The business of toys is one of endless reincarnation. Barbie will always totter on slender legs and permanently arched heels. Transformers will always be more than meets the eye. Monopoly will always teach families the inherent conflict in the landlord / tenant relationship. But times change. In 2014, you can print Instagram photos for that Monopoly board, and Mattel is building new dolls whose torsos light up to express emotions. Lego builds metasets based on a Warner Bros. movie about Lego sets. And it’s all on display at New York’s Toy Fair, where roughly 30,000 buyers, sellers, and reporters converge each February to vie for a place on bedroom carpets across the world.
If it’s possible to be overwhelmed by children’s playthings outside an episode of The Twilight Zone, it will happen here, especially because the Javits Center in Manhattan is perhaps the most intimidating place you’ll ever play with a Barbie doll. Sitting between the Hudson River and a snowy construction site, it’s a maze of escalators, bare cement, and gray metal lattices, briefly transformed into a technicolor playroom by the likes of Mattel and Crayola. Big names and elaborate booths anchor long rows of video game and TV show tie-in toys, dollmakers, and tiny groups looking to break in with a new board game or gadget. Unimpressed and vaguely annoyed, Grumpy Cat presides over her own line of plush merchandise. This should not surprise you.
The barrage of increasingly alien pop culture, technological augmentation, and companion apps is enough to make one feel curmudgeonly, even if your own childhood entertainment was often battery-operated. Adult humans were simply not made to view so many toys. It is hypnotic, like looking into a whirlpool. All that’s left is to try to see a few fragments as you would at age 10, when the idea of an entire convention center filled with toys would have sounded much too good to be true.
Not that children can actually get into Toy Fair, mind you. Youth is truly wasted on the young.
Photography by Dante D'Orazio.
- Toy Fair takes place annually at New York City's Jacob Javits Center. The industry-only event draws some 30,000 visitors.
- Mattel, the largest toy company in the world, looms over the show floor in its own area that's accessible by appointment only.
- The highlight of the Hot Wheels booth? The largest loop ever, standing at three feet tall.
- One new Barbie development is a new hair formula that kids can curl themselves. Don't mind the decapitated head.
- Customization was big this year. This Monopoly comes with an accompanying app that lets you print photos from Instagram or Flickr onto sticker packs that you use to rename everything from properties to chance cards.
- If traditional Nerf blasters are a little too old-school for you, this Elite blaster with a built-in video camera and a screen that doubles as a sight. It's pretty cool.
- Toy companies get ready for the latest movies long before they come out — here's Rocket Raccoon, voiced by none other than Bradley Cooper.
- This Mr. Potato Head "Optimash Prime" is probably the cutest thing at all of Toy Fair.
- Furby remains as creepy as ever. These latest models have electronic eyes and an app that tracks how well — or poorly — you care for the fluffy abomination.
- Lego's wares are well protected within a walled booth.
- A whole wall was dedicated to toys tied in to 'The Lego Movie.'
- But the great Lego Cuusoo projects hidden away in a closet were the best. This Ghostbusters set will be available later this year.
- Should The Simpsons ever get canceled, they're now immortalized in this Lego set. It's available now for $199.99.
- Who shot first?
- Can you get enough of 'Portal 2'? I think not.
- It's hard to believe, but this is the first ever 'Super Mario' action figure. It's from Japanese maker Tamashii Nations, and it's a wonderful-looking set.
- Tamashii Nations always has fun with its 'Dragon Ball Z' display.
- Tamogotchi is back from the '90s. This new model lets you send your pets over to your friend's place with an NFC-powered bump.
- Grumpy Cat seemed more sad than grumpy as she made an appearance to promote a lineup of toys and shirts based on the iconic meme.
- The high-tech treat at Crayola's booth was this drawing book that pairs with an iPad app. Take a photo of your creation and you can drive it around yourself in a racing game.
- The toys might look like a lot of fun, but make no mistake, Toy Fair is all business.
- Until next year.