LEGO FRIENDS – Friends or Big Love?

LEGO FRIENDS Olivia's House

There’s been a lot of controversy about the new LEGO FRIENDS line.  And we’ll be writing a lot more about that soon.  So far, we have gotten nothing but positive reviews for both the building aspect and the pretend play potential of these sets.   (We have however stayed away from the more gender-stereotyped sets such as the hair salon.)    You can read our review by clicking here.

But I did need to share the following….

I was very  interested to note how our girl builders became quickly invested in the names of each of the friends.  They quickly knew their names and which sets included which figures.  With the exception of maybe the Harry Potter or Star Wars LEGO sets, I’ve never really had this kind of conversation about the regular LEGO figures.

Then I got confused. The man with the beard?  Who could that be?  Why was this bearded play figure living with two female figures in Olivia’s House?  My toy testers just assumed he was a boy and that they were all just friends. After all the line is called LEGO FRIENDS. That made a certain amount of sense.

So maybe this was LEGO’s version of NBC’s hit comedy Friends? Was the bearded guy meant to be Ross?  Chandler?  I can’t really remember that any of them had a beard.  Anyway…then I thought maybe this is like HBO’s BIG LOVE.  I mean the two female figures look as grown up as the bearded man.

I called the folks at LEGO…and in case you were wondering, here’s the relationships of the figures in Olivia’s house.

The guy with the beard is Peter. He is Olivia’s FATHER.  The other female figure in the house is actually Peter’s wife, and Olivia’s mother, Anna.

I don’t know about you, but I feel much better now.

Barbie’s Ken was a true trendsetter with the facial hair

While this morning’s news is about LEGO’s Peter (from their new Friends line) and his 5 o’clock shadow, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Barbie’s Ken (Mattel)  also went through his “I’m sexy and I don’t feel like shaving” period.

George Clooney, Brad Pitt and LEGO Peter

Peter, the new and only male member of the new LEGO “Friends” line directed at girls, seems to be taking styling advice from George Clooney and Brad Pitt.

LEGO Friends Peter

Or maybe he’s going for the younger Ryan Reynolds. In any case, feels like we need a new tag “toys with facial hair.”

 

 

 

 

Do kids really need toys to play with their APPS?

This is the 6 BILLION dollar question this year.  If toy makers have their way, the answer will be a resounding yes. In fact, it seems that many are betting the farm on it. With APP sales exceeding $6 billion in 2010  and estimated to reach $25 billion by 2015, you can’t really blame them for wanting a piece of this mega pie.

Mattel's new Appitivity Angry Birds

The big take away trend of TOY FAIR 2012, that officially  begins tomorrow at the Javits Center in New York City, is the arrival of digital “enhancing” toys. There’s even a whole new vocabulary: you’ll hear that your child needs toys that help “blend”  their reality and digital play experiences.  Clever new brand lines such as Apptivity (Mattel) or AppGear (WowWee) or AppMates (Disney).

Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Apptivity Monkey

 

 

But at the end of the day, does your 18 month old baby really need a bear with an iPhone for a belly? Does your four year old who loves Hot Wheels really need to have a special car to race on the surface of your iPad? Does your child need a plastic fishing rod so that he or she can “virtually” fish with an attached smartphone?

I was pretty cranky this week as I started previewing this new category. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why and then yesterday, after having visited both Mattel and Hasbro’s showrooms, it became clearer to me. I wasn’t exactly cranky,  just a little bit sad. I love toys. I’m always excited to see what those clever toy makers are going to wow us with. What innovative uses of technology would we be able to share with our readers?  Unfortunately, this new category feels like the toy industry is desperately trying to remain relevant in a world where even the youngest children (who are not even talking yet), can navigate their parents smartphones and tablets.

The question for us always comes back to whether the technology enhances the play experience. In other words, do you need a toy to have the same or greater amount of pleasure when playing Fruit Ninjas or Angry Birds? Is the APP experience lacking or less than optimal if you don’t have these 3D action figures? Does having  an  iPhone APP at the center of your game board really make playing a round of  LIFE or Monopoly better?  As with most new categories we review, the ultimate answer will be made on a case by case basis.

Hasbro's New Version of LIFE with iPad

In the swirl of wow-look-what-we-can-do-now in toyland, it’s almost easy to miss the next important question.  Is this toy developmentally appropriate?  We know that handing off iPhones and iPads to very young children has become part of our culture. Parents often marvel at how well their kids navigate such experiences, and we all know that such a hand off can be particularly useful when you travel or on a tedious line at the grocery store.  (I can barely make it through the Whole Foods line without my phone.) But now ask yourself whether it’s beneficial to extend that time by adding toys to the experience. What other real world play experiences are being missed by adding more screen time? While the technology is far too new for studies that research the impact on small children, at this point we see no reason why this screen time will be vastly different from television, baby videos, or video games and their negative impact on children.  In other words, less will probably be more. And when you’re talking about very  young children, none may be even better. Not a popular suggestion we know.  As with most things, we have a sense that moderation is probably the most realistic goal.

One more thing. It also seems somewhat tone deaf to be suggesting in these difficult financial times that expensive technology must be acquired for playtime. I know we all have phones and according to the folks at Mattel, one in every five house holds owns an iPad – but still. From a consumer point of view, board games have always offered great value. Most games cost under $20. Now, that’s $20 plus the cost of your iPad or iPhone.

I feel much better now. And while I understand that toy companies want in on this booming business, I hope that all of those creative toy makers will remember that playing in the real world with wonderfully crafted playthings is still something to be valued.

