Nerding Day: Sky Dancers and Dragon Flyz 🌭

In the 1990s, gender roles in American toys were much more rigid and inflexible than they are today. With few exceptions — board games, Slip ‘n’ Slides, misplaced handguns — there were Girls Toys and Boys Toys, and never the twain should meet. Girls played with Barbies, The Littlest Pet Shop, and all things fluorescent pink. Boys played with Transformers, NERF guns, and all things gross and grimy. This presented a problem for the enterprising toy merchant: your product would likely only ever target half of all children. Unless, that is, some beautiful genius found a way to market the same gimmick to both girls and boys. And folks, our friends at Galoob and Abrams/Gentile Entertainment — yes, the Van-Pires people — did just that.

Like you knew at first glance, Sky Dancers and Dragon Flyz were toy lines advertising cartoons and vice versa. Sky Dancers — the girl version — premiered first, with the toys launching in 1994. Dragon Flyz, the flying Toys For Boys, came in 1995. Both toy lines got animated series in 1996, courtesy of AGE and the Gaumont Film Company, meaning they have that particular French cartoon look of the 90s. You know what I’m talking about, right? Like Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century or Night Hood, the show that’s best known as “the other animated series based on the Arsène Lupin books.”

The concept of selling two different gendered versions of the same gimmick to boys and girls didn’t start with Sky Dancers and Dragon Flyz, of course. Polly Pocket was invented in 1989, and Mighty Max — the boy version — was introduced in 1992. But the fact that Sky Dancers and Dragon Flyz were two separate product lines might be the single strongest piece of evidence for how deranged the ’90s were about gender. I mean, we’re talking about toys that fly. They could have made them Disney-esque cartoon characters, or hell, just birds! Who doesn’t love birds? Even in the ’90s, birds transcended gender.

But for reasons best known to the amphetamine-snorting marketing execs of that decade, instead of something like that we instead got two paradigmatic toy/cartoon lines, one about dancing and friendship and beauty for girls and another about fighting and dragons for boys.

Of course, “birds” probably wouldn’t be as compelling as two separate shows about men and women with helicopter necks. Both Dragon Flyz and Sky Dancers got 26 episode runs, which is far more than either of them deserved. Is anyone nostalgic for these shows? Well, if the YouTube comments are any indication, then yes. God, if you ever want to get really depressed, browse the YouTube comments on old cartoons or commercials. My generation’s brains have been permanently damaged by the deregulation of children’s television in the ’80s.

Anyway, Dragon Flyz inexplicably opens with a siren, followed by a nuclear bomb going off and destroying a major metropolis. I’m sure I didn’t see this as a kid, because it would have seared itself into my memory. It’s as close as you could get to doing the nuclear bomb scene from Threads in an opening to a ’90s kid’s show. (Warning: do not look this up.)

Immediately after the city has been reduced to ruins, we go into a montage of dudes with wings flying around, riding on dragons, fighting guys, and so on. It makes a decent try at rad, but Skeleton Warriors this emphatically is not. Its opening theme song doesn’t even have lyrics. If a cartoon hasn’t shrieked its name forever into every corner of your mind by the time it’s started, it did something wrong.

Apparently, there was a “great cataclysm” in the 40th century, scouring most of humanity from the face of the Earth. To escape this unpleasant state of affairs, humans somehow tamed dragons — which I guess existed? — and fled to the skies, where they built a giant hot air balloon city called Airlandis after the worst possible name for a helicopter tour company.

Meanwhile, the polluted surface is ruled by “Dreadwing,” (played by Jonathan Davis, who also voiced Tracula in Van-Pires) a sort of dragon man who also rides dragons. Fucking everybody rides dragons in this show, that’s the whole bit. It probably would have been called “Dragon Riders” if AGE’s lawyers didn’t think it would get them sued by Anne McCaffrey.

