Troll dolls are those strange little figurines with wild hair and a playful spirit and they have a captivating story to tell. From their beginnings in the workshop of a Danish woodcutter to their reincarnations in television, film, and beyond, troll dolls have left an indelible mark on popular culture.
Why have troll dolls had such a cultural impact and an enduring appeal? Read this piece to understand the emotions and more.
What is troll doll?
A troll doll, also known as a Dam doll, is a type of plastic figurine characterised by its distinctive furry, up-combed hair. These dolls are designed to depict trolls and mythical creatures inspired by old Scandinavian folklore. The credit for their creation goes to Thomas Dam, a Danish woodcutter, hence the alternate name “Dam doll”. These charming figurines have their roots in the world of trolls, and they have earned various other nicknames, such as “good luck trolls” or “gonk trolls” in the United Kingdom.
These delightful dolls came into existence in the late 1950s and were officially introduced in 1959. However, their fame truly skyrocketed in the early 1960s when they became one of the biggest toy crazes in the United States. Their appeal can be attributed to their unique appearance, particularly their unruly hair and endearing expressions.
Troll dolls enjoyed a resurgence in popularity during the 1970s and this trend continued through the 1990s. During this time, various manufacturers produced similar dolls under different names, highlighting the enduring appeal of these whimsical figurines. In the 1990s, troll dolls even inspired the creation of video games and a television show.
The early 2000s saw an attempt to modernise the troll doll brand. The Dam company licensed the brand to DIC Entertainment, resulting in the creation of a cartoon series titled “Trollz.” However, this cartoon only lasted for one season and was accompanied by a legal dispute.
In 2003, the Dam company took legal action to protect the United States copyrights for troll dolls, which put a stop to unlicensed production. This move was significant in preserving the legacy of these iconic toys.
In 2013, DreamWorks Animation acquired the rights to the brand. This acquisition led to the release of an animated feature film called “Trolls” in 2016, followed by a sequel in 2020, with another sequel scheduled for release in 2023. The DreamWorks adaptations have brought a new wave of popularity to troll dolls, introducing them to a new generation of fans.
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History of Troll dolls
The history of troll dolls is a fascinating journey that began in 1959, courtesy of Danish fisherman and woodcutter Thomas Dam. It all started when Dam, unable to afford a Christmas gift for his daughter, Lila, decided to carve a doll from his imagination. The doll he crafted was unlike any other, featuring a distinctive appearance that would soon capture the hearts of many.
The enticement towards the doll began in the small Danish town of Gjøl when local children saw the unique doll Dam had created and expressed their desire for one. This heartwarming response led to the establishment of Dam’s company, Dam Things, which began producing these dolls in plastic and named them “Good Luck Trolls”.
During the early 1960s, the popularity of these trolls surged in several European countries, just before their introduction in the United States. It was in the autumn of 1963 that troll dolls became one of the United States’ biggest toy fads, remaining in the spotlight until 1965.
The original troll dolls, also known as Dam dolls, were of exceptional quality. They featured sheep wool hair and glass eyes, giving them a unique charm and appeal. However, their sudden fame combined with an error in the copyright notice for Thomas Dam’s original product led to the emergence of cheaper imitations in the market.
Interestingly, the Dam company never ceased production of troll dolls in Denmark, where they retained their popularity. In the late 1980s, Dam trolls made another resurgence in North America. E.F.S. Marketing Associates, Inc. was granted permission to import and market these trolls in the United States under the trade name “Norfin Trolls,” complete with an “Adopt A Norfin Troll” logo on the tags.
The early to mid-1990s witnessed various attempts to market troll dolls to young boys, leading to action figure lines like The Original Battle Trolls, the Stone Protectors franchise, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Trolls. Even the popular Mighty Max line featured a series named Hairy Heads, also known as Dread Heads.
In 2003, the Dam copyright was restored, leading to legal battles over the production of troll dolls in the United States. The Toy Industry Association acknowledged the significance of troll dolls by including them in its Century of Toys List, a compilation of the most memorable and creative toys of the 20th century.
In 2005, Dam licensed the troll dolls to DIC Entertainment for a marketing campaign aimed at young girls, featuring products such as fashion dolls and accessories. Unfortunately, this campaign failed, leading to legal disputes between DIC and the Dam company, with allegations of financial misrepresentation and damage to the doll’s image and goodwill.
Fast forward to 2013, and DreamWorks Animation took over the intellectual property for the Trolls franchise from the Dam Family and Dam Things. They became the exclusive worldwide licensor of the merchandise rights, except for Scandinavia, where Dam Things remains the licenser.
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Uses of Troll doll
Troll dolls have found their way into various forms of media and pop culture. Here are some of how troll dolls have been utilised in television, film, video games and as pop culture references:
Television and film:
- The Magic Trolls and the Troll Warriors (1991): A cartoon special produced by Créativité & Développement featured Magic Trolls engaged in battle against King Nolaf and his Troll Warriors, highlighting the troll doll characters’ adventures.
- Super Trolls (1992): DIC, the same company that later produced “Trollz,” released a half-hour special called “Super Trolls.” This special introduced three heroic trolls who faced off against an evil troll named Craven.
- The Trollies Radio Show (1992): A direct-to-video sing-along special was released, featuring puppet trolls singing a mix of classic hits and original songs.
- Stone Protectors (1993): Graz Entertainment and Sachs TV Entertainment created an action cartoon series based on troll dolls. The show featured a kingdom under attack by reptilian troll-like Saurians and their leader, Zok, who desired powerful crystals.
- Trollz (2005): As part of a licensing campaign with the Dam company, DIC produced a cartoon series centred around five teenage girl trolls, each named after the gem on their belly buttons. They used magic to navigate their everyday lives and protect the world from an evil green gremlin named Simon.
- Trolls (2016): Following DreamWorks’ acquisition of the troll property, a 3D computer-animated musical comedy film based on the Troll dolls was produced. The film was directed by Mike Mitchell and co-directed by Walt Dohrn, featuring the voices of Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake as Poppy and Branch.
- Trolls World Tour (2020) and Trolls Band Together (2023): Sequels to the 2016 Trolls film continued to expand the franchise, with new adventures and characters.
Pop culture references in other popular television shows and films:
- Toy Story (1, 2, and 3): Andy had a troll doll with a blue bikini with white flowers. Troll dolls also appeared in Toy Story 3.
- The Simpsons: Bart Simpson was seen playing with a troll doll in church.
- King of the Hill: Bobby Hill had a collection of troll dolls in his bedroom.
- Family Guy: In an episode, Peter Griffin transformed into a wishing troll.
- Robot Chicken: The show featured a treasure troll character going on a date and discovering he had troll AIDS.
- Annoying Orange: In the web series, three trolls entertained the main characters by telling troll jokes.
Troll dolls made their way into the world of video games with titles such as “Trolls” for Amiga, DOS, and Commodore 64 in 1993. Other games like “Trolls on Treasure Island,” a modified re-release of “Dudes with Attitude,” and “The Trolls in Crazyland,” a localized version of “Doki! Doki! Yūenchi: Crazy Land Daisakusen” for the Nintendo Entertainment System, further extended their presence in the gaming realm. “Super Troll Islands” for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System was also part of this gaming legacy.
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