Back in 1983, Hallmark Cards busted out Rainbow Brite to counter Muriel Fahrion’s older Strawberry Shortcake line from American Greetings. The character had been in development at Hallmark for about two years prior, starting in 1981. Beginning as a greeting card line, the Rainbow quickly stretched into various forms of character merchandise, licensed products, dolls, and toys- even cereal, and a traveling show!
Hallmark credits 16 individuals with “character development” in the credits of the 1985 Rainbow Brite movie, and out of that list two individuals appear to have been particularly critical to the line’s overall creation. Artist G. G. Santiago claims the lion’s share, stating she was the creator of the original Rainbow Brite collection. (She also created the My Little Kitchen Fairies figurines for Enesco). Another important name is Kora Oliver, who is listed in several places throughout the years of the line; not only in the credits for the 1985 movie but also as “Creative Consultant” on a second video from that year, and as the illustrator for the 2004 children’s book Rainbow Brite Saves Christmas.
Meanwhile, All in the Family and The Carol Burnett Show head writer Heywood “Woody” Kling wrote all of the formative episodes for the 1984 TV series: “Peril in the Pits”, “The Mighty Monstromurk Menace” and “The Beginning of Rainbowland”. He passed away shortly after completing these scripts, and later, his widow would file suit against the companies involved over creative credit and royalty issues. Rich Rudish was the character designer for the series, and directed a number of episodes, while the actual animation was done in Japan.
The original dolls were issued by Mattel in 1983 in several different sizes and styles. They’re still pretty affordable these days! All of the Color Kids were released as 11” dolls, which came with support “sprite” minidolls; most of these figures average about $25-55 in mint condition; considerably cheaper if loose and out of box.
Rarer are the 15/16” dolls, of which only four Color Kids (Rainbow, Patty O’ Green, Canary Yellow and Red Butler) were made. The cost nowadays is about the same as the 11-inchers, but they are said to be much harder to find. Four super-size 18” dolls, anywhere from $40-75 MIB, were made of Rainbow Brite, Patty O’Green, Shy Violet and Baby Brite (the Chibi-Usa of the RB line.) There are 12 soft and cuddly Sprite dolls too – 6 boys and 6 girls – and their prices are anywhere from $2-$50, depending on condition.
The horses (Starlite and Sunriser, suitable for crossover with Barbie figures) are actually much harder to find, and the late-series characters Moonglow and Tickled Pink are fairly difficult to find- don’t expect to locate them for anything less than $75, and that’s as loose figures.
The line has been recently (as of 2009) given a total overhaul – not only revamped and redesigned, but also simplified and streamlined by Hallmark and United Media. In the 80’s, there were seven unique Color Kids as well as Rainbow Brite and an army of Sprites – each representing each particular hue in the spectrum – and just one horse (Starlite), who was Rainbow Brite’s arrogant, prideful steed. The Color Kids, Sprites, and Rainbow protected Rainbow Land from the bumbling and histrionically evil Murky and Lurky, a pair of goofy evildoers from Rainbow Land’s ‘bad side of town’, the Pits. The original dolls were puffy and cute, but not very glamorous.
In the 2009 edition the line has been reduced to three figures, glammed up quite a bit and now more closely resembling the Bratz. The Color Kids are nowhere to be found, the Color Castle has been considerably redesigned, and Rainbow Brite, who Hallmark called a ‘toddler’ in the 1980’s version, is now considered to be anywhere from seven to ten- years-old. While she remains the guardian of all things color and rainbow related, relative newcomers Moonglow and Tickled Pink represent the night sky (moon) and dawn sky (sun). Each of the girls now has their own horse, which are each basically recolors of Starlite.
Except for Rainbow, all of the “new” characters appeared very briefly in or just after the release of Star Stealers, and never made a major impact in the original 80’s line, since they were introduced just as the original line was starting to peter out. It seems that movement and development on this version of the line has stopped. The fourth ‘Sky Power’ has still been left unnamed as of this writing in 2011, (speculation is that Stormy was meant to complete the group as the spirit of weather) and the official site has a sparse, under-populated feel.
Most of the reaction I found on the web to the new designs is profoundly negative. Hallmark has been left in the awkward position of having to deal with a frozen property. Nostalgia for the original has crippled the line from two sides: the 2004 re-release of the original dolls bombed because its look was outdated in the face of the modern market, and yet the same older collectors that refused to buy the re-releases also raged loudly and often at the redesign and refused to support it. Younger consumers simply had no connection to the line because they had no idea what it was – there was no support for it in other media except for a couple of honestly cheap-looking flash animations on the official site.
What a gloomy mess! 25 years later, is all that’s left of Rainbow Land to be just a lot of broken dreams? Don’t let it end this way, Hallmark!
“What if we can’t fix everything in time?” asked a nervous Twink. “We just have to,” answered Rainbow Brite. “Rainbow Land looks about as cheery as the Pits.”
Cassandra writes about media and randomness at her blog, cassandrapoe.com. She’s still looking for that magic key that turns any door into a gateway to Rainbow Land.
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