Flipping through the kid sections of holiday gift catalogs, I was struck by the number of nifty toys out there that ended up on my Wanted List. The toy store product line is appealing to a broader demo than it used to, incorporating funky versions of fairly high-end electronics (TVs that look like iMacs, and rainbow-hued Jetson-esque digital cameras) and adult-skewing action figures. After a fit of giggling over Harley Davidson Barbie and Ken dolls in a Toys `R’ Us flyer, I figured it was safe to call 2000 the year that no niche was left untargeted. (FYI: the unkempt hair thing works for Ken, but Barbie as a biker chick?) Considering Harley’s bizarre incursion into the toy world also includes a deal with Mega Bloks, one wonders-what’s next? Hell’s Angel trikes?
Eschewing such extreme speculation, our special report this issue, The Year That Was, makes the calls on what was really noteworthy across the board in kids entertainment in 2000, delving into the impact of the deals that went down and how they will shape the shared future.
Some of this year’s creative milestones include the mastery of life-like humanoids in CGI series; Saturday mornings got a whole lot more interesting when Action Man and Max Steel joined the fray. Another bright spot on the animation front was Aardman Animations’ Chicken Run. Not only was the clay-animated poultry revolt flick a welcome addition on its own captivating merits, but its successful incursion into the U.S. gave family feature producers outside the States a poster-model of entrée. Not to mention upping the profile of stop-frame (see ‘Stop-motion is go!’ on page 12).
The upside of the recent animation glut is that what sees light of day is pretty sophisticated. Now, as demand for live-action and tween fare outpaces supply, the challenge becomes finding fiscally sound propositions to channel evergreen-toon-obsessed IPO dough into less saturated market niches (‘German animation boom,’ page 13 ).
Hand-in-glove with the financial deal model, there’s the creative conundrum of developing content in these genres. The cultural/demo differences grow as the target age inches up. The kinds of properties that can span the interest range in a successful border-crossing way are rarer birds than their toon brethren. For instance, on the tween live-action front, beyond the surmountable (just) problems of finding a killer premise that can travel, there’s all the window dressing to deal with-the right clothes, hair, accents and mannerisms. Next, there’s the huge pitfall of what tweens are into. If it helps (not likely), here’s a slice of life from the desktop of a North American tween: Dungeons & Dragons, Spawn comics, Lord of the Rings, Gundam Wing models, gamer mags and. . . Crazy Bones? (A throwback to the fact that despite being teen-wannabes, tweens are still closer to being a kid. So, if McDonald’s gets all retro and gives away Crazy Bones, it pops up again.) Go figure. Some of this is universal, but as the range of stimuli (like purple TVs) gets wider, so too do the differences, which unfortunately are the things that get noticed. With all the potential false notes to strike, it’s no wonder that fantasy, CGI and stop-frame animation are being wholeheartedly glommed onto. . . Reality is too hard.
Next month, this space is devoted to YOUR New Year’s Resolutions. Send your wish list of things you think the kids industry can and should do better next year, and we’ll compile the results. E-mail, fax-but get it here by December 15. You can include a resolution specific to your company, country, sector or craft-OR even for someone else. Thought you’d like that last bit.