COMMENTARY: 1996: The Best Christmas Ever

1996. It was the year of the New York Yankees, the Chicago Bulls, the Dallas Cowboys. It was the year of Jerry Maguire and the Macarena. It was the year of Bill Clinton’s reelection. But most importantly, 1996 marked the best Christmas ever, with toy companies cranking out some of kids’ favorite toys of all time.

Cabbage Patch Snacktime KidWho could forget the Cabbage Patch Snacktime Kids dolls, from Mattel? Those pudgy-faced, yarn-haired little cuties each had a motorized mouth, and kids could feed their doll a french fry, a pretzel stick, a banana, and other yummy snacks. This was one of the toys my mom admits to pushing other moms out of the way for at Toys “R” Us on Black Friday morning. The food, which the dolls realistically chewed when kids inserted it into their mouths, fell into a backpack on the doll’s back, so kids could feed them over and over again. Of course, this beacon of glory was shortly recalled after the holiday season, as kids were getting their hair, skin, and fingers stuck in the doll’s mouth (as you can imagine, this resulted in many unhappy parents and kids with bald spots). While I made sure my hair was secured tightly in a ponytail while playing, my Snacktime Kid remained one of my favorite toys through ’97.

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Modarri Kickstarts a New Breed of Toy Car

ModarriThoughtFull Toys has launched a Kickstarter campaign for Modarri, a line that seeks to reinvent the toy car space. The company’s intent is to create toy cars that are sleek and durable, yet also drivable, buildable, and interchangeable.

Modarri cars can be disassembled and redesigned by changing their parts, leading to hands-on experimentation with real physical objects. In addition, kids can learn about the physics and mechanics of suspension and steering by driving the cars around, and feel the differences in performance by swapping out parts.

Suitable for kids ages 6 and up, Modarri cars are built using a combination of metal and high strength plastic, with no screws. The planned color prototypes of Modarri include the Street Car S1, Dirt Car X1, and Track Car T1; and each car includes chassis, hood/windshield, seat pan, seat, fenders and frame, hex tool, wheels, and front and rear suspension. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Not Your Average R/C Toys

Give a child a R/C controller, and he or she will be occupied for hours, steering or flying whatever device it is around the room or outside. Give a child an iPhone and chances are your contacts will end up being deleted, you’ll be left with 350 pictures of the inside of your little boy or girl’s mouth, and your phone will soon self destruct—but, that’s about to change.

There’s no denying that it’s now essentially encrypted in children’s nature to be intrigued by new technology at increasingly younger ages—and let’s face it, most of the time they get the hang of it a lot quicker than adults. But instead of parents discouraging their children from toying around with iPhones, iPads, and tablets (because they’re of course not toys, they’re high-tech adult equipment that are soo not used for playing Candy Crush), they can instead support a productive way to use such devices with these awesome toys.

I was first introduced to Orbotix’s Sphero 2.0 when someone in the office put it on my desk and said, “Here, play with this.” I looked at the box a little confused wondering what it was, and as I starSP0SPHERO003ted to read the instructions (very helpful to figuring out how toys work), I realized that this was, hands down, one of the coolest toys I’ve ever played with. It’s simply a ball, not a fancy monster truck with huge wheels and the ability to smash into the wall, crumble into pieces, and put itself back together all while singing jingle bells—or something like that. But, it’s a robotic ball with an engine and it’s really, really fast and controlled by your phone. You just download the Sphero app on your iPhone, iPad, iTouch, or android device and using a Bluetooth connection your device transforms into a control that propels Sphero at speeds up to seven feet per second across the room and off ramps. The driving accuracy really impressed me because I do tend to be a little spazzy with toys like these, but it was actually easy to maneuver the toy around bends and turns and what not. Sphero 2.0 also lights up in a variety of neon colors which looks as spectacular as it is to play. There are also a ton of other apps available to engage Sphero in a variety of games. [Read more...]

