By Catherine Donaldson-Evans, ,
Published May 19, 2015
You'd think a preview of the toys making their debut this year would be a blissful, playful jaunt back through childhood.
It could be, if "childhood" conjures up memories of being dazzled and confused by thousands of moving, brightly colored, noise-making, light-flashing toys of all kinds at once, to the point that the sensory overload made you one glazed-eyed little tyke.
At the big-guns industry show known as Toy Fair (search), which came to New York City last week, the next generation of toys — due out in the spring and fall — was a little overwhelming for adults. But apparently, today's children won't be fazed.
"Kids live in a technological world, where the car and the microwave talk to them," said independent toy consultant Chris Byrne, who calls himself "The Toy Guy." "It's their reality … it's just made the toy box bigger. It hasn't changed the role of play in children's lives."
Currently about 75 percent of all toys and 80 percent of all preschool toys contain some kind of computer chip in them, according to Byrne.
So get ready: Here's a look at what the kids will likely be clamoring for this year, especially during the industry's busy — aka holiday — season.
Both Mattel and Hasbro have come up with cell phones for kids. Mattel's is a real Barbie-brand mobile phone with prepaid wireless service sold as part of the My Scene (search) line; Hasbro's Tiger Electronics CHATNOW (search) is actually a two-way radio communicator for 'tweens that allows them to call or text-message friends and family within a two-mile radius, without the cost of a calling plan.
Mattel subsidiary Fisher-Price's newest Elmo (search) does the wedding song "Shout!" and the moves associated with it. Toy trucks, boats and cars that are part of Fisher-Price play sets are now motorized, and a larger Fisher-Price ShakeNGo car (search) zooms around on energy built up by shaking the car and setting it on the ground.
"You have radio-control cars with technology that's traditionally been used in the aerospace industry," said Byrne.
Aside from all the gadget wizardry, toys have more star power than ever before.
Hasbro's ION TV plug-in player (search) lets kids interact with real cartoon characters like Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants on the screen. A new Talking Homer Operation (search) game by Hasbro has players working on a board in the shape of the popular "Simpsons" cartoon character, who spews insults when something goes awry.
Mattel is offering a host of movie-inspired techie toys, including a pair of noise-making ski-boot-style Roboots (search) like the ones characters wear in the forthcoming film "ROBOTS," and a very high-tech "Batman Begins" Batmobile — from the upcoming "Batman Begins" movie — which opens up into a Gotham City play set.
Even Barbie has been updated to embrace both the techie and the pop-culture trends.
"American Idol" Barbie (search) "sings" — though the song is actually pre-recorded and plays with the push of a button on a tiny plastic "karaoke machine" that comes with the doll. Little girls can even go online to Barbie.com to vote for their favorite "contestant" and track the progress of the competition.
And given the popularity of the hit reality show "American Idol," Barbie has a good shot at being this year's Tickle Me Elmo (search).
There are also new Barbies modeled after Destiny's Child, LeAnn Rimes, Lindsay Lohan and other celebrities.
And a host of companies are selling figurines and toys from the soon-to-be-released flicks "Fantastic Four," "Star Wars: Episode III," "War of the Worlds," "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and the "King Kong" remake, plus a "Ripped Pants" SpongeBob that accidentally rips his pants as shown on the cartoon.
Baby dolls have gone high-tech too, with some from Zapf Creation (search) — most notably one called Baby Annabell (search) — crying life-like tears after being fed a bottle of water. They even wake up suddenly when there's a loud sound.
Stuffed animals don't just sit there stoically on a pillow anymore, either. A few years ago, Hasbro had huge success with its FurReal Friends (search) line of realistic stuffed cats, bears and other cuddly creatures that move and make noises. This year they're unveiling newborn versions.
Mattel has some new interactive Pound Puppies (search) that come out of their doghouses when called or wag their heads when someone walks by. And Radica (search) has Street Muttz (search), which are also stuffed pooches that interact with their owners.
"The technology is just enhancing the toys," said Byrne.
Of course, it could also be overwhelming the kids, making them too reliant on machinery for entertainment or forcing them to stare at screens more often and at an earlier age.
One particularly contradictory offering is Fisher-Price's Read With Me DVD! (search), which puts storybooks on DVD and has kids "read" them off the TV screen. The educational game teaches comprehension and vocabulary skills and is supposed to encourage reading, but somehow doesn't come with the actual books themselves.
But whether they're star-studded, technologically advanced, both or neither, toys charm children — as long as there's something eye-catching or enticing about them.
Said Byrne: "At the end of the day, it's what makes magic for kids, whether it's as low-tech as a magnet or as high-tech as a computer chip."