If you thought you’d gratefully seen the back of Care Bears, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and My Little Pony, brace yourself. These are just some of the old favourites once discarded, but now poised to make a comeback in big money relaunches this year. For, as last week’s Toy Fair show in London demonstrated, while the toy industry is on the one hand enthusiastically embracing the latest technology, on the other hand, the same old characters just keep on coming back.
There’s room for them all because toys are one commodity enjoying a boom, boosted apparently by the rise in children receiving double quantities of presents because their parents are separated. And just as fashion so often recycles trends from when the designers were young, so do toys, as parents who themselves once had a Care Bear, for example, nostalgically buy their own little darlings one too.
Retro is going much further than the rejuvenation of relatively recent characters. The appetite for wooden toys is growing, judging by many of the stands at the Toy Fair, a key event in the industry calendar. My own young product tester, eight-month-old Abigail, certainly enjoyed the texture of the wooden toys including those by Tomy, which is introducing its first wooden range. It is also launching a new spinning top after research showed a market for old-fashioned toys.
The appeal of toys you can build also remains. Old favourites such as Meccano are still going strong after more than 100 years and Tomy is hoping its new Zoids range of sci-fi characters will catch on. Naturally, Zoids are a spin-off from television, which remains hugely influential with practically all major toy ranges linked to children’s TV programmes. Just as Teletubbies and Thomas the Tank Engine are still everywhere, expect a deluge of Engie Benjy merchandise to support the hit programme starring Ant & Dec. Similarly, new films this year should spark sales for Incredible Hulk toys and old favourite Piglet.
Another high-profile TV spin-off, hopes manufacturer Re:creation, will be the Pop Idol Talentbox game, one of several music/DJ/karaoke products. Aimed at older children, players make their demo by singing over a backing track then put it on to an Internet site where listeners are able to vote for their favourite.
Post-Tamagochi, toy ‘pets’ are still going strong, while, more literally, Hasbro’s Tiger brand is introducing the purring range of electronic Fur Real Kittens that arch their back when stroked.
Role-playing toys are still popular, but are evermore sophisticated and increasingly branded – a pretend vacuum cleaner is not a generic model, it’s a Dyson. You can even buy a Kentucky Fried Chicken sales counter, or a Cadbury’s Heroes chocolate game.
Whatever the trends, it seems the market still can’t get enough of pink, girlie stuff, although in ever-sophisticated guises. At the fair, you could even sample a flower-scented Sindy (smell was a big trend), or improve your spelling with Barbie’s learning laptop. And while a pink interactive vanity table from Born to Play that features Barbie giving tiny children advice on how to apply make-up in the mirror may, to many of us, seem yucky, at £59.95 they will probably be walking out of the shops very soon.