Notwithstanding Reverend Jerry Falwell’s outing of Tinky Winky, this year’s Toy Fair elicited few surprises. Once again licensed properties were well represented, and manufacturers covered the same old categories with little fanfare. Whether it was product for Stuart Little, Toy Story 2, Tarzan, WWF, WCW, CatDog or Teletubbies, all parties seemed to be referencing the same toy inventor’s playbook. To wit: Mattel’s Tarzan bean bag pal meet Hasbro’s Stuart Little bean bag pal. It’s not that the aforementioned toys are bad-they will all probably sell very well-but there’s very little to differentiate one from the other.
Electronic toys did not fare any better. There were plenty of plush animals with LCD screens pasted to their tummies and handheld electronic versions of popular pastimes (like fishing and car racing), with most offering the utility and play value you’d find in flipping on a light switch. The impulse to declare the industry creatively bankrupt, however, was tempered by the debut of Intel’s product line. The computer chip manufacturer’s first foray into the toy biz was a major success. Intel Play X3 Microscope and Intel Play Me2Cam, both the result of a collaboration between Intel and Mattel, constitute a major leap in computer interactivity.
The Me2Cam system includes a digital camera that can place kids within a computer-generated environment, allowing them to interact with games contained on the accompanying CD-ROM. The X3 Microscope hooks up to the PC, enabling kids to magnify and digitally manipulate the microscopic world around them. The software included with the X3 Microscope can capture stills and videos, giving kids the tools to create their own time-lapse movies. Once they’ve wrapped on their movies, kids can print the images or e-mail them to a friend. Truly amazing. The only drawback of the two Intel Play products is their prohibitive price points. Both retail for US$99.95. Me2Cam, targeted to kids ages four and up, and X3 Microscope, targeted to kids ages six and up, will hit stores this fall.
Another trend that surfaced at Toy Fair is engineered girl toys. Most lines feature handheld electronic gadgetry designed for communicating with peers, or virtual friends, such as Playmates Toys’ Best Friends Forever product that will hit shelves this spring.
Of the traditional girl void beyond preschool on the licensed merchandise side, Fox Family Worldwide Consumer Products executive VP Elie Dekel says: ‘Unless you have a totally dedicated girl program, it’s hard to get shelf space.’
As an example of the kind of push required for entry, Bandai is touting Dream Force Angels, which is premised on a 40 x half-hour live-action series that’s currently in pre-production-think live-action Sailor Moon, with tiaras and magic crystal toys that tell fortunes. The likenesses of four ethnically diverse girls, who are also teen angel princesses, will grace child-sized accessories and foot-tall dolls that come complete with princess, hero and skating outfits. Saban is working closely with Bandai on toy initiatives and producing the show, which will debut on Fox Family and Fox Kids as a 90-minute movie in September.
Millennium mania redux
With the merchandising of the millennium in full swing, it’s become evident that toy vendors aren’t capturing the essence of Y2K-namely, the unknown. Will your computer crash? Will there be rioting in the streets? Food shortages? Spin Master Toys, the creator of Air Hogs, has managed to encapsulate the fear factor of the momentous occasion. Their end-of-the-century toy line, aptly named Millennium Bugs, is a collection of insects-a butterfly, a grasshopper and a caterpillar-that lie dormant in their own plastic casing until the moment the second hand passes 12 midnight on December 31st. At that instant, the internal clock present in the Bugs will stop ticking and each will awaken. But just what the Millennium Bugs will do once they’ve come alive, Spin Master isn’t saying. The element of surprise is what Spin Master Toys hopes will cause consumers to rush into stores and snatch them all up. The Millennium Bugs retail for US$9.99 each, and are slated to hit stores in the fall.
Toys that crash
It’s not a generalization to say that boys of all ages gravitate towards things that crash or go boom. The enduring boy-popularity of televised wrestling and firecrackers proves this fact. Now, Hasbro has managed to combine the aural and the visual dissonance of objects being decimated in its Crushing Crew assortment. Comprised of two toy trucks, the Crushing Crew vehicles have realistic crashing sounds and two-stage crushing body features. Ram Head-On or the Twistmaster (both US$14.99) into a wall or into each other, and their front ends will crumple. To restore the body of each car to its pristine pre-crash condition, kids need simply push down the roll-bar handle. Each Crushing Crew vehicle requires two AAA batteries, and both vehicles are currently available.