1975 - 1979
Kids these days don't know how good they have it when it comes to media entertainment. Back in the 70's, we kids were lucky if our parents were rich enough to purchase video cassettes, let alone the VCR to play them on. Back in those days, your average VCR cost about $1,300.00 - in today's standards, that's about $5,000.00. In fact, the standard format of what most people call a "video cassette" didn't even come about until 1976 when the first VHS cassette VCR was developed and marketed in Japan. This wouldn't hit US shores until October of 1977, and your average movie would set you back anywhere from $50.00 to $100.00 (the first released were M.A.S.H., The Sound of Music and Patton).
During this time, companies such as Ken Films, Blackhawk Films, Castle Films, and other such companies were appeasing movie fans at a much cheaper price with 8MM, Super 8MM and 16MM reel to reel films. However, with this cheaper price came reels that only included selected scenes of films, some of which ran for as little as two minutes. The first batch of films started out as black and white silent films, but as time progressed the various companies would also produce films in color, and eventually with sound.
So how does all of this come together for Kenner's Movie Viewer? It's simple really. It was a way for Kenner to market movies and television to children in a cheaper format, which in turn could be used to market more toys. If children had the ability to watch film strips of television shows or movies, this in turn would make the action figures based on said films more marketable.
Each Movie Viewer cassette came in a bright red plastic casing, which inside featured a strip of 8MM film that contained approximately sixty seconds of footage with no sound. A spindle with a groove on the side of the cassette would catch on the Viewer's knob mechanism when it was inserted into the side of the "machine", and turning the knob manually with your hand would cycle the film in a continuous loop.
Using pretty much the same technology of a View-Master, the mechanism would allow the person to hold the machine to their eye, looking through the small "lens" on the back side at the film. Light would shine through on the other side of the chamber, providing just enough illumination to see the film inside. It was essentially a self powered 8MM projector for kids, and we loved it!
Kenner began its Movie Viewer series in 1975 with the highly popular Snoopy Movie viewer. It would be the first of many Viewers over the course of the 1970's, and worked so perfectly that up until the time it was discontinued, the design never changed. Sure the Viewers came in different colors with various sticker logos on them, but the basic design stayed, as did the design for the red cassettes.
The Snoopy series encompassed twelve individually packaged cassettes, and one which was only available with the Viewer itself. Each cassette was numbered at the top of the box portion of the package, and also included the name of the film. The only exception to this is Slide, Snoopy, Slide, which was packaged with the Viewer, and thus did not have its own individual box. The Viewer itself was green with a yellow crank knob.
Snoopy Movie Viewer with Slide. Snoopy, Slide Cassette
1) I'll Be A Dirty Bird
2) Good Grief
3) Roll Over Beethoven
4) Snoopy's Garage Sale
5) Chow Hound Snoopy
6) Skateboard Olympics
7) Blockhead's Bobble
8) Hang On, Snoopy
9) The Easter Beagle
10) Sherlock Snoopy
11) Lucy Vs. The Masked Marvel
12) Curse You, Red Baron
Kenner followed up with the highly popular The Six Million Dollar Man Movie Viewer (also in 1975). This particular Viewer featured a blue color, with white crank knob, and had six individually packed cassettes. The seventh cassette, The Crash...The Creation of the Bionic Man, was packed in with the "machine" itself.
The Six Million Dollar Man with The Crash...The Creation Of The Bionic Man Cassette
1) Bionic Feats
2) The Bionic Man In Action
3) Col. Steve Austin Adventures
4) Col. Steve Austin In Pursuit
5) Bionic Rescue
6) Col. Steve Austin Tackles Danger
In an attempt to gain interest from young girls, Kenner also produced the Bionic Woman Movie Viewer that same year. The Viewer itself featured an all red look with the exception of the white crank knob. Only three individually packaged cassettes were produce with an additional fourth cassette, If The Shoe Fits..., which was packaged in with the Viewer. It unfortunately never really took off for girls.
The Bionic Woman Movie Viewer with If The Shoe Fits... Cassette
1) C'mon, Jaime
2) Attempted Escape
3) The Bionic Woman To The Rescue
In 1976, Kenner released six Cartoon Cassettes which featured;
1) The Flintstones: Hold That Tiger
2) Hong Kong Phooey: The Clutching Claw
3) Scooby Doo: Scuba Scooby
4) Great Grape Ape: Gridiron Grapple
5) Pebbles & Bamm Bamm: What A Figure
6) Speed Buggy: Love Buggy
Out of all the Movie Viewer products that Kenner produced, these six Cartoon Cassettes are the most difficult to track down. We've seen about half of them, but none of them had the original boxes. If anyone has any of the above in the box, please send us photos. We are happy to credit anyone who contributes. Please send all photographs to email@example.com. Thank you.
Enter, Star Wars...
These days it's relatively unheard of to have access to a film (legally) while it's still running in the theater, so when Kenner released one of its first products based on the film, kids and adults went nuts. Despite being only sixty seconds of footage, fans of the film were eager to see anything and everything they could over and over and over again. What better way then in the palm of your hand?
Despite its major popularity, Kenner only produced four individually packaged cassettes, and the fifth, May The Force Be With You, which came packaged with the Viewer. There's no real answer known to the general public as to why there were so few cassettes, but we speculate that when the film took off like it did, Lucasfilm and/or Fox pulled the plug on the cassettes to encourage people to continue to fill theater seats.
With the exception of the Star Wars logo sticker, this model was the exact same as the Six Million Dollar Man released version from 1975.
Star Wars Movie Viewer with May The Force Be With You Cassette
1) Destroy Death Star
2) Danger At The Cantina
3) Battle In Hyperspace
4) Assault On Death Star
The final Movie Viewer can be traced to one that we've already mentioned - Alien. From the start, Alien products from Kenner were facing an uphill battle. The science fiction/horror film may have been doing great in theaters, but the rated R film was far from marketable to children - At least back in those days. If parents weren't taking children to see the film in theaters, why would they buy them a hand held cassette player with sixty seconds of footage from the film? Well, long story short, they didn't.
After a very short lived shelf life, Kenner pulled the plug on all its Alien related products, leaving this Viewer with only the one cassette it came packaged with - Alien Terror. This was sadly the last Movie Viewer Kenner would release in general. The Viewer was given one final paint job of dark gray with a white crank knob.
Alien Movie Viewer with Alien Terror Cassette
During the popularity of the Movie Viewer, Kenner also explored other avenues which would make use of the same cassettes. These included the Six Million Dollar Man Bionic Video Center and Snoopy Drive-In Movie Theater. These two particular items incorporated the same hand cranked knob technology, but also contained a small screen that would project the film on it from behind. This was made possible with three "D" cell batteries which powered a bulb inside.
Much like the Movie Viewers, Snoopy's Drive-In Theater came with its own unique cassette, Woodstock's Dream House. The Six Million Dollar Man Bionic Video Center included a prior released cassette, Col. Steve Austin Adventures. It contained a seat in front of the screen that you could place your Col. Steve Austin doll, but the doll itself was not included.
These days it's incredibly difficult to track down the majority of the Kenner Movie Viewer cassettes, especially mint in the box. They're just not as readily available as the Viewers themselves. Oddly enough, while the Star Wars Viewer and Cassettes seem to pop up more often than the rest, they also seem to have the higher asking price - Probably solely for the Star Wars name.
Fisher Price competed with their owner Movie Viewer which was much more successful on the market, and lasted well into the mid 1980's. However, this was probably because they also had a far superior library of cassettes which extended to franchises such as Sesame Street, Disney, and several cartoons of the era.
Join us next time when we take a look at Kick-Ass 2!
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