingMaker printer, which will retail for $299.99, is listed as being for kids ages 13 and older, but the toys you can print out are safe for children as young as 3. For kids too young to use a 3D printer themselves, I imagine it could still be a great parent-child project.
While it won’t be nearly as fun as making bugs out of Plastigoop, a 3D printer version the toy will be much safer. Overprotective parents everywhere will be able to sleep soundly knowing their kid isn’t going to burn down the house or roast their fingers on a 40 watt light bulb.
If I had my way, though, no generation of children woud ever be without the joys of creating rubbery multi-colored bugs in a light bulb oven on a quiet Saturday afternoon. Here’s to another 50 years of Creepy Crawlers goodness.