While trudging the miles of aisles at this year's annual Toy Industry Association Toy Fair held at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City over Presidents Day weekend, two franchises leaped to mind: “The Walking Dead” and “The Hunger Games.”
Toy Fair is the huge annual “play” event that, in effect, kicks off the Christmas toy-buying season for retail stores. It’s “the Western Hemisphere’s largest and most important show,” the fair’s official website touts, “featuring the equivalent of more than seven football fields filled with brand-new toys and games.” But don’t expect to bump into ordinary moms and dads right off the street shopping for the hottest new Barbie or GI Joe. Toy Fair is exclusive to the toy trade — "13,000 buyers from close to 100 countries." And sales of toys here are a fairly accurate barometer of what could be the hottest plaything as the months blow off the calendar.
“The Walking Dead" (and shows of similar ilk) was represented with a myriad of toys designed to help the little tykes deal with zombie infestations. Favorite among them: plush pillow toys of axes, swords -- even a chainsaw -- all painted with buckets of blood.
The Toy Fair's weapon of choice dovetailed off the popularity of "The Hunger Games." The bow and arrow -- as well as two spinoffs, the crossbow and slingshot -- populated many booths. And most photos and mannequins demonstrating these weapons featured preteen girls.
A kinder, gentler sort of rough stuff came from a company selling "Pillow Wars," pillow-fight pillows. So, why not use your own pillows? When slammed down on an adversary, these specially designed softies produce exciting sound effects: "smash!", "crack!" and other '60s "Batman" sounds fill the air with every slam.
Oh, and the other can't-miss toy flying everywhere at the fair? Drones, drones and still more drones. With these easy-to-control fliers in a variety of sizes, plenty of companies seemed to be getting kids ready for the future. But among the almost 1,000 vendors at the fair, only one was spotted whose sole purpose was to sell one item only: toy guns.
Mixed in among standards and classics like Apples to Apples and Chutes and Ladders were several games that many would find offensive. Topping the list of bottom-feeders: "Who Tooted?" (complete with a little plastic bent-over man with a pffft-ing sound effect) and "Poopyhead" (anyone in for some cartoonish plastic poo?). By the way, this poo-ticular company hails from Rotterdam.
When a vendor was asked about her "Fifty Shades of Grey" board game (too soon?), she said the basic edition was not that raunchy, but the special red-box edition pulled no punches (sadistically speaking).
A bobblehead manufacturer included both the famous and infamous in its collection. On the upper-most shelf were the highest echelon of achievers — and Jesus was right there, bobbing his head along with the pope to his right and Marie Curie and Nikola Tesla to his left. (We looked and looked but could not find the bobble head of the Prophet Muhammad.)
Here's a wrap-up of several toys with an interesting "variation on a theme" that were scattered throughout the show:
• Yoga Joes: Those green army men are now "a nonviolent toy" (according to the promotional material) and being put to good use doing yoga stretches and contortions. This company was a Kick Starter venture begun in September of last year.
• Shoot the Bird! Cuckoo Clock: When the bird pops out screeching "cuckoo!" it won't shut up until you shoot it with the special plastic pistol.
• Crawling Hand: Peter Lorre battling "The Beast with Five Fingers" from the 1946 horror film springs to mind with this battery-powered, finger-drumming hand (and, yes, there's a green, rotted-flesh zombie version, as well).
• The Green Game: In the save-the-planet category, this particular board game instructs players on how to be good to Mother Earth. And it's not just rolling the dice on future survival, either — a seed packet is part of every box.
• Cash'n Guns: According to the pitch on the back of the board game’s box, “Gangsters have just committed the robbery of the century, but now comes the most difficult part: Sharing the loot!”
• Personally Incorrect: This is another game that fits squarely in the raunchy category. It’s a card game a la Mad Libs in which the grossest response wins: convince your fellow players that you’re a real loser and you’re the winner. A game rep revealed that it was created in response to another incredibly similar game called “Cards Against Humanity -- A party game for horrible people.”
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Small-business entrepreneurship was encouraged in an area comprised of about 15 reps (but then, Toy Fair is really a show for the big boys of the toy world to come out to play). One woman in particular was representing Bizainy, a company with about a dozen boxed kits designed to encourage children and their families to create enterprises. Titles include setting up bake sales, lemonade stands, babysitting -- and the family is provided with all the instructions and paraphernalia needed to get the business off the ground. Fundraising, how to manage the business’ profits (like the wisdom of saving for the future), are all part of the package.
The annual Toy Fair is a fun way to check out the psyche of America’s playtime. Hey, how else would we have learned that a crossbow was the best way to rid the world of its No. 1 threat: zombies?
Take a quick, one-minute video-tour of Toy Fair 2015 here...