Author: Marissa DiBartolo

COMMENTARY: Role Play Toys Engage Kids in Superhero Action

It’s no secret that kids are extremely influenced by the characters they see in movies and on TV. Superheroes are particularly influential, with their mankind-saving tendencies and super-human abilities. The best thing about superheroes is that they appeal to kids and adults alike, since many of the iconic superheroes we know and love have been around for decades. Fisher-Price’s DC Super Friends line is geared toward kids as young as 3 years old, and Lego will introduce DC characters into its Duplo line for the first time this year. While play sets and building blocks are popular play patterns for kids and adding their favorite superheroes to the mix is a great way to get kids excited, the toys that make kids feel like they are becoming their favorite superhero are some of the most engaging toys on the market. Everyone’s favorite friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is now back on the block with new enemies. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opened in theaters Friday, May 2, and now kids can take home all of the web-slinging action, thanks to Hasbro’s intense line of role-play and action figure toys. With the wrist-mounted Motorized Spider Force Web Blaster, kids can fire foam discs featuring web embellishments up to 20 feet with rapid speed. Each Motorized Spider Force Web Blaster comes with 10 Nerf foam discs that can be stored in the storage compartment on...

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COMMENTARY: Back to Basics: Sketch, Doodle, Paint, and Play

After Toy Fair 2013, the words “and there’s an app!” were ringing in my ears for weeks. This year, however, appcessories seemed more like a taboo than anything else, with most companies shying away from toys with app-enhanced features or reliability. Honestly, it was less than disappointing. I think keeping screen time and toy time separate is perfectly acceptable, and apparently, what kids and toy buyers prefer. This year will truly mark a return to traditional play patterns. Rainbow Loom, a simple bracelet-making kit for kids, was huge in 2013, eventually snagging four Toy of the Year (TOTY) awards,...

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COMMENTARY: Lighting Up Imaginative Play: Light-Up Toys Provide Magical Fun For Kids

When I attended Fall Toy Preview in October, I had a conversation with a few industry executives about how when companies expand their line to include glow-in-the-dark or light-up SKUs, it often signals the end of the brand. They referred to glow-in-the-dark and light-up products as a “last resort,” and said it typically means that there are no other possible innovations for the product line. However, I know a certain 4-year-old boy who would absolutely disagree with this idea, along with his 8-year-old sister (aka my niece and nephew!). LED lights have a strange magic to them—especially for kids. The bright colors they provide, just like glow-in-the-dark effects, seem like something out of a fantasy story that kids go crazy over—no matter how simple the technology actually is. There are some great new products hitting the market that reflect how great glow can be, here are some of my favorites:   Tracer Racers, from Skullduggery, utilize Light Trail Technology as they blaze streaks of light on the glow-in-the-dark track. That’s right—LEDs AND glow play patterns. Lights galore! Magic frenzy!—and there’s more! Each Tracer Racer beams down purple light rays from its undercarriage onto the track, which is specially engineered to emit glow remnants only after the racer has passed. The new Tracer Racer drag racing sets include a 10-foot single lane set including one racer, an 8-foot double lane set...

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COMMENTARY: The (Other!) Reason for the Season

While I understand and respect that the holiday season has religious roots, toys, gifts, and giving have become a huge part of American tradition—and I don’t think this is such a bad thing. As frustrating as it can be to deal with 600 impossible twist ties and Hefty bags full of plastic packaging on Christmas morning, toys bring families together. After mom and dad (or in this case, Aunt Marissa!) get to see their elated kids (or super adorable nieces and nephew!) open exactly what they’ve wanted all year long, the first thing they want to do is start playing. My niece Courtney can’t even get through unwrapping her mountain of presents before saying “Can I open this one?!” And that’s where the fun comes in: When Dad arrives wielding his trusty screwdriver and a Tupperware container full of batteries (and this super awesome plastic package ripper thingy that if you don’t have you need to go out and buy RIGHT now!), Mom stands by tossing wrapping paper into garbage bags (and putting everyone’s coffee mugs on coasters, thanks Mom!), and there I sit cross-legged on the floor, instruction booklet diligently in hand, reading glasses securely fastened. Even if Santa gets all of the Christmas glory, it’s the gift-givers who get the toy out of the package, insert the batteries, and help teach kids how to play. It’s the...

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COMMENTARY: Nightmarish Christmas Gifts Delight Burton Fans This Season

While my folks are tuning into the Hallmark channel for the sappy Christmas movies that make them cry year after year, and my niece and nephew obsess over Buddy from Elf, I’m still stuck on a classic Christmas favorite that is often misappropriated by Halloween: The Nightmare Before Christmas. The movie isn’t called A Dream Before Halloween. For me, that’s enough reasoning to say it is, in fact—no matter how creepy—a Christmas movie. USAopoly will bring this cult classic into homes this holiday season in a whole new way with Monopoly: The Nightmare Before Christmas Collector’s Edition. Players can buy, sell, and trade iconic movie locations, such as Jack’s Tower, Oogie Boogie’s Casino, Sally’s Alley, Dr. Finkelstein’s Laboratory, Town Square Fountain, and (my favorite) Spiral Hill. This completely customized game features imagery of all the greatest characters from the film, with Jack and Sally front and center, as well as six collectible pewter tokens, including Jack’s Skull, Sally, the Mayor’s Hearse, Oogie Boogi, Zombie Duck, and Evil Teddy. Just like the classic, this game is designed for two to six players ages 8 and up and is sure to please all Nightmare fans. USAopoly has also fused the creepy-cool Christmas favorite with another household board game: Yahtzee. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that if you love Jack, you can never have too much of...