The Dragonators (aviators + dragons, natch) spend their time flying around looking for Amber, a resource found on the surface that they need to power their floating city, and fighting Dreadwing and his ridiculous minions. It’s pretty typical ’90s cartoon fare, with not a whole lot to recommend it. But there are a couple of fun storylines throughout the 26 episode run, like when Dreadwing finds a bunch of pre-Cataclysm ballistic missiles and tries to use them to wipe out humanity, or when Dreadwing puts the Dragonators on trial for crimes against mutantkind. On the whole, though, it’s pretty boring. Dragon Flyz isn’t the kind of show you’d rush home to watch after school — it’s the kind you’d see on a summer afternoon when it was too hot to go out and there was nothing else to do, and even then you’d probably rather page through some old Garfield books or find a second misplaced handgun.

Sadly, the Sky Dancers cartoon does not take place in a shared universe with Dragon Flyz. How sick would that be, though? If it was about humans trying to preserve pre-collapse knowledge through dance? Instead, the show follows students at the High Hope Dance Academy (no relation to Brendon Urie) as they and Queen Skyla defend the “Wingdom” from Skyla’s jealous brother-in-law, “Sky Clone.”

Here I feel the need to point out that “Sky Clone” is not a clone, it’s just an awkward half-pun based on Cyclone I guess, but that’s already an air thing! It’s the kind of totally unnecessary wordplay we’ve come to expect from a Abrams/Gentile production, though. Remember, these are the people who named a character “Van He’ll Sing.” Then again, they also gave us a car vampire named “Tracula” with a son named “Alucart,” so I guess it’s not all bad. Just mostly bad. Like 99% bad.

In the first episode of Sky Dancers, Skyla reveals to her students at dance school that she is the Queen of an invisible cloud kingdom and trauma dumps on them about her dead husband. She then enlists these kids to fight against Sky Clone, because her kingdom is apparently populated exclusively by people less useful in a fight than random dance academy students. And so, Skyla empowers her diverse group of pupils with the ability to fly along with an assortment of other superpowers. One of them gets cloud magic, another gets control over time, and of course they gave the Native American kid power over “wind, rain, and magic.” It’s kind of like Captain Planet only with dancing instead of environmentalism, and the kids are defending a tiny, alien kingdom full of pacifist fairies instead of their own planet. So I guess it’s not really anything like Captain Planet at all, which is sort of what I’m saying: no matter how uniquely insane the show gets, it never manages to feel like anything other than a bad knockoff.

Despite always feeling like a bad imitation of something, there’s definitely more meat on the metaphorical bone in Sky Dancers than Dragon Flyz. The boys got their 27th show about fighting while girls got a superhero dance school in the clouds. Unfortunately, they really cheaped out on the animation, a fact made extremely obvious by how it’s supposed to be a show about dancing, the thing they almost always decided was too expensive to draw. Plus, most storylines again boil down to protecting a magic glowing rock. One of the Sky Dancers, “Slam,” is voiced by James Michael, the lead singer of Nikki Sixx’s side project Sixx:A.M, whose Wikipedia page strangely doesn’t mention this.

Oh, and remember how Dragon Flyz doesn’t have an opening theme with lyrics? Well, Sky Dancers has THREE, presumably because girls like music more than boys. Also, while Dragon Flyz only had a generic instrumental for its opening, I should note that it did have lyrics for its end credits, and they are fucking incredible. You need to listen to them in their entirety, but let me just break off a little piece of flavor for you: the song opens with a man soulfully intoning “In the future all of us shall know / Men once walked upon the Earth below / And now we fly at mega height / Long live Airlandis, Flight is might!” Incidentally, “flight is might” is one of the Dragonators’ catch phrases. The other one, which also features in and appears to be the title of the song, is simply “Maximize!” Sure.

So the shows were nothing special, almost aggressively nothing special, but the toys definitely stood out on store shelves. Dragon Flyz and Sky Dancers are functionally identical, differing only in their theming. They consisted of characters modeled with wings which sit atop launcher bases — though the Sky Dancers look a lot more natural, en pointe on swans and pods of dolphins, whereas Dragon Flyz awkwardly straddle their dragon mounts like they stole them from He-Man.

The launchers have a ripcord attached, which, when pulled, fires the character into the air. They then spiral through the air before landing softly on the ground. Again, the Sky Dancers look a lot more elegant — their wings are attached to their arms, allowing their entire bodies to spin. Conversely, the Dragon Flyz have their wings awkwardly sandwiched between their heads and their bodies, so when they’re launched it’s just their heads that whirl around.

