The Countdown to Disney Pixar’s Cars 2!

I can feel the anticipation for this weekend’s opening of Cars2 from Disney Pixar from our testers in the 3-7 age range. While we haven’t seen the movie yet, we have been busy for the last few weeks taking a look at many of the new Cars2 games and toys.   Videos of all CARS 2 products are also on our youtube channel.

Our testers loved the new LEGO DUPLO sets…The pieces are chunky and satisfying and can be integrated into your existing sets of LEGO DUPLO.











We have also taken a look at all of the new games from HASBRO with the Cars 2 license – now attached to many classic board games.

Here’s what you need to know about each:

Cars 2 Connect 4 – In interest of full disclosure, I love Connect 4.  It’s one of my favorite games for the 6 & up crowd.  A beginning strategy game that kids really like (and their parents don’t mind playing). Sometimes the added license detracts from the game. A few years ago, there was a Sponge Bob Squarepants version that interfered with the utter elegance of this game (where you drop pieces into the grid with the goal of getting four in a row before your opponent). I would not recommend this game for pre-schoolers.  Even for 6s, it’s a game that they need to play several times before they make that leap to being able to think several steps ahead.

Cars2 Connect Four

In this new Cars 2 version, the game play still comes through. Rather than the classic game where the game pieces are red and yellow, you’ll need to place the decals on the play pieces. They become either Mater or Finn. The color scheme of Mater (brown against white) vs. Finn (blue) makes it easy to distinguish the pieces (a plus).  If you don’t have a Connect 4,  and your child is into Cars 2– this wouldn’t be a bad version to buy. In any case, we’d always recommend the classic Connect 4 as part of your game library.

Cars2 Monopoly

Cars 2 Monopoly

Also very well done.  Smartly identifying the younger audience for this movie, this version of Monopoly is closer to Monopoly Jr. — the money is much easier (only one dollar bills).  Our testers loved the way you spin…which you do by moving McQueen around the track that circles  the game board. Instead of Park Place and Boardwalk, the spaces are other characters from the movie.  A well-designed licensed game that integrates the license into classic board game play. This game is appropriately marked 5 & up.  Most younger kids will find the game play frustrating.


Cars 2 Guess Who?

Cars 2 Guess Who?

I’ve never been a huge fan of Guess Who? Here the game play is guessing by process of elimination which character from the movie your opponent has picked. I would say that if you have a super fan of the movie, they will love having all of the characters on the top of the board. It would also be a good travel toy for the car. Not sure I’d make the commitment to taking this one on a plane ride. I don’t think it will have that kind of lasting play value.  Instead of playing by picking out hair color, here you’re asking “Is your car blue?”  It is a game that calls for visual discrimination…it just never grabbed me as overly exciting.


Cars 2 Memory Game

Cars 2 Memory Game

If you have a 3 or 4 year old in the hunt for a Cars 2 game, this is best choice. If you’ve ever played a memory game with a preschooler or early school aged child, you know they have the ability to crush most adults at this type of game.  They’re really great at the short-term memory. I’m not sure why adults tend to lose at these games…are we distracted? Already on the decline in this department?  In any case, this is a particularly clever version of memory that incorporates the theme of Cars 2 into the game play. Once you make a “match”, the cars are placed into the grandstands to watch.  Kudos to the design crew at Hasbro for coming up with this added dimension.  There is also a score board where you are “racing” up to the finish line. Your play piece is a car.  Now our testers thought that the cars should have had working wheels… but it’s still a nice aspect of the game.

Cars 2 Operation is pretty much what you’d expect. Instead of the classic big guy, it’s the character Mater. The board features bed bugs…a sign of the times.

Cars 2 Sorry! Sliders

Cars2 Sorry! Sliders

This one takes a while to put together but once you have the track assembled it’s pretty large. The game play involves “sliding” your piece around the track five times, but watch out your opponents can sometimes slide you backwards. This Candyland aspect (even worse because it’s being done to you) makes this a potentially “heated” game.  Marked for kids 6 & up — but I suspect many of these games will be purchased for younger players. I’d really stay away from this one for 4s and 5s – the slide backwards will likely produce tears.  (Unless they are playing with a parent.) The other problem with this game from my point of view is that the pieces do not fit back in the box unless you take them apart again. If you’re the parent in charge of such tasks you know how annoying this can be…why no make the box that 1/2 inch taller and wider so that the pieces can fit in without taking them apart!