Disney Releases New Frozen Product Collection

FrozenproductsTo commemorate the release of Walt Disney Animation Studios‘ film Frozen, Disney Consumer Products (DCP) will release a diverse new product collection of role-play items, plush stuffed animals, dolls, and more. These products are available now from Mattel, Just Play, and other licensees at mass retailers nationwide, as well as at Disney Store and DisneyStore.com.

Disney’s Frozen chronicles the epic quest of fearless Anna to find her sister Elsa, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom of Arendelle in eternal winter. Highlights from Disney’s Frozen product line include:

  • Disney Frozen Musical Magic Elsa and Anna Dolls, from Mattel: When kids hold their hands—or when they hold each other’s hands—the dolls magically light up and play enchanting music.
  • Disney Frozen Pull Apart and Talkin’ Olaf, from Just Play: Olaf’s nose, head, and torso all temporarily separate and then safely rejoin, recreating memorable moments from the film. Plush Olaf also says funny phrases from the movie.
  • Frozen Rolling Travel Trunk, from Jakks Pacific: Kids can dress up like Anna and Elsa with two beautiful dresses and tons of accessories, then pack everything up and roll the trunk to their next destination.
  • Frozen Storybook Deluxe, from Disney Publishing: In Disney Publishing’s digital Storybook Deluxe app, Elsa and Anna retell the animated feature Frozen from two points of view.
  • Frozen: A Sister More Like Me by Disney Publishing: A jacketed picture book featuring an original story about Anna and Elsa, as well as illustrations by one of the artists who worked on the film.
  • Frozen Big Golden Book by Random House: An illustrated hardcover Big Golden Book based on the film, suitable for kids ages 3 to 7.

Mattel Launches First Multi-Brand Hispanic Integrated Campaign

logo_Mattel logoIn preparation for the holidays, Mattel Inc. has launched its first ever Spanish-language multi-brand marketing campaign, toy feliz. Already live in Los Angeles, Houston, and Miami, this Hispanic-oriented effort spans multi-media marketing platforms and key brands, including Fisher-Price, Hot Wheels, and Barbie.

The campaign includes TV and radio advertising on Univision, a retail partnership with Walmart, a bilingual website, geo-targeted coupons, and printed advertising inserts in participating markets. Mattel has even partnered with Padres Contra El Cáncer to help in the non-profit’s mission to provide emotional and financial support, as well as bilingual health education, to children with cancer and their families. As part of the partnership, Mattel is sponsoring Padres’ annual holiday parties, which provide families who have a child undergoing treatment with the opportunity to enjoy the holidays in a fun-filled and safe environment. Mattel will also make donations to Padres families at local Los Angeles and Miami hospitals.

American Girl Expands Into Canada

AmericanGirlAmerican Girl, a division of Mattel, Inc., will expand into Canada. The new American Girl retail  stores will open this spring in Indigo’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre, Toronto, and Robson Street, Vancouver.

Visitors to Indigo’s new American Girl store-in-store boutiques will  find an assortment of the company’s doll brands, including:

  • Girl of the Year: a modern-day 18-inch doll, launched annually, accessories, outfits, and books that reflect the interests and issues  of today’s girls.
  • My American Girl—a line of contemporary 18-inch dolls that allows a girl to select from several different  combinations of skin tone, eye color, and hair-color to create a doll  that’s just right for her. A variety of books, outfits, and  accessories round-out the play experience for girls.
  • Bitty Baby—a line of baby dolls  available in 11 different combinations of skin tone, eye color, and  hair-color, accompanied by premium picture books, outfits, and  accessories that encourage nurturing play in girls 3 and up.

In addition to the doll lines, the Indigo American Girl store-in-store  boutiques will carry Dress Like Your Doll girl-sized clothing and  a variety of American Girl books. Fans can also  treat their dolls to a new hairstyle or ear piercing in the Doll Hair Salon and enjoy free girl-and-mom-friendly events and programs  offered throughout the year. Future announcements about grand-opening dates will be made as  schedules are finalized.

