A Brief History of Mattel's Failed Hoverboards

On this 'Back to the Future' day, we revisit Mattel's hoverboard blunders. 

by Sam Blum

As you’ve no doubt heard a thousand times today, in the 1989 movie Back to the Future II, Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly traveled to October 21st, 2015 (Did you know that is today?). He rode a hoverboard and wore a puffy varsity jacket:

As popularity of the Back to the Future franchise ballooned, the hoverboard, a neon, flying skateboard-without-wheels that looks like a pastel version of Eddie Van Halen’s guitar, became an object of desire. Toy company Mattel seized on that collective want and made its own “hoverboard” in 1989, the year of Back to the Future II’s release.

Except, as we all know now, the toy seemed like cruel joke. Given that the first launch of Mattel’s hoverboard occurred in 1989, actual floatation was never going to happen, but the lack of technology did not prevent Mattel from marketing the product with a shameful level of deceit.

Watch Mattel’s first Hoverboard commercial to see why:

While the colors were “totally rad,” what Mattel actually produced was a cumbersome looking heap of plastic that appeared to float on TV. It is a technicolor scooter with handlebars only a poser would use. It doesn’t even have wheels, so it makes one wonder how the thing actually moved. It didn’t, of course.

The dishonest commercial and the toy it hawked roused a backlash among consumers, and it wasn’t until 2012 that Mattel decided to trot out the hoverboard idea again.

Except the rebooted toy landed with a resounding thud in that year, even after a decent amount of press and hype got the sci-fi rank and file all worked up. It didn’t float, either. It does offer speaker that emits a “whooshing” sound effect, which is what the hoverboard might sound like if it was hovering.

Unsurprisingly, there weren’t many positive reviews of the 2012 hoverboard. In fact, some takes on the toy are scathing.

Bob Gale, Back to the Future’s screenwriter, had supported Mattel’s efforts in 2012, but issued a cutting statement on the product once he actually saw it that year. He wasn’t particularly happy about the hoverboard’s $120 price tag, either.

“This product, at this price, falls short of the top-notch standards that you and I have come to expect for something that carries the Back To The Future brand,” he writes. “The plastic stand is poorly designed and damn near impossible to make work. And although it was indicated that the board would somehow glide across certain smooth surfaces (like carpet), mine certainly didn’t.”

The shade thrown at Mattel, especially from the guy who wrote Back to the Future seems warranted, given that all consumers wanted was something that “will gently glide over most level surfaces,” as the toy’s listing on Mattel’s website boasted.

This is kind of funny, given that most efforts to produce an actual, real life hoverboard have proven the task to be nearly impossible and astronomically expensive.

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