Car 2 Trouble

Car2 Pop-o-matic Trouble

If you liked playing Pop-o-matic Trouble as a kid, you’ll enjoy this version.  The character Mater is in the middle and you “pop” in the center of his vehicle.  I thought it would make a car sound when you popped…like last year’s R2D2 Star Wars Version (my all time favorite).  It was noisy (and more expensive) …so this one is less high tech. The game play remains the same.








And as Forrest Gump would say…that is all I have to say about Cars2 games.

Royal Wedding: Disney style

Love that we got a press release for Disney’s Princess App. this week– while we’re all in royal wedding countdown.

The exact name is Disney Princess Dress-Up: My Sticker Book – it retails for $3.99 from the App Store.

The App is basically this generation’s version of paper dolls–you can dress all of the Disney princesses (selecting everything from their tiara to SHOES). There is also a feature where you can put your child’s picture on one of the dolls (on the sample video, the proportions seemed off).  While we’re usually not big on the whole be a “princess” mantra…for many girls this app will be very appealing.

You can preview the App on youtube:


Classic Pooh

This new line of Classic Pooh just came in from Kids Preferred. They are super soft. I love the large and small Pooh. I can’t ever remember seeing swirly designs in the plush of a teddy bear–so that’s kind of novel.  I’m not sure how kids are going to react..our interns (all in their teens) grew up on the Disney version of Pooh and his friends.  None of them considered these versions “real”….so we’ll have to see how our testers respond. They sure are soft!

Top high tech toys 2009

V Tech's Kidizoom Digital Camera Plus

Here are our some of favorites of the season– click on the name of the product to read our complete review at

For younger children:

LeapFrog Counting Candles (LeapFrog)

Two great cameras for 3s and up to enjoy:

Kidizoom Digital Camera Plus (V-Tech)

Disney Pix Jr Digital Camera (Disney)

If you have a child totally into cars, you need to look at:

Doodle-Track Cars (Day Dream Toys)

For kids  8 & up:

MindFlex Game (Mattel)

Nanos (Hexbug)

Eye Clops Night Vision Binoculars (Jakks Pacific)

For really advanced builders:

Mindstorm (Lego)

Princess & the Frog: Princess Tiana Just One Kiss Doll

Disney's Princess Tiana

Last week I talked about this doll as one of the top five hottest toys in toyland on the TODAY Show.  But because I only had two minutes to discuss five toys, I didn’t have time to demonstrate why this particular Princess Doll is so much fun.  Watch our video and you’ll see the interactive/light up features of this talking doll.

Right after my segment, I got an email from Disney–reminding me that there were less expensive Princess Tiana dolls…so true.  You can get your Princess fix for under $16.  The Just One Kiss doll retails for $24.99–and I already see lots of price gauging. There are plainer Princess Dolls–but we have not personally seen or tested them–I do see some complaints on line about the quality of the least expensive version–but we can’t confirm. We’re thrilled that Disney is featuring the first African-American Princess.  If you’d also like a book, we’d recommend Princess and the Royal Ball by Natasha A. Tarpley/illustrated by James Finch)–a full review is on our site.


Say Farewell to American Girl Samantha

When I told my 23 year old niece that American Girl was “retiring” Samantha (and her best friend Nellie)–she gasped. Before I started the Toy Portfolio with her grandmother, I remember the holiday season when she got her Samantha doll. It was a huge deal. My contribution was a matching nightgown for my niece (that cost more than most things I bought for myself!). I couldn’t believe the excitement that this doll and catalog generated with kids (and many of their mothers). I wasn’t much of a doll person myself so the whole experience was new to me. Of course after years now of reviewing the American Girl line I get the whole appeal. The attention to detail and the quality of both the dolls and the books were, and remain, unmatched in the industry.

I’ll miss Samantha…I wonder if she’ll be like the Disney DVD’s that come out of the vault from time to time?

Samantha now becomes an official generational marker–young women like my niece now share a part of Americana unique to their generation. American Girl is suggesting that girls (and women) can share their Samantha memories at