Woke Up Like This

Troll Dolls Have Serious Staying Power & The Reason Is Pretty Simple

Big-haired, bug-eyed, smiling troll dolls have been with us for more than 60 years (and are peak ‘90s nostalgia!). What is the appeal of these zany characters that our kids now adore?

Getty / Scary Mommy

Geriatric millennials (sorry) spent their childhoods coveting everything from Barbie dolls to Teddy Ruxpins. We loved them; we had to have them. So, because we’re nostalgic like that, we wanted to take a look back at some of our most beloved, extremely popular ‘80s and ‘90s toys and explore why we obsessed over them and where they are now. We turned to veteran toy expert Jessica Hartshorn, who has spent her career writing about all things parenting and toys, to do her due diligence and get to the bottom of some of our most-wished-for favorites. Behold, Scary Mommy’s nostalgia & toys extravaganza. All week, we’ll be looking at the toys that made us. You’re welcome.

Troll dolls have always been about '60s nostalgia to me, even though I wasn't alive in the '60s. They're wrapped up in the peace and love era, with invented rumors about how rubbing a troll's hippie hair brings good luck. But I got to know them as '80s toys when they were having their first of many comebacks. They firmly established themselves as a nostalgic favorite through the '90s and, as everyone knows, were most recently rebranded with Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick as trolls for our children. Cue Amazon having an entire store for Dreamworks Troll merch.

So, these toys have serious staying power. But considering how quirky and strange the entire concept is, it begs the question: When did the obsession with troll dolls really begin? What fascinating secrets lie in the history of these wild-haired play creatures? Let's explore.

The Trippy History Of The Troll Dolls

A Danish dude named Thomas Dam made the first troll dolls for his children in 1959, initially as weird wood carvings. They were eventually mass-produced out of plastic in the 1960s. A highlight of the '60s-era troll mania was President John F. Kennedy meeting a female pilot's troll-doll mascot. I love this picture of JFK greeting Betty Miller with her lucky troll named Dammit. (Get it? Named for the inventor!)

President Kennedy meets pilot Betty Miller

NY Daily News

Let's just say the copyright for troll dolls was not totally nailed down. Though Thomas Dam's company was marketing them under the names Dam Trolls and Norfin Trolls, other companies made troll dolls too. Russ Berrie was a big troll-maker in the '80s and '90s, and many of the bug-eyed, ugly, smiling troll dolls from our youth were under the Russ label. I'm guessing that, like with Cabbage Patch dolls, the idea was that they were so ugly they circled around to being cute again. I am partial to this vintage punk-rock troll, which really places the doll in time. I feel like I definitely saw this in '80s-era Spencer Gifts.

A vintage Russ troll doll

Russ vintage troll doll

How They Came Back For Our Kids

You best believe that now Dreamworks has intellectual property rights for Trolls with a capital T, and it seems the company did the right thing and bought those rights from the Dam Family. Dreamworks bought those Trolls and ran with them! The first movie came out in 2016 along with the JT earworm “Can’t Stop the Feeling.” And as everyone with kids knows, Trolls World Tour followed in the fall of 2020 and gave us a desperately needed “event” during pandemic times.

Today’s Trolls are more technicolor, more trippy, and even more hippie than the ones from my youth. It’s like Dreamworks took the whole vintage troll dolls idea and turned it up to 11. You can stream Trolls: TrollsTopia on Hulu and Peacock and Trolls: The Beat Goes On on Netflix.

Branch and Poppy Troll

Just Play

Why We Love Trolls

Troll dolls have never been anything except toys to make kids and grownups smile. You don’t have to nurture them, and they’re not trying to teach us lessons or make some larger point. They’re silly. The movie Trolls sing. They have amazing hair and inventive names. They give us great ideas for Halloween costumes.

And like so many toys, trolls are collectible. You might have one that reminds you of a birthday, graduation, or hobby. One might sit on your desk or your dashboard. Maybe you have an eccentric friend who put a troll bride and groom on top of their wedding cake. Listen, there’s a museum of trolls in Ohio. Maybe they bring good luck, but probably they just bring good vibes. And that’s why they’ve been beloved for 60 years and counting!