Were you ever obsessed with the Cabbage Patch Kids? Billion Dollar Babies may be the documentary for you. This is a deeper dive into the toy craze that gripped America. The Cabbage Patch Kids left their mark on Middle America and American society at large. Billion Dollar Babies manages to also be a broader cultural commentary on American consumerism, and the illusion of the American Dream.
Billion Dollar Babies begins with the context in which the Cabbage Patch hit the market. In the 1980s, so much of American society subscribed to the Wall Street ethos that “Greed is Good”. The more money spent, the better. This was the post-Vietnam War period when America wanted to forget its seemingly endless war and move on. The Cabbage Patch Kids, with their distinctive look and unique ‘backstories’, provided the perfect outlet.
The Cabbage Patch Riots in 1983 were the encapsulation of the chaos that is Black Friday. If Black Friday is a symbol of American Capitalism to the extreme, these riots upped the ante. These toys themselves became a symbol of the extent to which American consumerism infiltrates everyday life. Seemingly “normal” people are shown to act absolutely feral in the name of finding these funny-faced baby dolls.
Perhaps this isn’t surprising. The marketing of these dolls from the beginning is chronicled in great detail here. Firstly, they were never supposed to be called “dolls”. By having prospective consumers see the Cabbage Patch Kids less like dolls and more like humans, of course kids felt they need to have them in a visceral way. The marketing was a classic model. Having a “hospital” and sending a one-year birthday card created a near-guarantee that parents would be clamoring to spend money on the biggest trend at the time.
Billion Dollar Babies could have also been a commentary on American sexual ethics. Alas, it was not to be. Although it’s mentioned that the lore of the Cabbage Patch Kids includes borderline graphic details of the mythical birth process, there was something further to be said about how so many Americans teach the reproductive process to their children. It’s too bad the film didn’t go further down this road. A point could absolutely have been made.
Although the movie included a beautiful tribute to the creative mind of the concept of what would become the Cabbage Patch Kids, it’s sad Martha Nelson Thomas wasn’t mentioned more. Her children spoke beautifully about her legacy, not just with what would become the Cabbage Patch Kids, but as an artist and a mother. In the end, it’s clear that the injustice she saw in having her work essentially stolen was far from rare. Creating art for art’s sake is a challenging road.
The narration by Neil Patrick Harris only adds to a feeling of unreality, that pervades this entire movie. Billion Dollar Babies does a commendable job of detailing a cultural phenomenon, and expanding on its context. In many ways, this documentary is an indictment on the excess consumerism that has become a hallmark of our society. It has never been about the dolls themselves, even though they are pretty cute. They became a way for so many to project wants and needs that are unfulfilled in a society obsessed with excess.
Billion Dollar Babies: The True Story of the Cabbage Patch Kids premiered at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival.