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Toy Fair showcases a revival of the low-tech plaything


NEW YORK —No show carries as much nostalgia for childhood as Toy Fair. But then, who can resist the pretty faces of Uglydolls, LEGO construction and Be Amazing Toys science kits that make cold snow out of powder?

The 105th Toy Fair held at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center last month invited more than 1,500 global toy companies and 12,000 retail buyers, a 12% increase from last year, to the multibillion playground. Total show attendance rose to 27,750, a 5% increase from 2007. “There was an incredible amount of energy this year,” said Reyne Rice, toy trends specialist for the Toy Industry Association.

Walking the floor revealed that traditional toys are on the radar. The pendulum has been swinging back in reviving the toy box concept for retailers. “In the past five years, this is the first year I was surprised at buyers asking for things other than high tech toys,” said Rice. Toys that focus on imagination, social skills and role-playing allow kids to be the hero. To accommodate such demand exhibitors have wooed buyers with popular themes like dinosaurs, science and archeology that are perhaps linked to entertainment venues like 10,000 B.C. and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Just between Mattel and Hasbro there are a dozen dinosaur toys, continued Rice. Both companies have a version of a technologically advanced ‘pet’ dinosaur that responds to touch and commands.

On the science frontier, Thames & Kosmos dominates with its advanced science sets that allow kids to build windmills, create fossils and concoct cosmetics recipes. Jakks Pacific EyeClops Bionic Eye, which received stellar reviews last year, is adding new features like night vision goggles.

Technology infused toys is embracing the active and interactive components of play. Take IToys ME2 (My Electronic Double), for example. The video game power charges by the amount of steps a child takes while wearing a pedometer-like device that collects points for the online world. Once the points are used up during play, a child must move around to gather points, perhaps taking the stairs instead of the escalator.

LeapFrog unveiled the Tag Reading System, a pen and book duo that aids learning by pronouncing words in the book as the pen touches them. Designed for children ages four to eight, LeapFrog is transforming story telling with line-by-line reading of classics like “Olivia” and “The Little Engine that Could” and new stories about SpongeBob Square Pants and Diego.

Toys that teach children to be citizens of the world also enchant parents, said Rice. Dolls from the Karito Kids line give back to the community by introducing options to its young consumers that help with charitable causes. Green toys are on the upswing underlining earth-consciousness ideals not only with product but packaging as well.

From an entertainment standpoint, licensed toys are hotter than ever, especially with comic book characters like Spider-Man and The Hulk. “In the past, a lot of emphasis was on blockbuster movies,” said Rice. “Now, the same characters are coming back to TV.” As a result, manufacturers are introducing action figures with softer features, like Hasbo’s Hulky Pokey (shown), that are more suited for the preschool generation.

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