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The 2014 Toy Fair: Highlights and Trends

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The 111th Toy Fair brought toymakers and enthusiasts from all over the world to New York City this past week to talk toys. Men stood in suits and academically discussed what made good play; marketing and PR reps scurried from one client to the next; and professional kid-demonstrators worked hours on end to show how fun their toys are. Amid the tumult, a few trends stood out showing that 2014 will be a very interesting year for toys.

snapo

Studded plastic stacking bricks are exploding. Over the past decade, the Lego Group lost several key legal battles that would have kept them as the single player in the studded brick field, something people may generally call “Lego” like tissues are “Kleenex.” With Lego’s patents on the simple brick structures expiring, notables like the Canadian Mega Bloks and the German Bric Tek have surged into the market. Smaller companies are taking it upon themselves to redesign the brick, adding LEDs to light them up or, in the case of Snapo, sideways locks that allow for horizontal connections not seen before in the stud world. Lego, meanwhile, is striking back to maintain dominance with top licensed products, including the new Ghostbusters line.

stickmanstew

Stuffed toys have been a staple of children’s playtime for a century, but today’s plushies take huggable toys to the next level of eye-catching. Monstrous plushies took off recently with Uglydoll, but that was only a beginning. A whole range of companies are tackling the issue of monsters and poor nights’ sleep, such as Lyla Tov Monsters and Pajama Monsters. At the other end of the cute spectrum, the neutral design of Stickman Stew brings along the Golden Heart Crew to teach kids simple moral truths.

As plushies are getting grittier, so is the world of fashion dolls. Mattel’s Monster High has made a tremendous splash with the teenaged descendants of old Universal monsters. Wowwee toys, famous for their robots, have a different take, bringing the classic fairytale princesses like the Little Mermaid and Sleeping Beauty back from the dead in Once Upon a Zombie. Playhut goes another undead direction with the Mystixx Vampires who transform from mortal human to fashionably fanged.

makeymakeybananapiano

Exciting things are happening in electronic toys as technology continues to improve play and interaction. HASBRO’s Furbies are back with adorable baby furblings and whole new capabilities of facial interaction through digital eyes. The more scholarly WikiBear promises to bring a new level of play as kids can ask it anything, and the bear will search Wikipedia for an answer. Meanwhile, start-up MaKey MaKey turns the whole world into a digital playground showing that just about anything with an electric current can become a toy.

From new takes on time-tested ideas to completely new innovations, Toy Fair showed the best of play from around the world. No matter the taste, kids and the kids-in-all-of-us are headed for a fun 2014.

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About Jeff Provine

Jeff Provine is a Composition professor, novelist, cartoonist, and traveler of three continents. His latest book is a collection of local ghost legends, Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma.