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Creepy Crawlers is the best-known name associated with an activity toy made by Mattel beginning in 1964. Another name for the toy is "Thingmaker".
A Thingmaker toy consists of a series of die-cast metal molds resembling various bug-like creatures, into which is poured a liquid chemical substance called Plastigoop, which comes in assorted colors. The mold is then heated to about 390 degrees F atop an open-face electric hot plate oven. The Plastigoop is cured by the heat, and when cooled, is removed from the mold, forming semi-solid, rubbery replicas.
The concept of the Thingmaker was actually introduced in 1963, as part of Mattel's "Vac-U-Maker" set. This omnibus toy combined the new molds and Plastigoop technology with the existing "Vac-u-form" machine, which molded simple sculptures by heating thin sheets of plastic, then using a vacuum pump to form the softened plastic over hard plastic forms. Following this introduction period, the Thingmaker portion was spun off as a separate set, and the "Creepy Crawlers" line began in earnest.
Mattel produced many Thingmaker sets as follow-ups to the original "Creepy Crawlers" throughout the 1960s, utilizing a variety of themes, aimed at both boys and girls.
Mattel packaged molds from various sets to be sold separately, and also combined molds into larger omnibus editions, encompassing several themes into one set, under names such as "Triple Thingmaker", "Super Thingmaker", or even "Every Thingmaker". There were also several exclusive single mold sets, such as Superman and Tarzan, and original Mattel concepts like Squirtles and Gangly Danglies.
Varieties of Thingmaker mold sets
- Giant Creepy Crawlers (1965) — This set featured nine molds (as did the original "Creepy Crawlers"), but these new molds featured just one giant creature apiece.
- Fighting Men (1965) — This set of six molds could be used to create mini soldier figures, using an innovative two-part mold to give the Fighting Men a front and a back. The set also included pieces of wire to place in the figure, making it bendle with the bottom wire protrusions being able to stand on a styrofoam base. Other molds in the set created weaponry and equipment for the Fighting Men to carry into battle.
- Creeple Peeple (1965) — This five-mold set formed strange heads, arms and feet. When assembled onto a pencil, they formed weird, Troll-like creatures.
- Fun Flowers (1966) — Seven molds full of different styles and shapes of flowers and leaves, for use in decorating and design.
- Fright Factory (1966) — Five of this set's seven molds were dedicated to creepy disguises, making pieces such as fake scars, snaggled teeth, or a third eye for one's forehead. Another mold (with a special insert) made a shrunken head, and the last made a dangly skeleton that one built from parts.
- Incredible Edibles (1967) - A Thingmaker that made edible pieces. It used a special goop called Gobble De-goop which was placed in molds and cooked like regular Plasti-goop.
- Picadoos (1967) — A Thingmaker for artists. This one featured molds with 10x10-space numbered grids. By carefully placing colored Plastigoop in the grid, one could create decorative artwork in either beads, mosaic tile, or cross-stitch varieties.
- Mini-Dragons (1967) — The eight molds in this set formed wings, horns, claws, tails, and other body parts, which could be combined into various fantasy creatures.
- Eeeeks! (1968) — In the same vein as Mini-Dragons, this set of eight molds formed several varieties of mix-and-match legs, bodies, heads, wings, antennae, etc., to create large, bizarre insects.
- Zoofie-Goofies (1968) — Seven molds form heads, bodies and feet of various animals, from cats and dogs to elephants and lions.
- DollyMaker (1969) — Five two-sided molds are used to create two styles of little dolls, and a wardrobe of late '60s fashions and accessories for them.
- Super Cartoon Maker (1969) — A licensed Thingmaker, the eight molds in this set form replicas of Charles Schulz's Peanuts characters, such as Snoopy, Charlie Brown and Lucy.
- Jillions of Jewels (1970) — The last of the classic Mattel Thingmakers. The set had five molds, but instead of the liquid Plastigoop, these formed solid plastic "gemstones" and jewelry frames from two kinds of powdered "Jewel Dust" compounds.
It is generally believed that production of the original Mattel Thingmakers was discontinued following consumer safety concerns over allowing children to use a small electric heater as a toy.
