Designer to market new line of Lego jewelry at non-Lego prices

By T.L. Stanley on Tue Aug 10 2010


In case you didn't get your fill of Legos as a child, an upscale designer is creating some pricey jewelry to remind you of your construction projects of yore. (My "buildings" were more reminiscent of toppled Inception sets than science fair champs, but that's neither here nor there.) Lisa Taylor and British retailer Selfridges will launch a line of Lego rings and other block-based trinkets later this month, according to the New York Daily News. Expect more product by Christmas, with some of the simple items going for about $75. (The blocks are interchangeable and quite likely to be sold separately.) There will also be some primary-colored Lego-inspired nail polish. Whimsical? OK. Nostalgic? For sure. But I can root out a mood ring from any thrift store to color me happy that I didn't spend big bucks for a plastic doodad. How much would you be willing to pay to feed your inner kidult?

A perfect choice if you need a new swing set and/or guest house

Posted on Thu Jun 3 2010


Remember when a swing set was a dinky, galvanized metal contraption that your friend's dad bought at Montgomery Ward? Assuming you didn't come down with tetanus from cutting yourself on the rusty screws, the sets were good enough for we progeny of the pre-Web age. But these days, if you honestly expect to lure your kid away from the Xbox 360 and into the wilds of the back yard, you'd better have something that suits the times. Enter the Patriot Wood Gym Set from Backyard Discovery. Hewn from Pacific-Northwest cedar timbers, this swing-set extraordinaire (starter condo is more like it) comes with a picnic table, sandbox, climbing wall, spiral sliding board, triplex clubhouse (complete with sun porch and ornamental end gables) and—oh yeah!—swings. Only $1,299 plus an afternoon with your ratchet set, and Junior can enjoy the great outdoors in style. The only thing missing is a jack in the clubhouse for high-speed Web access.

—Posted by Robert Klara

Nerf fans offered an unlikely path to glory via advertising contest

Posted on Tue May 18 2010


Not only is Hasbro honoring tradition by letting users provide content for its Nerf brand, they're honoring tradition by acting like they were the first people to think of it. Nerf Battle of the Ads gives Nerf fans a chance to "show off their creativity, athleticism and teamwork" by making their own ads and uploading them to the contest's special website. In their breathless enthusiasm, they stop just short of calling their fan base lifelong virgins by noting that "Nerf fans are not only very passionate, but incredibly creative when it comes to showing off their growing collections, product reviews and battle styles." An unintentional slight, of course, but the Internet has attached red flags to phrases like "very passionate." Also, "battle styles." Still, Hasbro's contest looks fun—they supply background music, special effects and official Nerf logos to participants—and the winner gets $10,000 whether the ad airs on TV or not. And most important, it's not nearly as degrading as writing songs about a cheeseburger.

—Posted by David Kiefaber

It's official: Santa Clara County bans toys from fatty kids' meals

Posted on Thu Apr 29 2010


Happy Meals are officially sad in California's Santa Clara County. After debating the issue, the board of supervisors in that Silicon Valley area has voted 3-2 to ban toys and other promotions from high-fat, sodium-loaded kids meals. The new ordinance won't take effect for 90 days, giving fast-food restaurants a chance to bring their kids' offerings up to a better nutritional standard. (Hint: If it hasn't happened by now, I doubt three months will make much difference.) The ban doesn't cover a large geographical area—just the unincorporated parts of the county—but the repercussions might be felt far and wide. It's a bit of a test case for other municipalities that might want to fight the child-obesity epidemic by attacking the trinkets that come with burgers and fries. The delay in enacting the ban means a number of summer movie tie-ins will still happen as planned. The rest of the year? Still to be determined.

—Posted by T.L. Stanley

Paramount Pictures working on a live-action Magic 8 Ball movie

Posted on Wed Apr 28 2010


All signs point to yes. That's the answer when the question is: Will Hollywood continue to raid the toy chest for ideas? The latest in a rash of toy-to-movie deals comes from Paramount, which has optioned Mattel's Magic 8 Ball for a live-action feature, according to The studio has already had a money-gushing run with action-movie versions of Hasbro's Transformers (which has become a billion-dollar franchise) and G.I. Joe. Next up is a Paramount/Mattel collaboration on Max Steel, starring Twilight's shapeshifting hunk Taylor Lautner. Others in the plastic-to-celluloid pipeline include Mattel's View-Master (at DreamWorks, probably in 3D!), He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (at Warner Bros.) and the vintage action figure Major Matt Mason (at Universal). Hasbro's Oiuja board, Monopoly and Battleship games are set for big-screen treatment, too. What, no My Little Pony? Just give them time.

