02/05/18

Happy Daze : The View-Master

There’s a strange moment in the opening scenes of Jurassic World, the newest member of the dino-blockbuster franchise. The young boy who will go on to (spoiler alert) have all sorts of problems with all sorts of prehistoric critters, is seen in his room happily clicking through a View-Master.

This famous toy – which allows users to view small colour pictures through a plastic goggle-like contraption – brings back a lot of fond memories for many of us. But in 2015, in a movie where dinosaurs are genetically-engineered and theme parks make use of cutting-edge gyroscope technology, are we to believe that the View-Master still holds its own?

The View-Master made its debut at the New York World’s Fair of 1959, introduced by a Portland-based company called Sawyer’s which was one of the country’s main suppliers of scenic postcards. It’s not surprising then that the early View-Master slide-reels mainly focused on vistas of popular tourist sites – the best-sellers were apparently the Grand Canyon and the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico.

 

In 1952, Sawyer’s snapped up Tru-Vue, a rival toy which also crucially owned the licensing rights to Walt Disney’s cavalcade of characters, who then became a staple of the View-Master experience. Later, various TV shows and films got their own reels, along with all manner of wildlife and scenes from outer-space.

One of the most memorable things about playing with a View-Master was the satisfying click when you moved onto the next picture. The chunky plastic trigger seemed perfectly calibrated to make each and every new image a physical as well as a visual experience.

But in a world where Google can present us with all manner of pictures within milliseconds, and children brought up with technology seem dismissive of many of the toys that defined our childhoods, can the View-Master really have a future? Well, maybe. In February this year, it was announced that Mattel (which brought the toy in 1998) was working with Google on a virtual reality version of the View-Master where smartphones are placed into a plastic headset.

Obviously, this is the classic toy updated for a 21st Century audience, but it’s interesting that some things haven’t changed. In its review of the new version, The Verge website wrote: “It’s got the thick red plastic of a vintage View-Master on the sides, and… there’s a chunky orange clicker.” The View-Master is dead, long live the View-Master!