In 1978 Mattel released an updated (and safer) model of their "Creepy Crawlers" toy. Called the "Thingmaker II", this version used a very differently formulated Plastigoop, and utilized plastic molds, into which was poured the heated Plastigoop. In this set one heated the Plastigoop and poured it into the green plastic mold(s) to cool; the molds were not put into the heater, which looked like a small cauldron. The reformulated Plastigoop did not work well and the process of making bugs, etc. with these sets was painfully slow, taking an hour or so to make a creation. Needless to say, the late 1970s sets did not work as well as their predecessors, and the attempted revival was a short-lived one. Only two sets were produced - Creepy Crawlers and Flower Fun.
After lying dormant for more than a decade, the "Creepy Crawlers" brand was given renewed life in 1992, courtesy of a New York-based company called ToyMax. With much stricter safety regulations in place, the new version of the Creepy Crawlers set re-introduced the metal molds and earlier Plastigoop-type formulation, but now utilized a lightbulb-powered "Magic Maker" heater, with a heat-triggered door that remained closed until the mold had cooled sufficiently to be handled safely (in theory, anyway). The name "Magic Maker", as well as the new oven design, were borrowed from an earlier 1980s-era toy that melted clear colored plastic granules to form sun catcher window decorations. The ToyMax "Creepy Crawlers" set introduced a whole new generation of kids to the fun of making their own rubbery bugs. Over the next five years new mold designs were released as well as new mold packs. Apparently Mattel, the originator of Creepy Crawlers, had let its trademarks lapse, for many of the original Mattel concepts were revisited, such as "Creeple Peeple", "Mini-Dragons", "Eeeks" (ToyMax changed the spelling), and "DollyMaker". Numerous licenses were also employed, resulting in mold designs featuring such diverse characters as Bugs Bunny, The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Batman, and The Mask. The new formula Plasti-Goop was released in an impressive array of colors, and several creative varieties, including
- Glow In the Dark Plasti-Goop
- Scented Glamour-Goop
- Glitter Glamour-Goop
- Stretch Plasti-Goop
- Metallic Plasti-Goop
- Color Change Plasti-Goop
- Plasti-Steel (Rigid -Goop for use in toy car bodies)
- Eraser Plasti-Goop.
Toward the end of the ToyMax run, the oven was redesigned to incorporate a fold-down hinged door, and requiring less at-home assembly. Releases of new mold packs became more and more sporadic as the line simply ran out of steam. In 1997, a wave of molds (and a new oven set) based on the second Jurassic Park film, and an original line of "Mutant Squad" Plasti-Goop-based figures (three of the six advertised "Mutants" were never released) heralded the end of another era of "Thingmaking", and the beginning of a third period of hiatus. In 2001, ToyMax tried again, with both a "Creepy Crawlers" and a "DollyMaker" line, but this revival was very brief, and ToyMax closed their doors.
Since then, a third company, Jakks Pacific, based in California, has taken up the reins of producing Creepy Crawlers toys. Although most of the Jakks Pacific line merely utilizes re-used mold designs from the extensive ToyMax oeuvre, they have also produced new character molds featuring SpongeBob SquarePants and Hello Kitty. New releases of oven sets and mold packs have been sporadic, and seem to come very much at random. Although Christmas 2006 saw release of three "new" mold designs at the hands of Jakks Pacific, the numbering of these molds seems to suggest that they are actually unreleased designs from the ToyMax era.
In 2007, Jakks Pacific released a Pokémon-themed Creepy Crawlers Oven and Mold Paks, and in late 2008, another Oven Set based on the Star Wars: Clone Wars license was released, again just in time for Christmas gift-giving.
In the Fall of 2010, Toys "R" Us stores released a line of exclusive "Creepy Crawlers" Activity Toys (produced by Jakks-Pacific) that use injection molding and hollow, two-sided molds to create bugs and spiders in solid, wall-crawling and gut-filled "squishable" varieties. Reviews on the Toys "R" Us site indicates numerous problems with the molds leaking in the Creepy Crawlers injector models.
As of Spring 2012, the once-Exclusive Jakks-Pacific "Creepy Crawlers" Sets and Refill Accessories are available at other outlets, such as K-Mart and Target.
ToyMax even developed their own entertainment property based on the "Creepy Crawlers" concept, which became a Saturday morning cartoon — Creepy Crawlers lasted two seasons (23 episodes, including one unaired episode that later saw release on video) and a line of 12 action figures that each came with a metal mold, with which to make unique accessories for the figures.
- A collector's Thingmaker page, featuring the original Thing-Maker
- Another collector's original Thingmaker page
- Dr. Goop's Creepy Crawlers & Thingmaker Collector's pages
- Thingmaker at CollectToys.Net
- The Forum for Creepy Crawlers enthusiasts