 

LEGO and DC COMICS join forces

As the gang from LEGO heads out to Comic Con, they released BIG news. Starting in January 2012, there will be new LEGO DC Universe SUPER HEROES.  The collection will include 13 of their iconic characters: Batman™, Robin™, Catwoman™, The Joker, The Riddler™, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn™, Bane, Bruce Wayne, Superman™, Lex Luthor™ and Wonder Woman™. Buildable characters will include Batman, The Joker and Green Lantern.

But wait, there’s more…a really fun contest (intended to drive you to the website–you know you’ll look anyway).

According to the LEGO press release…

At San Diego Comic-Con, 3,000 exclusive Batman and Green Lantern LEGO minifigures will be distributed to kick off a promotion that will take place from August to December in advance of the launch. Fans are encouraged to use their collectible minifigures and existing LEGO collections to create original LEGO DC Universe SUPER HEROES adventures through video, photography or illustration, then share their submissions on www.LEGOSUPERHEROES.com. Entrants have a chance to win monthly prizes or a grand prize trip to California for exclusive tours of Warner Bros. Studios, WB Animation and LEGOLAND® California.
I hope they send us one of  the miniatures…2012 is a long time to wait! I especially can’t wait to see how Wonder Woman translates to LEGO.

LEGO, Kid Galaxy, Playmobil…it was a good day!

Today at Javits we started at LEGO.  Always fun.

Our LEGO STAR WARS fans will be thrilled with the impressive number of new builds for this year!

LEGO STAR WARS NEW MILLENIUM FALCON

The line also includes new GAMES  (they rocked the game market last year -taking a 12% share of the market in their first year).

LEGO GAMES new PIRATE PLANK

Kid Galaxy–has a promising new line of vehicles that demonstrated more innovation than just about anywhere we visited this year–especially in the vehicle realm for preschoolers.

New Preschool Vehicle from Kid Galaxy

Playmobil - Pretty sure the new Zoo kits, the Spy Line and the Castles will be frontrunners with our testers this year.

PLAYMOBIL'S New ZOO Setting

Toys that make me wonder…

Ever wonder how certain things get made whether it’s something to wear (in a hideous shade or impossible to wear shape) or a kitchen appliance you can’t imagine you’d ever use more than once-a la the Chickenborg Egg Cuber.

I often find myself asking this question in toyland.  It would be fun to sit in the design meetings (that perhaps were held during happy hour).  Now take that ridiculous design concept and imagine it’s been sold to the brand manager, the sales force, etc.   And then there are the retailers who also drink the kool aid and fill their  shelves with these products.  I then wonder if the design team that had a silly idea or I- can’t-believe- they’ll-go- for -it concept – has a good laugh.

Now one of these toys made our top Platinum Award list this year – I don’t necessarily mean they’re terrible products…I just wonder how they came to be. (Ok, for some, I do think they’re pretty dreadful.)

1. Cuponk – This wins as the ugliest designed toy we received. Much like playing quarters, the aim here is to get the eyeball into the container. 

Is it just me or does this just seem like great training for drinking games? And take a look at the images.  They’re not just ghoulish, they’re unpleasant and certainly not visuals that are important to the 8 and up set.

2. Fish with Removable Bone- I’m all for pretend play but this one just struck me as going a bit too far. I think our kids can pretend to fillet the fish. Of course this is a refreshing and healthier choice than the countless number of plastic hot dogs and french fries we receive every year.

3. Barbie Video Girl- This product is on our Platinum List…but we still would have loved to have been in the meeting where they decided to place the camera in the middle of Barbie’s chest. I’m just saying.  In fact, I’ve spent way too long discussing where they could have placed it instead.

Barbie Video Girl

A possible solution that won the most votes–Barbie could have been holding a video camera rather than being the video camera.  I see it–but I also appreciate the design elegance of having it where it is (on her “necklace”).  If you want to talk pure silliness, the Barbie Glitterizer, where Barbie is put into a chamber and sprayed with glitter, wins hands down in my book.

4. Detainee Kit- If your child is saying “Mommy when I grow up I want to be a TSA employee”, then I guess this set makes sense!  Complete with a body scanner and handcuffs…you’re child is ready for post 9/11 cops and robbers. The set also comes with a lie detector and evidence kit. Now that I’ve pointed out the obvious “wow, really” factor of this kit- I should point out that some kids will really love this kind of role playing…and enjoy the realistic props. For others role playing with the security wand may make the real life airport security experience a little less scary. It just makes me sad.

5.WWE Accessories. On the other hand if your child aspires to be a WWE champion, why not strap on the championship belt now, right? Complete with sounds effects (to me it sounds like Charo!).

6.Flatsy- Here’s how this meeting probably went. “What if it looks like you drove over your child’s doll with the mini-van?” “Yeah!”  “Cool!”   Truth be told, I kind of like the absolute silliness of the design-although I can already hear well-meaning body image advocates raising issues about what kind of dangerous role model these dolls present to young girls.

7.Learn & Groove Musical Wand.   Really? No comment.

A look at the latest in Operation

Shrek Operation

One of my favorite games when I was growing up was Operation.

The Original Operation

Something so pleasing about getting those little pieces out without the buzzer going off!  I’m not really sure how well I did it–but the game remains a fun hazy childhood memory.  It’s probably those memories that always make me perk up at Toy Fair when they unveil the new Operation games of the season. 

Toy Story 3 Operation

So far we’ve received both the Shrek and the Toy Story 3 Versions.  As my son Matthew pointed out this is not the first Shrek Operation — the folks at Hasbro confirmed that there was an earlier version to go with one of the first three movies.  There is also a Buzz Lightyear–you’ll notice that this is the first break from the usual image of one large body image stretched out (a la on an operation table).  You see all of Buzz Lightyear but now he’s in an action pose.  Probably not earth shattering news–but worth noting.  Each of these movie-based versions has you going after appropriately themed pieces accompanied by sound effects that go with their characters.

Watch our VIDEO REVIEW by clicking here.