Monday, May 04, 2009

Mattel Funlight, We Hardly Knew Ye...

In 1970 Mattel created one of the best toys of all time: the Funlight. We were lucky to own this amazing light projector with its nine projector wheels of excellence. My mom still berates herself on a yearly basis that she gave it away because, as she puts it, "You both played with it constantly."

Mattel Funlight
One desperate Internet soul, in trying to track down this toy, describes what made the Funlight so fun:

I had as a child, a kind of transparency projector with groovy slides. Round about Christmas 1975, my uncle gave me my favourite toy ever. It was a red plastic projector that came with numerous circular slides about three inches in diameter that could be combined in interesting ways. For example, one slide was about 1/8" thick and contained blue liquid with bubbles that made a kind of psychedelic light show on the wall. Another slide was two colour wheels joined together in the middle. You could rotate the wheels independently to get different colours. There was room in the projector for more than one slide, so you could (for instance) combine the colour wheel with the blue bubbles to make bubbles of constantly changing hue. I also had some Shrinky Dink material and cut out circles of just the right size, then drew comic strips on them with magic marker so that I could project those on the wall too. (I think the projector may have come with a blank slide that gave me this idea.) Overall, given the versatility of this toy and the scope it offered my imagination, it's hands down the best toy anyone ever gave me as a kid.
The blue bubble slide (unfortunately not pictured here) put the Funlight over the top into toy nirvana. It was so trippy to project liquid bubbles across the ceiling. It also came with a MONSTER SLIDE; a slide full of classic movie-monster heads that were black & white so you could put the color slide behind them and make them change colors. There was a goofy head-body-feet interchangeable human character-slide, a vehicle slide, an insect slide, and a slide of groovy geometric patterns, as well as an LSD freakout slide of swirly colors for when you wanted your slideshow story to completely wig out.

For that is what we did with a Funlight, we told stories, like the ancient cave-people with their fire, soot and shadow puppets. The Funlight wasn't just a visual free-for-all. It was a visual free-for-all with our thoughts and narratives tying it all together. More than a movie projector, the Funlight was an extension of our 70s-era brains. In our darkened suburban bedrooms, we could make anything happen on the wall and we did. If anyone is willing to part with a Funlight, get in touch with me.

More fun kiddie projectors over the years:











-Photo source: Mettavant Project
-Children's Records & More - Give-A-Show Projector/Mattel Funlight/Viewmaster

7 comments:

mikecushman said...

I got the Funlight as a Christmas present when I was four years old, and was very fond of it. I remember the slides well, particularly the insect slide and the blue bubble slide, which unfortunately developed a leak and turned my bottom drawer blue. The Funlight pops up occasionally on eBay, so your best bet is to run a saved search and have them notify you via email. Good luck!

Miss Lisa said...

Thanks Mike. I just won a vintage Spirograph auction on ebay, so my son can play with a real Spirograph kit (the new ones don't require pins but they're not nearly as versatile or clever in scope). I'll check for Funlights and hope the plastic has held up over the years.

tzoneman said...

Funny that you mention the Funlight, I too feel that it was THE best toy I EVER received as a child. My favorite slide was the Monsters slide; so very cool to project drawings of a Frankenstein-like monster, and even a demon one; remarkable that Mattel made a toy with an image of a devil in it;) I have such vivid fond memories of the Funlight, my absolute favorite toy, and, I can concur that it can be found on Ebay. Over the years, I have been lucky to have found 3 Funlights. Unfortunately, one has a ruptured bubble slide, and another has a lens with small fissure-like cracks in it, making the images a little blurry, but one Funlight I was able to find is in perfect working order, has all the slides, including an intact bubble slide. One of my memories with the one thick slide that had slots to put stuff in and close up, is that I remember catching a fly or ants and putting them in there, thusly creeping the crap out of myself with projecting giant CRAWLING bugs on the walls and ceiling. I'll have to try that again sometime. I also think about pulling the Funlight out during a party and having fun with it... ANYWAYS, keep looking on Ebay and you WILL find a Funlight, eventually.

Miss Lisa said...

Thanks for your encouragement, Tzoneman. I haven't found a Funlight on EBay yet, but your story gives me hope. And yes--definitely break it out during a party, but keep an eye on the bubble slide. I could see someone, especially while inebriated, making off with that in the middle of the night, and then being too ashamed to bring it back the next morning. It eventually would become a coaster and that would be tragic. You see--Funlight already inspires stories and I don't even own one!

Miss Lisa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I justosted a complete and fully operational Mattel Funlight on eBay. Sellers name is Mustang_Mike_66

Anonymous said...

I have a complete working Funlight in great shape with all the slides as well. I've been trying to sell it for months now,with no offers at all. My e-mail is bigall@execulink.com,if anyone is interested in it.