Show Buzz: Toy Fair 2009

One place that was crowded yesterday was TIA’s toy safety seminar. Not surprisingly, it focused on the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. More than 700 people were said to have attended the presentation, which included a keynote address from Nancy Nord, CPSC’s acting chairman.

And in contrast to the Fair’s slow wind-down, news of freshly signed licensing deals has heated up since the weekend.

Cartoon Network Enterprises announced an extended hardlines program for the Bakugan brand. Beginning this spring, The Canadian Group will offer Bakugan games and puzzles while Basic Fun will introduce functional keychains. Also available in the spring will be a full range of activity toys including figure makers, tattoos, roller desk, poster art and more from Cra-z-Art Corp., a division of former Rose Art owner Larry Rosen’s newly established LaRose Industries. This fall Dynatech plans a range of 2-D and 3-D projectors, flashlights and snow sleds. Separately, CNE said The Canadian Group, Basic Fun and Dynatech have also been signed for Ben 10 products.

Hasbro said it will extend its rights to Marvel’s comic book characters, most notably Spider-Man, for an addition six years past their original expiration date of 2011. The deal includes rights for categories such as action figures, role-play products, preschool toys, and games and puzzles for Marvel’s universe of 5,000-plus comic book characters as well as any new movie or television versions of such between now and 2017. The deal guarantees Marvel $100 million in royalties annually.

Zizzle announced a deal with Atari for handheld video games, due out in 2010, and video game keychains, due out in 2011, based on many of the most beloved game properties of Atari’s glory years, including Pong, Super Breakout, Missile Command, Asteroids, Centipede, Battlezone and Crystal Castle.

Mega Brands said it will introduce In The Night Garden buildable playsets to its Mega Bloks brand internationally, excluding Japan, China and Korea. The preschool-oriented assortment will launch in the U.K., France, Spain, Benelux, Nordic territories, Australia and Canada in fall/winter 2009.

RC2 has been named the global master toy licensee for The Jim Henson Co.’s upcoming animated series Dinosaur Train. Under the multi-year agreement, RC2’s Learning Curve Brands will market a line of preschool products that will debut in the last half of 2010 based on the scientifically focused series about a young Tyrannosaurus Rex and his adoptive family of pteranodons.

Of course, there’s more than just licensing going on. Here are some of the highlights of what we saw on the show floor the past two days:

Marketing Concepts & Services, an offshoot of die-cast airliner replica market Daron Worldwide, has unveiled a line of “Miracle on the Hudson” vehicles, approximately 12-inch action figures and other products honoring the successful emergency landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River last month. The toys bear the licenses of most of the major players in the incident, including US Airways and New York City’s emergency services.

Winning Moves has jumped on the recent Facebook craze for creating lists of little known personal information about oneself with its soon to debut game, 25 Random Things About Me – The Game.

Cadaco has created a word-focused version of Sudoku in Quad-Doku. It challenges players to create words containing four letters and whose Scrabble-style points add up to 10. The board game maker also has a new line of kid-friendly USB drive video games.

Global Toy Marketing is bringing Ambi’s toys back to the U.S. after a more than three year absence. It will offer 28 SKUs in all in its debut assortment, including infant toys, bath toys, pull toys and other manipulatives. The company also plans a push to increase awareness of its Heros wooden trains imported from Germany.

Crayola continues to move further towards being more than just a crayon company. In addition to growing its infant products, the company mixes coloring and music in 2009 with its Color Me A Song, a unit that plays music (in genres ranging from rock to country and swing to salsa) in reaction to kids drawing on its surface. The real fun: the faster or slower one draws, the faster or slower the music plays.

KatJan, the company formed by the Lennon Sisters to market versions of their childhood favorite dolls under the Best Pals brand, continues to expand its offerings of retro-themed products. This year’s focus includes replica paper dolls, a relationship with Tonner that will see the collectible doll company market a doll of littlest sister, Janet; and the first doll of baby brother Danny.

Toy Island was offering a sneak peek at its EA licensed sports toy line off in one of Javits’ mysterious meeting rooms. The line includes mostly electronics enhanced sports trainers for kids serious about improving their skills at baseball, basketball, football, soccer and hockey, all of which bear the video game company’s logo and seal of approval. They’re more than just your average pitch-back device – and were surprisingly low priced for their degree of advanced features.

Green Toys displayed additions to its line of toys made entirely from recycled milk jugs. In addition to toy trucks, the company this year offered sports toys—jump ropes and flying discs—designed to give retailers options for their most budget conscious customers.

Chicco showed an infant/preschool intended magnetic block system reminiscent of Geomag’s G Baby system.

Safari stressed the way it’s worked to differentiate its offerings from the competition. Additions included new SKUs for its large Incredible Creatures figurines, new accessories for its Civil War figures, more human figures, Toob sets featuring road vehicles and trains, and elfin Flower Fairies figurines, among other introductions.

Wild Republic was happy about the response it was receiving to its Mongo Grinders line of skateboarding animals and to its growing line of eco-friendly Nature’s Accent plush and fully biodegradable latex animal figures. In licensing news, the company will roll out stylized plush based on the U.K. import series Mama Mirabelle’s Home Movies to wider retail following a three month exclusive at FAO Schwarz; and has a new, more kid-focused line in the works with Audubon than its current line of bird plush.

Spin Master’s booth was busy previewing this year’s 60 new Bakugan monsters and other line extensions for the company’s Toy of the Year winning assortment. Elsewhere, its Tech Deck line adds skateboard miniatures made from Canadian maple, just like their full-sized counterparts; and its Air Hogs brand includes an innovative R/C flyer that changes its flight configuration from helicopter to fixed-wing aircraft while in flight and with the touch of one button.

Dunecraft said it was planning to add The World of Eric Carle to its lineup of licensed plant-themed products.

In addition to its new licenses for Ben 10 and Bakugan, Basic Fun was eagerly anticipating the response to its new line of Star Trek keychains and its growing presence as a maker of handheld electronic games.

Over at Wild Planet, the focus for 2009 was keeping costs for consumers down and quality up. All of the new items in the ever-popular Spy Gear line are below a $20 price point this year, including the Evidence Kit, Digital Alarm Safe and Secret Agent Briefcase. The Skeleflex line has also gone economical this year with a series of mini dinosaur building kits that can be integrated seamlessly with the larger sets.

Step 2 was most excited to show off its new preschool toy line, its first foray into this market segment. It will launch the collection this fall starting with a grouping of colorful musical toys designed to appeal to both boys and girls, as well as role-play toys geared especially for girls, including colorful play food sets. The company’s Infantino division also rolled out dozens of new SKUs for babies and toddlers, including developmental toys, soft peg toys and infant gyms in new colors and themes.
Going green gets a little easier in 2009 with expanded toy collections from Sprig in its second Toy Fair appearance. The eco-friendly company’s booth was buzzing with buyers intrigued by its expanded offerings crafted from its eco-friendly composite Sprig Wood, including the Sprig Hollow line of garden-themed playsets and its new Story Blocks sets, which combine board book and block play. The Eco-Trucks line of classic construction vehicles that it distributes for a European company—which was first introduced at the Fall Toy Preview in Dallas—was also getting good feedback from the specialty retailers seeing it for the first time. The company also previewed a number of new non-electronic expansions for its Adventure Series line of playsets, which will debut later this year.
Newcomer Dandelion also captured the eco crowd at this year’s show. The company’s basic infant products—one of very few eco plush collections that’s also machine washable—all are crafted from organic cotton, filled with a special corn fiber and displayed in extremely minimal recycled cardboard packaging. The toys are basic baby items (rattles, teethers and soft developmental toys that squeak, rattle and crinkle), all rendered in an appealing, gender-neutral color palette of green and yellow. Organic cotton diaper bags, traditional diaper bags made from recycled plastic bottles and reusable feeding products made from a corn-based bioplastic were also on display, showcasing what the company says is just the first step in its plan to eventually offer “everything and anything” for babies and toddlers in the most earth-friendly way as possible. Another hot item for the company (formerly ABC Development, a veteran of the licensed baby product business) was its “Imagine a Better World” line of plush animals, licensed from characters originally drawn by John Lennon for his son, Sean; Dandelion hopes to expand it soon.
Another newcomer to Toy Fair, Restoration Gallery, was also seeing green. The company’s Global Green Pals is a line of 12-inch organic soft dolls for ages 4 and up that aim to teach kids about the environment (plus simple ways they can help protect it) through play instead of preaching. The first dolls in the collection officially launched this week at the show; an interactive website at which kids can communicate with the doll characters and share their own tips for the planet, is currently in development, and the company hopes to add new doll characters on an ongoing basis.
World Discovery Box, another first-time exhibitor, gained interest this week with its mission to foster a love for science and collecting in kids. Its science/nature kits—each comprised of a museum-quality wooden chest with drawers, plus a variety of fossils, minerals, shells and insect specimens—are available now to specialty stores.

Veteran toyco Gamewright’s booth was a hive of activity this year due to its kid-friendly games that can be played across multiple age ranges. Drawing a lot of the attention was the Walter Wick-licensed game, Can You See What I See? Finders Keepers, which was attracting lots of fans of the popular collection of seek-and-find picture books published by Scholastic. Ring-O Flamingo, a speedy game in which players try to flick their lifesavers around the birds while avoiding the alligators, was also popular at this year’s show, with passers-by being drawn in to play a few rounds at regular intervals. 
Gamers were also lined up to play several of Playroom Entertainment’s new acquisitions, including the fast-paced, 160-card Ligretto as well as On the Double. Livingstone, a European-styled strategy game in the same vein as the company’s Portobello Market and Ilium titles, along with Acting Out, the company’s lead title in the line of tween games it distributes for Swingset Press, were also on display. In addition, being previewed for release later this year were the premiere releases—Snow White (with dwarves) and The Giant (with magic hen)—in the character-based, card-and-dice games series for adults known as Scary Tales, designed by Reiner Knizia. Additional character releases to follow will include Cinderella (with fairy godmother), Prince Charming (with mighty steed), the Big Bad Wolf (with now-naughty three little pigs) and Hansel (with Gretel). New decks for Killer Bunnies: Journey to Jupiter (Red and Violet) were also on hand.

For our previous Show Buzz report [Feb. 15] from the 2009 American International Toy Fair,click here.

Playthings Staff | Playthings Staff

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