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play:date national museum of singapore - cover image

National Museum Of Singapore Has A Free Toy Exhibition With Rare Happy Meal Toys & SIA Barbie Dolls

First look at Play:Date – Unlocking Cabinets of Play

In a world of tight deadlines and doom-scrolling, sometimes you just want to escape into your childhood toybox, roleplaying as a monster truck driver or a fashionista. At the National Museum of Singapore’s latest pop-up, Play:Date – Unlocking Cabinets of Play, you now can.

What is Play:Date – Unlocking Cabinets of Play?

Play:Date – Unlocking Cabinets of Play is a toy collection pop-up happening from now till 5th January 2025. Located at Level 2 of the National Museum of Singapore, the exhibition features various toys we grew up with – from vintage Barbies to discontinued gaming consoles.

play:date national museum of singapore - entryImage credit: National Museum of Singapore

This entry-free exhibit has more than 270 toys from all over the world, including some dating back to the 1980s. The museum curated this exhibition by collaborating with local toy collectors, like Singapore’s #1 Barbie Doll collector.

It aims to bring up fond memories of old toys that visitors may remember from childhood, and serve as an engaging activity through its renditions of arcade games to play and the chance to create your personalised digital avatar as an add-on purchase.

They’re also open for guests to donate their toys and stories relating to them to be used to make this exhibit more personal and save up for future pop-ups.

What to see at Play:Date  – Unlocking Cabinets of Play

Decorated facade with tactile features

play:date national museum of singapore - external facadeImage credit: Ezekiel Sen

You’ll be surprised to see that the exhibition begins even before you get into proximity to the museum’s entrance. Giant arches of artwork cleverly distract from the museum’s renovation activities, covering the whole facade.

These pieces, done by local artists, represent the lifespan of a toy, right from the conception of the design and idea to how the toy is eventually used in play. But they’re not just there for you to gawk at; if you get closer, you’ll see that each set of panels has an interactive or 3D feature.

play:date national museum of singapore - tactile artImage adapted from: Ezekiel Sen

Some panels have interactive games like a child-sized sliding puzzle and a customisable Mr Potatohead-like activity, while others have pop-out figurines and furry-textured patches.

play:date national museum of singapore - night shift artNight Shift: A mural that shows the creative process of designing a toy, with a pop-out feature.
Image adapted from: Ezekiel Sen

We were quite surprised that the exhibit already had such a high level of interactivity before we even entered the museum. It’s a great way to get the kids excited for what’s to come.

Immersive tunnel for IG shots

play:date national museum of singapore - art tunnel entranceImage credit: Ezekiel Sen

When you get into the museum, you are met with the entrance of a tunnel, created by graphic designer Oh Jia Hao, that leads you to the next part of the Play:Date. This tunnel is by far the most aesthetic place to get your pics at in this exhibition, with a trippy reflective floor and 3D animations of figurines riding on through a mini-city spiralling around.

Keep your eyes out for cheeky easter eggs while walking through, as the designer has hidden sounds like traffic signal beeps, and animations like paper dolls.

play:date national museum of singapore - tunnel art Image credit: Ezekiel Sen

3 main sections showcasing toys from local collectors

The main exhibition is divided into 3 sections: It’s A Small World, for character toys like action figures and dolls; Drive-Through Time, for vehicle toys; and Batteries Included, which feature digital toys like Tamagotchis and consoles.

It’s A Small World: Character toys from McDonald’s, Action City & Barbie

play:date national museum of singapore - happy meal toy wallImage credit: Ezekiel Sen

The first thing that greets you is a bright red and yellow wall, displaying toys from the golden arches, McDonald’s. Happy Meal toys have been a huge part of our lives, spanning many generations. With some toys from the 80s, even your parents might feel a wave of nostalgia hitting when they see them.

From sets of OG character toys like Grimace and the Hamburglar, to newer Pop Mart collaborations, you and your friends can come down here and see who finished the collection themselves. There’s even a McDonald’s Jenga!

play:date national museum of singapore - mcdonalds french fry camera
Image credit: Ezekiel Sen

There are several pull-out drawers or cupboards at the pop-up, each containing a special-edition toy, enhancing childlike curiosity. In the Barbie section, it’s a sustainable doll made up of recycled materials, and in this section, it’s a limited-release French Fry Camera that 90s kids might recall.

play:date national museum of singapore - mcdonalds happy meal toysImage adapted from: Ezekiel Sen

One of our favourite parts of the McDonald’s exhibit is the section of the wall where you can play with actual vintage Happy Meal toys. There are transformer-esque toys that go from chicken nugget boxes to dinosaurs and Winnie The Pooh plushies to squish.

As for local features, the wall also had the complete collection of Mr Kiasu Happy Meal toys from 1993, which are extremely hard to come by, even on platforms like Carousell.

play:date national museum of singapore - barbie wallImage credit: Ezekiel Sen

Opposite the red wall, you’ll be met by a hot pink display of over 30 Barbie dolls of all shapes and sizes. There are dolls wearing Indian traditional wear, a Barbie in a wheelchair, and those wearing high-fashion couture, reminding us how diverse the Mattel brand is.

play:date national museum of singapore - singapore airlines vintage barbie
Image credit: Ezekiel Sen

What popped out to us were the extremely rare Singapore Airlines cabin crew dolls that were released in 1991, which now go for hundreds of dollars in resale value.

