MFM goes behind the scenes at New York’s Toy Fair

MFM meets the US toy makers who are going back to basics with the traditional aim of build and play fun for boys and girls alike

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Think America and you think big. Hollywood, celebs and over-the-top excitement. Humble play and encouraging kids to make believe? Surprisingly, that too!

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First Disney Junior revealed its latest toys, all focused on getting kids into role play. Veterinary scenes, pirate ships and farm equipment are a response to modern kids who want to use their own imaginations.

Bright and inventive toys using characters from popular shows including Jake and the Never Land Pirates, Mickey Mouse’s Clubhouse and the new Minnie Mouse show, Minnie’s Bow-Toons, aim to get kids up and active. Everything MFM saw lends itself to creative play and the demand for these sort of toys has reportedly amazed even Disney.

The recurring theme was evident – help kids to imagine and create their own world to play in.

With 130 new toys this year, this is Disney’s biggest pre-school line ever, so it’s confident it knows what it’s talking about. The company’s Vice President even taunted other toy companies in a flash presentation, demanding, “If you think you’ve got better, show us!”

So we had a look at what else was on offer at the show…

Lego demonstrated its continued dominance in the building toy market too. Four years of research has gone into their latest innovation, the highly debated girls’ Lego, Lego Friends. The never before seen colours, animals (including a cute hedgehog) and accessories have the core values of Lego, complete with the iconic claw hand and interchangeable heads. But, after girls told them they wanted more realistic looking dolls, the girls from make-believe town Heartlake City, were born. The girls’ figures stand around five millimeters taller than the original minifigures and have noticeably more detailed facial features.

Kristin Greene, a Lego representative at the event, explained that boys want to build a castle, dungeon or fire station, but then they want to be off playing ‘war’ and ‘cops and robbers’ away from what they’ve made. Ask them what’s going on in the castle and they don’t care. In contrast, girls want to build the scene and then play with it. They want secret compartments, swings, interchangeable furniture, friends and animals.

Mix ‘n’ match between brands was demonstrated by Tomy, whose Chuggington range of trains and tracks are compatible with Thomas trains too, encouraging kids to make believe with all their favourite chatacters from different shows.

It was clear that as well as Lego and Disney, Playmobil are continuing to re-invent its long-term favourite characters and play sets, showing that good toys and values last. 

Another example of the make believe world being encouraged is the way Lego has teamed up with movie franchises such as Star Wars to bring the excitement of film to children’s playrooms. A partnership between Lego and Lord of the Rings was the number one fan requested range of all time, suggesting simply watching isn’t enough any more.

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Of course the digital world can’t be ignored. It was our number one trend in London and did make an appearance in New York. The Lego Friends range has a website where you can digitally interact with the characters and the even traditional Thomas has his own app. But what remains consistent is that the digital alternatives are there to add to, not lead play.

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