It’s a neat idea for a toy, and it was evidently pretty successful for a while. They made tons of these things throughout the late 90s, with a couple of different Dragon Flyz lines and dozens of Sky Dancers. There were mini-Sky Dancers, Sky Dancers Happy Meal toys, even horrific animal-human Sky Dancers hybrids.

There’s an obvious problem here, aside from each horse Sky Dancer harboring an actual demon: in the hands of children, Sky Dancers and Dragon Flyz were effectively miniature weapons platforms.

In 2000, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission and Galoob Toys announced a recall of Sky Dancers after 150 reports of injuries. The injuries included scratched corneas and temporary blindness, broken teeth, a “mild concussion,” a broken rib, and “facial lacerations that required stitches.” Thankfully, neither me nor my sister was ever injured to such a degree by these ballistic ballerinas, but I do recall at least one incident where our Sky Dancers were taken away from us after we enlisted them in a sibling civil war.

As for Galoob, they settled with the CPSC for $400,000, denying they had violated the Consumer Product Safety Act. Oddly, I can’t find any information about a similar recall of Dragon Flyz. Maybe Dragon Flyz weren’t on store shelves long enough to trigger a recall, or maybe they were more safely designed. Or maybe — conspiracy time — parents and the CPSC simply expected boy toys to hurt people, while the same injuries from flying ballerinas were seen as surprising and unacceptable. Here’s what I’m saying: it’s sexism that girls weren’t allowed to cause temporary blindness and mild concussions with Sky Dancers.

Dragon Flyz crashed and burned, but Sky Dancers were retooled and put back on the market in the 2000s. There was a game based partly on the show for the Game Boy Advance in 2005, nearly a decade after the show came out, which seems weird until you realize there was a game based on Gumby for the handheld in the same year. Seriously, think of a children’s TV series and there’s almost definitely a shitty platformer based on it for the GBA.

Like it was for a lot of things, the sad GBA game was the last gasp of the franchise. And so, until such time as the Hollywood IP milking machine sees fit to make a live action Sky Dancers/Dragon Flyz cinematic universe, we say goodbye to our winged friends. We will always remember them as the toy line that somehow caused more documented injuries (among girls) than Snailiens.

This article was brought to you by our fine sponsor and Hot Dog Supreme: John McCammon, who is innocent in the rotary blinding of 76 curious, stupid children until proven guilty.

7 replies on “Nerding Day: Sky Dancers and Dragon Flyz 🌭”

Wr had one of the dancer toy, and I never realized this was a show. I was blind in more way than one!

Those things could motor like there was no tommarow. Every day I am thankful that my friends and I were stopped when we tried to, “improve their damage output,” with razor blades.

Our plan was to fire a few improved models at the wood pile, but knowing us it would not have stopped there.

I was going to criticise your suggestion that awesome cartoon themes require lyrics – and in way too strident a fashion, getting weirdly personal while also belligerently ranting about a whole host of unrelated, toxic grievances – but then I remembered that the Spider-Man theme had a robot muttering about radioactive blood under the Joe Perry guitar riff and that in each of the twenty million times I have heard the X-Men theme, I have made up my own lyrics (as has everyone else who has ever seen the opening).

The girls at my elementary school let me play with their Sky Dancers sometimes and honestly they kicked ass. I actually remember seeing Dragon Flyz on store shelves too but thought they looked really hideous.

I’m pretty sure these are the toys where that Old Internet viral vid of a kid uses one they’ve just opened for Christmas and it flies straight into an open fire. So really, they’ve added more to the world than their creators would ever have expected.

I guess Nick didn’t air the shows, because I never heard of them in spite of seeing the commercials eight billion times. If they aired here it was probably at 6am Saturdays for some insane reason.

*Has always been a night person*

The weirdest gendered toy franchise was She-Ra. The cartoon was pretty much just Rule 63 He-Man, but the toy line was princesses-only, and all the cool characters from the She-Ra cartoon were part of the He-Man toy line.

The mini-comics that came with the She-Ra toys just had her fighting Catra all the time. I think Hordak gets mentioned once, in the first issue, where they tell the kids to watch the cartoon to learn She-Ra’s origin story.

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