July 26, 2013— -- Way back in the early 90s, the country was gripped by a mania for brightly colored miniature stuffed animals that flew off shelves: Beanie Babies.
Launched in 1993, the original line featured nine animals —including Legs the Frog, Spot the Dog, Chocolate the Moose, Patti the Platypus—that became so popular that its parent company, Ty Warner, Inc., (now Ty Inc)., amassed a reported $6 billion fortune.
But not everyone fared as well. A documentary burning up the Internet, "Bankrupt By Beanies," shows how the Robinson family of Los Angeles was swept up in the Beanie craze, shelling out as much as $100,000 on the tiny toys in the hopes that their collection would one day become valuable enough to put five kids through college.
"It became this all-consuming family activity, filling up any free time that wasn't already earmarked for school or our youth hockey teams," filmmaker Chris Robinson told Dazed Digital.
In the short but sobering film, Robinson explains how his father, also named Chris Robinson, a former soap star who played Dr. Rick Webber on General Hospital in the 70s and 80s, became obsessed with collecting the plushy toys; the idea was to sell them and use the profits to pay for college tuition for Robinson and his four siblings.
According to Robinson, his father's obsession began "almost overnight. The first Beanies were bought while my brother Christian and I were at a hockey camp during the summer," Robinson told Dazed Digital. "Our younger brother Taylor was with our parents in Boston and they happened to go into a shop that sold them. He wanted one and, being the baby, he got one. And then some idiot had to tell my dad that they were valuable and collector's items and the whole thing snowballed from there."
Robinson and his brothers would eat at McDonalds so many times a day to get Teenie Beanies, an offshoot of the original which were tucked in Happy Meals, that they became ill. (One of their friends was taken to the hospital because he ate too much of the fast food).
"I'm pretty sure he lied and just said he was sick enough to go to the hospital, but when an adolescent boy would rather be hospitalized than eat McDonald's something has gone horribly wrong," Robinson told DazedDigital.
The Beanie craze died in 1999, and the Robinson family may be stuck with thousands of Beanie Babies. Indeed, their value has dramatically decreased over the last decade: many of them retail online for less than a dollar each. But Robinson says he doesn't regret the experience.
"I'm mostly just apathetic to them at this point," he told Dazed Digital. "I see the whole time period as one of bonding with my family, despite it being an extraordinary waste of money that would have been better spent on pretty much anything else."