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International Toy Fair 2009

New York: February 17, 2009

The annual Toy Fair at the Javits Center in New York City got off to an upbeat start this past weekend, with plenty of people walking the aisles to view the latest offerings from more than 1,100 exhibitors.

Prior to the show opening, there were fears that the economic downturn might make for a much quieter event this year but most of the leading players were out in force and it was perhaps only the usual corporate merger and takeover announcements that were missing.

One concession to the economic woes might have been the emphasis on affordable toys, with a number of companies highlighting new products that will retail for under $25. In fact, small but beautiful might be the overriding theme of this year’s show, with manufacturers appearing to offer more modest, quieter products than the electronic Porsches and $100+ dolls that have sometimes dominated the Fair in prior years.

So, from among the endless lines of interactive toys and plush collectibles, here are a few of The Online Mom’s favorites:  

Lego Systems
continues to dominate the construction toy sector and inspire the builder inside every child. This year’s new offerings include LEGO Power Miners and LEGO Space Police for the 5+ set, while new versions from the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movie themes are also available. Our favorites are the Mindstorms robotics kits and the Bionicle legend series (see image). While they sometimes put too much emphasis on characters rather than the basic construction, really nobody approaches the quality of craftsmanship and the imagination that goes into LEGO.

LeapFrog continues to lead the way in pre-school education and they have a new series of reasonably-priced games for kids 6 months to 4 years based around Scout, the plush toy dog that is “your learning friend”. All the LeapFrog educational games can be linked to LeapFrog Learning Path, a free online resource that parents can use to track their child’s progress.

Wild Planet is stressing both value for money and the benefit of exercise with a couple of new games based on previous hits like Hyper Dash and Animal Scramble. 1-2-3 Stomp and Hyper Blast (see image) combine some elementary math skills with a lot of high-energy running around. Best of all, these classic games don’t require a video screen or an electrical outlet and can be played indoors or outside.

This year’s Toy Fair was overrun with plush toys. Whether they were part of an online experience or just stand-alone cuddly friends, it was impossible to go far without running into another strokeable creature with an adorable face. But if you are looking for the best in class, you needn’t look much further than WowWee. The animated toys from their Alive Cubs range are impossible not to love…or adopt. They respond to love and attention by purring, gurgling, rolling their heads and blinking their eyes in happiness. The exiting cast of characters, which includes Lion Cub (see image) will be joined this year by Seal Pup, Leopard Cub, Koala Joey and Husky Puppy.

Mattel was at the Toy Fair in force this year, literally building a private showroom at the West Side convention center.  All the usual favorites were there, including a still-youthful looking Barbie, impossibly celebrating her 50th birthday! But Mattel is not relying on its industry classics or those of its Fisher Price subsidiary to keep it in the black in these tough economic times. There were some impressive planned additions to the Mattel catalog on display at the Javits, including Splatster, which uses a Wii-like wireless controller to allow kids to paint images on a TV screen, Smart Fit Park, a series of activity video games, and Mindflex, a first-of-its-kind mind game, which challenges players to move a small ball through an obstacle course using brain waves (see image).

Mezco Toyz, the toy company better known for producing Friday 13th and other horror collectibles, announced that it will be releasing 4” figures of SackBoy, the stuffed and stitched avatar hero from LittleBigPlanet, the popular PlayStation game. Move over Potato Head, I think you have finally met your digital mach!

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