They also had the 50th Anniversary re-release of the first-ever Barbie and Ken set, with the iconic swimsuit doll from the opening of 2023’s Barbie movie.

play:date national museum of singapore - actioncity pop martImage adapted from: Ezekiel Sen

Last but not least, the latest contenders in SG’s toy landscape have been ActionCity X POP MART figurines. Play:Date displays a select few that represent landmarks of their presence in the country. You’ll also find the first-ever Singapore-exclusive figurine, Pucky Rose Knight Baby, the giant ActionCity x BE@RBRICK SG50 figure for the 50th year of independence.

Drive-Through Time: Toy car collection with Hot Wheels & Matchbox

play:date national museum of singapore - hot wheels toysImage credit: National Museum of Singapore

Speeding ahead, we arrive at the car and vehicle toy section of the exhibit, which has a lot of interesting finds such as a wall of Hot Wheels cars, including the completed 16-piece set of the first drop.

play:date national museum of singapore - matchbox carsImage credit: Ezekiel Sen

The glass case also had a wide variety of Matchbox vehicle toys, which, as the name suggests, were made to fit a matchbox size. It was quite cool to see no detail spared, even in these tiny replicas, such as a textured army tank and a double-decker bus.

play:date national museum of singapore - mystery machine mr bean car toyImage credit: Ezekiel Sen

For the movie buffs, the toy collector also provided a set of vehicle toys that were from TV shows like the iconic Mystery Machine from Scooby Doo, or Mr Bean’s Green Tamaya, with Teddy in tow.

Batteries Included: Digital toys like Tamagotchis & hand-held consoles

play:date national museum of singapore - digital toysImage credit: National Museum of Singapore

At Batteries Included, your eyes will meet with familiar green pipes and pixelated clouds, taking you to a Super Mario state of mind. The last section of the exhibit consists of mini-consoles and other digital toys, like Game & Watch consoles, which were simple devices with one game each and simultaneously telling the time.

play:date national museum of singapore - game and watch console Image credit: Ezekiel Sen

Nintendo Switch fans might see the Great Grandfather of their devices with the Game & Watch Micro VS System devices. Much like the Switch, the 1980s console had 2 remotes that pop out for 1v1 gameplay, birthing a whole generation of gamer boys.

play:date national museum of singapore - tamagotchis
Image adapted from: National Museum of Singapore & Ezekiel Sen

Opposite the wall of Game and Watches and consoles, is an entire display dedicated to Tamagotchis. Some of the rarer ones spotted were the Tamagotchi Osutchi and Mesutchi, which were little pets that you raised as either a “boy” or “girl”, and eventually you’d have to find an “opposite gendered” device for them to get married.

The other was a limited edition SG Tamagotchi by Suntec City, which had red and white decals on the cover.

Play arcade games with your DIY avatar

play:date national museum of singapore - avatar playmate
Image adapted from: Ezekiel Sen

Though the pop-up is entirely free to explore, there are a few activities that require an add-on payment. Specifically, their Play:Mate digital toy avatar and arcade games, require an add-on payment.

In order to create your digital avatar buddy or Play:Mate, you need to pay $5, which gets you a Starter Pack of one character and 3 tokens for playing arcade games in the exhibit. If you need more tokens, they’re also available for purchase.

play:date national museum of singapore - arcade gamesImage adapted from: National Museum of Singapore

The 3 games to play are all inspired by arcade classics like racing and brick-breaking games and each round requires one token to play. By beating certain rounds or collecting items in the game, you get points that can be used to buy accessories for your Play:Mate at a later booth.

The Brick Battle game was by far the most challenging as the ball tends to move fast. However, it was also the game that got us the most points.

play:date national museum of singapore - playmate decoration Image adapted from: National Museum of Singapore and Ezekiel Sen

Once you’ve garnered points from the games, you can customise your Play:Mate with accessories that you pay for with the points. We decided to decorate our burger buddy with a teh tarik hat, a Kopitiam uncle-style towel, and a chilli crab pet.

When you’re done, you can choose to save your digital avatar for free or get a physical printout by donating to the National Museum. You can also take a picture together with your Play:Mate at a photo booth where they’ll be flashed on screen.

play:date national museum of singapore - photobooth
Image credit: Ezekiel Sen

Have a Play:Date at the National Museum

We found Play:Date at National Museum to be a great free activity to entertain our inner children. It’s also one you’d want to return to a few times – as there are plenty of easter egg toys and features you may have missed your first time here.

Personally, we think it would have been even more fun if they were able to add more physical play, as they did with the Happy Meal toys. This would’ve made it more interactive.

For more art exhibitions this year, check out ArtScience Museum’s Frida Kahlo digital art exhibit or look out for their Studio Ghibli art exhibition. For another free art activity like Play:Date, spend your evenings at this year’s Singapore Night Festival.

Cover image adapted from Ezekiel Sen & National Museum of Singapore

National Museum of Singapore 93 Stamford Rd,
Singapore 178897
05 Jul 2024 - 05 Jan 2025
10:00 am - 6:30 pm