Love breaking LEGO news. This just in from the UK’s Mirror.
Last night I had odd dreams that were both a combination of Downton Abbey (I still feel so upset about the season’s ending) and worrying that some of the prototypes (especially the last flying toy) wouldn’t work. By three in the morning I had Maggie Smith commenting on the series of spy toys we had on. Not the best night’s sleep.
This morning seemed very, very quiet. Maybe because it was soooo cold outside–it just seemed more laid back than usual. Since we were showing prototypes, there were no kids scheduled to be on the segment with me. That also made the green room less lively. (Everyone did perk up when the Jeopardy teen champ came in.) My mom, fresh back from her adventure through South America, was with me–which is always great. There was a guest there speaking about a 21 day cleanse. The whole idea made me hungry.
The segment was fun. You can watch it here. Willie Geist is fantastic and as a Dad with two young children, he’s totally in the toy zone. Steve Harvey was guest co-hosting today and was a total sport–trying out the Spy Net Lie Detector Toy from Jakks Pacific and flying one of the Atmospheres from Spin Master. Special thanks to Cara from LEGO and Rachel from Spin Master for coming in to make sure that they’re prototypes worked on camera. All the toys we showed today are featured on my blog posts from last week.
Hard to believe that LEGO Mindstorms were first on our Platinum Award list in 2007. This year LEGO is rolling out a revamped version of the robotics kit for a new generation of kids. Knowing how essential smart phones have become, the new design enables them to operate their robots via their phones. The set comes with 17 suggested builds with three different levels of programming. Comes with a hefty price tag ($349.99) — but if you think of this as an after-school program in robotics, it seems more approachable. We look forward to testing this product.
The NYT’s article Has Lego Sold Out?seems to start from a hazy memory of the authors’ own Lego building experiences. Yes, there have and continue to be LEGO buckets for open-ended building, but the company’s mainstay for the last two decades has been themed, instruction-based sets. What has changed are the themes.
LEGO made a decision that their own castles and space sets were not enough to keep media-savvy children coming to the construction aisle. They took their engineering talents to the world of Harry Potter, Star Wars and most recently, The Lord of the Rings. As someone who has reviewed and covered Lego Systems since the early 90s, I remember feeling sad when the announcement was made that LEGO would enter the world of licensed properties. In the end, it was a move that probably saved the company from the fate of way too many toy companies — but it did not change the building experience. The key to a good licensed product, is to look beneath the license. Our testers continue to love building these sets and the instructions that come with each set are without equal in the industry.
While we also are avid proponents of open-ended play, we know that school-aged children learn a great deal from following step-by-step directions – not the least of which is the ability to stay with a task. In a culture where everything is instantaneous, this alone is worth the price of the toy. To discount this experience because of a license or a set of directions, ignores the significant benefit of engaging kids in fun activities that do not involve electronics. (Of our school-aged testers, LEGO sets remain the number one request by our families that review products for us.)
It’s also not true that building a model from instructions means the toy is void of imaginative play potential. Our LEGO testers not only use their models for pretend play (some even have epic battles between their Star Wars and LOTR characters) — but they use their LEGO pieces for builds of their own. LEGO’s own City and Creators lines are popular with our testers.
As most toy companies continue to scramble to find a way to remain relevant in the age of APPs – LEGO has uniquely found a way to retain their appeal to children. Have they sold out? If they did, it happened decades ago. But from our point of view, they have adapted to their audience without giving up their core building experience that is both fun and educational.
We had a fun segment on the Today Show talking about some of our Platinum Award winners. It’s always painful selecting the 10 toys to show (turns out we actually had 11!). As we pulled up to the show, Martin Freeman was already at the door – surrounded by photographers and people looking for autographs. I prayed that as my mother and I climbed out of the very high SUV we would not fall with all of those cameras so near by. We exited the car gracefully. You can watch the segment below.
While I was getting hair and makeup done, I tweeted that there was a hobbit in the building. Just as I finished, Martin Freeman walked out of his dressing room behind me. I smiled. He returned my smile. My grandmother always used to tell me “it doesn’t cost anything to smile” – he got the same lesson along the way. He was very friendly to everyone. Until I see The Hobbit next week, to me he is still Watson from the BBC Sherlock series. I’m a huge fan.
We had lots of kids for this particular segment. They all were terrific while they waited for our time in the studio. In fact, we were brought upstairs and then the schedule got moved around a bit. They were amazingly well-behaved and calm as they waited even longer out in the hallway. Here are some of their pics.
This was the first time I was doing a segment with Willie Geist, the new host of the 9 o’clock hour. He’s great…and with two young kids, he’s in the toy zone.
Happily we got to talk about some of our favorite toys of the year from Fisher-Price, Wonderworld, Hasbro, North American Bear Co., LEGO, Playmobil, Marbles, The Brain Store, LeapFrog, Silverlit and Mattel. All of our Platinum Award winners are broken down by age with full reviews at www.toyportfolio.com.
After the segment, Willie took a picture with Joanne (who has been part of the WG fan club from his Morning Joe days).
It was a very good day…and I am forever grateful to my mother for taking a risk and starting the toyportfolio with me. She is the most generous mentor and business partner. Our adventure through toyland together is one of the great gifts of my life.
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.
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.
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.
Or maybe he’s going for the younger Ryan Reynolds. In any case, feels like we need a new tag “toys with facial hair.”
This morning we headed back up to the studio to take another shot at talking about Hot Toys of the season. The segment had been bumped on Tuesday. This time we got into the right car. On Tuesday we had gotten into a car that was headed to the airport -which should have been a signal to us that the rest of the morning was probably not going to go smoothly.
We arrive at the Today Show. All was unusually quiet in the green room. The Duggars had been there on Tuesday–making for a very crowded room! This time Robert Pattinson was upstairs
…we never got to see him but he certainly draws a crowd outside the studio. I always wonder about the fans that wait overnight to catch a glimpse. I thought it was fitting that we were there with Mattel’s Monster High Dolls that are really part of the Twilightization of America. Our tween testers, many of whom have not read the books or seen the movies really still love these dolls.
At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about them. They’re so over the top–but I’ve come around. Their focus is on character traits of each monster and how they navigate high school. It’s less about their body image. I also like that there are boys in the line, and that Mattel participated in an anti-bullying campaign this year with the collection. I certainly wouldn’t characterize them as beautiful dolls–but they do have a sense of humor that appeals to the 7 & up crowd.
Many of the kids who were scheduled to be on the segment on Tuesday came back today. We were very grateful to their parents! We were also joined by some other families who quickly got into the swing of the segment. I’d always rather do a segment with kids there–it just adds more energy and I think it’s useful to see kids actually playing with the toys we’re talking about.