Mattel Launches Ever After High Globally

Photographer Jeremy Lloyd Stylist Lin CarlsonMattel has launched its newest intellectual property, Ever After High. Based on the everyday lives of the teenage sons and daughters of well-known fairytale legends, Ever After High leverages multiple platforms to reach consumers.

The story of Ever After High takes place at an enchanted boarding school, where Raven Queen, daughter of the Evil Queen, questions her storybook fate of becoming the next Evil Queen. After she questions her own pre-determined destiny, the school becomes divided between those who want what is promised to them, and those who want to write their own storybook endings.

This new tween property is available in 14 countries and will continue to roll-out to more than 30 territories next year. In addition to the initial collection of six fashion dolls, the property is supported by an immersive digital experience including a website, EverAfterHigh.com, global Facebook page, and YouTube channel. The digital ecosystem includes animated webisodes, character bios, games, avatars, and an interactive music video.

Mattel Launches Playground Productions Creative Storytelling Division

Mattel.PlaygroundMattel Inc. has announced the formation of Playground Productions, a new division within the Mattel Global Brands group dedicated to the creation and development of strategic multiplatform storytelling. Playground Productions will drive creative storytelling across all Mattel brands, including Barbie, Monster High, and Max Steel, along with the development and launch of the new animation Team Hot Wheels: The Origin of Awesome debuting next year.

Playground Productions has brought on Mercury Filmworks for the project in a story that delivers new Hot Wheels thrills in three formats including a 22-minute origin story for spring, 11 humorous two-minute action-packed shorts for the summer, and a 74-minute direct-to-video movie for the fall.

Additionally, Playground Productions will manage and provide creative direction for the recently announced live-action feature film for Max Steel. In co-development with Dolphin Films, the movie will have a wide release in theaters next year. The division is also partnering with Columbia Pictures on an upcoming Masters of the Universe theatrical project.

Mattel and KaBOOM! Raise Awareness of the Importance of Active Play

mattel_logo_fullMattel has partnered with KaBOOM!, a national non-profit organization, to build understanding of the critical need for active play in the lives of all children. To launch this partnership, Mattel and the Mattel Children’s Foundation have provided $500,000 in financial support to create and promote a major study with kids about how they engage in play.

The goal of the partnership is to foster support around the cause of play, and ultimately, a world where kids have the time and engaging opportunities to play actively every day.

The partnership has produced a two-minute video, “I Believe in Play,” and a synthesis of play-related research titled Play Matters: Giving Kids the Childhood They Deserve. Both are available at kaboom.org/act. In the coming weeks and months, these products and others will be shared with parents, educators, play advocates, and additional stakeholders through a multi-channel communications and marketing campaign.

COMMENTARY: Indoor Toys to Defeat the Colder Weather Blues

I could have sworn that yesterday was the first declared day of summer. Man, it totally flew by! Though I love autumn now, I remember hating the changing of the leaves as a kid—it meant no more pool parties or beach days, and very limited outdoor play as fall turned to winter. Fear not, kids of 2013: there are so many new toys to make indoor play equally as exciting as those water guns and slip ‘n slides. Though I can’t help you with the pool situation (even I will miss the sunshine and water combo), I can give you a list of some of the hottest remote-control and robotic toys for indoor play to get you through the colder weather.

zoomer-150x150For parents who don’t allow dogs in the house, get rid of the constant begging and pleading from your kids with Zoomer, from Spin Master. He does everything that a real dog does—except shed hair and pee in the house! He’s cute and interactive, and he listens and learns commands. The trainable robotic pet will sit, bark, run, play, and even roll over on command. He even lifts his leg when commanded to “Go pee.” Kids can teach Zoomer more than 60 tricks, and the more time spent with him, the more he does—a lesson in pet responsibility. He responds to Spanish, French, and English. He is spotted like a Dalmatian, and he answers to his name, Zoomer! It’s absolutely adorable, doesn’t need regular vet visits, and won’t beg you for food. Win-win! He loves when you pat his head or tickle his tummy; like a real dog, he can’t help but wag his tail. [Read more...]