A brave new world of toys
THE American International Toy Fair in New York is one of the few places in the world where you'll see a dapper man in a business suit talking to a teddy bear, or hear a man say, ``Let's say I want to shoot one of my friends, you know, just playing around.'' It's a little like going to Disneyland, except you keep wondering all the time whether or not you'd like to buy little pieces of it.Skip to next paragraph
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At this stage some toys are prototypes. People will hand you a stuffed animal and say ``this will be squishier and there won't be these wires sticking out of the back of the neck.'' You get an odd blend of consumerism and sentimentality here, plus a kind of glitzy creativity of the corporate type. Nothing could be less like wandering hopelessly down the silent corridors of Child World looking for someone to tell you what is inside all those gaudy boxes. Here at any one time you are liable to have two or three people explaining things to you.
``By the time the kids are 6, they kind of lose interest in the preschool toys. They want regular toys - big kid toys,'' says Al Carosi of the Playskool/Hasbro/Milton Bradley toy conglomerate, laughing.
We are looking at Playskool first. There are neat things like bibs with a bottle conveniently stashed in its fitted pouch, little jingly Jammie Pie doll-footlets for a baby's feet, clever kits for baby-guarding your house (locking toilets and clamping down lamps), and a small combo freezer-heater for dealing with infant formula while still in bed and semi-awake. ``We try to be very innovative in everything that we do,'' says Mr. Carosi.
The Funbrella, of orange and lavender beachball-type plastic, would be nice on a grayish day. To use it you pump the handle and the umbrella part inflates. ``The air fills the spokes and then kaboom,'' explains the demonstrator bouncily, showing how the finished product pops into shape. ``There are no metal spokes, no sharp edges,'' Carosi points out.
Nearby is a flashlight that can shine in three different colors and automatically goes off to save on batteries. And a bit further on a great construction system of white plastic tubes and gray hinges, that you can make life-sized, usable things with - easels, wheelbarrows, and chairs. ``Yesterday's lemonade stand can be today's seesaw and tomorrow's jungle gym,'' says the demonstrator.
On to Hasbro: ``Now we're into boogie; these are rock and roll toys,''said Carosi, segueing into a little boogieing himself as we entered the Moondreamers display area, decorated with stars hanging from the ceiling and curved purple clouds. The Moondreamers are sugary little maidens with star sunglasses and a lot of flowing turquoise and pink hair (long pink hair is big). They are heavily into tiny, plastic, pastel accessories that glow in the dark.
Many adults could feel for their arch enemy, who has more personality anyway: Evil Scowlene, a larger doll with mad wrinkly yellow eyes and green frizzy hair and a purple and green dress. ``She hasn't slept a day in her life. She's the mean dream queen, the ruler of Monstrous Middle. The good dreams come from Starry-up,'' explains the demonstrator.
Some dolls have careers now, but nothing that interferes with being beautiful and wearing a lot of great clothes. Jem, introduced last year, is a new Barbie-type doll - `` the first real challenger to Barbie in 30 years,'' according to the press release, and ``a woman of the '80s,'' according to Carosi. Jem is a record executive by day and a rock star by night, and she also supports an orphanage. ``It's out of the role of cooking, cleaning, and dating,'' he says. She and her fellow rockers wear miniskirts, glittery stockings, and punky colors and have interesting Mylar hair.
It's rather a relief to get away from lavender and turquoise and hair, heading over to the boys' toys. Slime is in now, in some circles. Boys can wear Slime Time wristwatches, in the form of bats, frogs, and snakes; particularly dramatic was the bat, of shiny sticky-looking black plastic.