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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. Who 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. I’m not sure why, but girls have a strange fascination...

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COMMENTARY: Easing Kids’ Nighttime Fears One Toy at a Time

It’s 9 p.m.—already well past bedtime—and your little one is still buzzing about the house in his or her favorite footie pajamas begging to play with just one more toy for just five more minutes. Whether it’s because they are restless or afraid of the dark, looming shadows in their room, getting kids down at the end of a long day can be a challenge. While you’d probably like the toy box to stay shut so you can get them off to bed, there are actually some great toys on the market that can assist you in this (often) headache-inducing process. Part of the Baby’s First line, from Goldberger Toys, Dino Roar is great for kids who get scared when bedtime rolls around. The adorable baby doll is dressed in a pink or blue dinosaur costume, so both boys and girls can enjoy the security Dino provides. Little ones can press Dino’s belly for a “roar” sound that’s sure to intimidate any scary monsters lingering in the closet or under the bed. Dino’s glowing face and soft feel give kids ages 18 months and up security while falling asleep. For kids a bit older, Starshine Watchdogs, from Kellytoy USA, are ready to protect and serve at bedtime. Orion (blue) and Skye (pink) are cuddly plush puppies. They each say reassuring phrases, such as “don’t worry, I’m here,” and “all...

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COMMENTARY: Ease Your Walking Dead #zombiebrain with Licensed Products

Along with more than 8 million other Americans, I’ve taken to spending my Sunday nights biting my nails watching Rick, Carl, Daryl, and Michonne slice through zombie skulls on AMC’s The Walking Dead. Needless to say, thoughts of the zombie apocalypse have now pretty much overrun my life. I’m dubbing this obsession #zombiebrain. If, like me, you or someone you love suffers from #zombiebrain, here are some awesome toys and games to feed your addiction. Monopoly: The Walking Dead Survival Edition, from USAopoly brings everyone’s favorite board game into the world of the (un)dead. Based on The Walking Dead comic from Robert Kirkman, the game challenges players to fight for their own property and avoid zombies at all costs. Monopoly: The Walking Dead Survival Edition delivers classic Monopoly wheeling and dealing game play—but this time, players must fight for their survival. Everything about the game screams “WALKERS!” Properties correspond with the series landmarks, such as the prison cells, the Greene Family farm house, and Woodbury, while game tokens resemble key items from the series such as Rick’s sheriff hat, a bucket of body parts, the telephone, Dale’s R.V. (RIP Dale!), the Katana (aka Michonne’s awesome sword), and Lucille (aka a ridiculously effective baseball bat wrapped with barbed wire). Instead of using money to purchase property, players must trade essential supplies, such as food, ammo, and fuel to gain more...

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COMMENTARY: Big Rewards for a Little Bit of Cash

Sometimes kids deserve a special little treat—whether they refrain from crying at the dentist, got an extra star on their homework assignment, or behaved well on a long shopping trip, it’s nice to reward them for good behavior. Candy is a cheap, instant, and enjoyable treat, but we all know kids can do with a little less sugar (and, in turn, fewer painful dentist visits!).  There are some great inexpensive toys with lots of play value that will help reward kids for good behavior without breaking the bank or causing cavities. Angry Birds Star Wars Telepods, from Hasbro, are sold in two-figure packs for less than $10. Kids can teleport the collectible figures right into the Angry Birds Star Wars II app, from Rovio Entertainment, on iOS and Android devices. Each figure has a unique QR code on the bottom, so kids can distinguish their characters from their friends’, even if they have the same ones. With more than 30 figures to collect, Hasbro also has compatible play sets at higher price points. With both virtual and physical play, Telepods is a great choice for a quick treat that will keep kids engaged for a long time. Mash ’Ems, from Tech 4 Kids, are fun, squishable characters that retail for less than $5. Mash ’Ems come in some of kids’ favorite characters, including Angry Birds, Power Rangers, Teenage Mutant...

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COMMENTARY: Kids Getting Older Younger—Or Younger Older?

Everyone always talks about how kids are getting older younger. Kids as young as 8 years old are swapping their Barbie dolls and Transformers for iPods and tablets—but this isn’t the case for everyone. There are big kids everywhere, and toys have a funny little habit of bringing an adult’s inner-child giggling wildly to the surface. Nostalgia is a huge trend in toys today—classic properties such as The Smurfs, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Pac-Man have resurfaced and are engaging a whole new generation. Traditional toys, such as Hasbro’s Easy Bake Oven, Kahootz’s Spirograph, and POOF-Slinky’s Slinky, all still appeal to young kids the same way they did decades ago. However, adults and older kids will find just as much fun in new products primarily targeted toward youngsters, too. This weekend, I was loomed. A family friend’s daughter, Karli, had her wrist covered in the colorful rubber bracelets that are a product of Rainbow Loom, from Choon’s Designs. A huge craze among kids, I was enamored by the bracelets and begged her to teach me how to make one. She did, and of course, hers came out better. I’ve been staring at it on my wrist every day since she made it for me, and I was extremely tempted to purchase my own loom when I went into a Michael’s craft store and saw the enormous display (but I...

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