Inside, each cartridge contained an 8mm film that was looped so that, once you reached the end, you were right back at the beginning. No rewinding necessary. Of course, that didn’t mean you couldn’t rewind – and view all the action in reverse! Since you had complete control of the device, via the hand crank, you not only controlled the speed of the film, but also the direction.
Surprisingly, a decent library of cartridges were available, each of which usually contained a small clip from a movie or TV show, or a short cartoon. Disney movies were rather popular and Cinderella, Bambi and an assortment of other Disney cartoons were available. Warner Brothers cartoons such as Bugs Bunny were also distributed, as well as Peanuts cartoons. TV shows like Sesame Street were also well-represented, and later, feature films like Disney’s The Black Hole would make their way to the cartridge library.
Taking things to the next level, Fisher-Price released a Theater Viewer in 1978, so you could finally watch cartridges with friends, thanks to a backlit screen. They sold respectfully but certainly not at the levels of the original handheld version. Another interesting tidbit about the handheld viewer is that it would find its way into the hands of a number of adults. Up and coming filmmakers learned that it wasn’t very hard to open the cartridges and replace Bambi with their own 8mm movie clips. They could then distribute the devices to promote their films. Even they thought the Fisher Price Movie Viewer was pretty darn cool.
And you know what, it really was. Consider that it needed no batteries to operate, nor any electrical hookups. It was entirely kid-powered – a dying art in the toy world and one that is especially appreciated by parents on Christmas Day. It might have met its demise in 1985 but it certainly made an impact during its respectable run. This was handheld self-contained fun of the highest order, and a glimpse of 30 years into the future, when handheld movies would become commonplace. How many toys can boast something like that?
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