Cinequest 2023 – Billion Dollar Babies

Billion Dollar Babies, the True Story of Cabbage Patch Kids, is a documentary about how the Cabbage Patch Kids became a phenomenal toy event in 1983. The director, Andrew Jenks, shows interviews with many of the main players, including the creator, Xavier Roberts, the distributor, Roger Schaifer, and the Coleco Industries producer, Al Kahn.

Xavier Roberts started creating “Little People” in 1977 under the Original Appalachian Artwork company. The Little People were soft, squishable sculpted dolls, each one was one of a kind, and they were “born” from a cabbage patch. He opened the Babyland General Hospital in Helen, Georgia where people could come adopt the Little People and receive adoption papers and birth certificates. At one point he had 400 people working for him on the Little People.

Roger Schaifer came to Xavier with the idea of distributing the rights to the Little People and having them mass produced. Al Kahn of Coleco Industries took this on and immediately changed the name to Cabbage Patch Kids. Coleco made the heads of the Kids in plastic and wanted to make them all the same.

Xavier pushed back and said each still had to one of a kind. Coleco conceded and did make the kids different. Each was a combination of different skins, eye colors, hair colors, clothes, and each had their own name on their adoption papers and birth certificates. In summer of 1983, Coleco started advertising Cabbage Patch Kids on TV under the new rules of being able to advertise toys during children’s programming.

By Christmas of 1983 Coleco couldn’t keep up with the demand for Cabbage Patch Kids. For the first time stores had to deal with people storming the doors and fighting over getting the box with the Cabbage Patch Kid in it. By the time the craze was over Coleco had sold a billion dollars in Cabbage Patch Kids.

But the documentary then takes a different turn. After spending a lot of time talking about how popular the Kids were, the film shifts to bring up a controversy that Xavier Roberts did not create the Little People. That he stole the idea from another soft sculpture artist, Martha Nelson Thomas. After showing video of interviews with Martha and her children, the documentary could not prove that Xavier stole the idea.

In full disclosure I do own two Cabbage Patch Kids (twins!) and was quite interested in the origin story because of that. It was a good documentary that could have used a little more editing. They also announce that Neil Patrick Harris is the narrator and I felt they didn’t use him enough. But those are minor quibbles about an interesting documentary.

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Debbie Bretschneider
August 16, 2023

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