—Posted by T.L. Stanley

County in California looking to ban McDonald's Happy Meal toys

Posted on Tue Apr 27 2010


Leave it to the crunchy granola types in California to rain on the Happy Meal parade. County officials in Silicon Valley want to outlaw toys from the famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) McDonald's kids meals. That way, children won't want them as much, and they won't be as fat. Or so the thinking goes. Santa Clara County is proposing a ban on toys in any restaurant meal with more than 485 calories, more than 600 milligrams of salt or high sugar or fat content, according to the Los Angeles Times. If the proposal passes, it won't affect much—there are only about a dozen fast-food restaurants within the county's jurisdiction. But its broader implications, and its first-of-a-kind status, have the California Restaurant Association and others in a tizzy about government interference in action-figure and mini-stuffed-animal distribution. For Hollywood studios, it would be disastrous if they couldn't link their Ice Ages, Shreks and Alvin and the Chipmunks with the caloric, pint-sized meals. Even though Disney got out of that business when it didn't renew its long-term McDonald's deal, other movie makers rushed to fill the void, keeping the McD's calendar packed with entertainment promotions. We'll keep an eye on the situation, so check back for the vote.

—Posted by T.L. Stanley

Tech women spam Barbie's career contest, turn her into a geek

Posted on Wed Apr 14 2010


Barbie got her geek on recently, complete with nerdy glasses and a laptop, but don't think little girls across the country were responsible for turning the iconic job-hopping doll into a computer engineer. They would've rather seen her become an anchorwoman, according to the results of Mattel's online voting for Barbie's new job. So, who picked the techy career? Not Barbie's fans of today, but as we'll kindly call them, her fans of yesterday. The contest, open to anyone, kicked off in January and gave fans five career choices, including environmentalist and surgeon. During its four-week run, some 600,000 votes were cast, and according to The Wall Street Journal, adult women in tech fields got way into it. They were so passionate about turning Barbie—former fashion model, stewardess, pop singer—into a tech geel that they sent out a collective 1,840 Tweets about it. Groups like the Society of Women Engineers got involved, as did female academics and scientists. In the end, they won the popular vote and even had a say in how computer engineer Barbie would be designed. (That's her on the left in the photo. No drab lab coats, please!) But since kids always get what kids want, there's an anchorwoman Barbie coming, too. (She's on the right.) Check for the anchorwoman this fall and the computer engineer during the winter. And read the fascinating Journal story to see how it all happened.

—Posted by T.L. Stanley

Your dog, a big fan of frivolous pursuits, is itching to join Twitter

Posted on Tue Feb 16 2010


My cats have been IM-ing me for sometime now (more kibble, please!), so I'm not that impressed with Mattel's plan to launch a new high-tech toy called Puppy Tweets. Dogs … always late to the party. Anyway, this sound-and-motion-activated gadget attaches to collars and links to home computers so dogs can issue updates to their very own Twitter pages. The tweets are canned, of course, but with 500 to pick from, it'll take a little while to cycle through them, especially since most pets sleep about 80 percent of the time. Sample tweets: "I bark because I miss you. There, I said it. Now hurry home." "Guess what I'm licking right now?" (Go ahead, guess.) There are a couple of good pop-culture precedents here. The obvious one is Dug, the squirrel-loving dog from Disney/Pixar's Oscar-nominated Up. The other is the classic Simpsons episode where Homer's half-brother invents a baby translator that puts words to infants' gurgles and cries. One of Maggie's best lines: "I've soiled myself. How embarrassing." Puppy Tweets, one of a zillion new products at this week's Toy Fair in New York, will show up at retailers in the fall for $29.99. Expect a Facebook war with the Zhu Zhu Pets.

—Posted by T.L. Stanley

She sure gets around: Fans asked to pick Barbie's 125th career

Posted on Wed Feb 10 2010


I'd long since stopped playing with Barbie by the time she uttered the infamous phrase "Math class is tough!" in the early '90s. I agreed with her, though, and realized that with that attitude, neither of us would ever be a scientist. Barbie did go on to have illustrious, short-term careers as an astronaut, a dentist, a paratrooper and, on the other end of the spectrum, a secretary, a "stewardess," a pop singer and a pet stylist, among scores of others. It's time now to pick her 125th job, and Mattel has turned to the public to decide if she'll be an architect, computer engineer, environmentalist, news anchor or surgeon. She's highly marketable, I know, but those are heavy-hitting professions in this economy. (And the blonde bombshell won't even have to pound the pavement or earn any degrees to land the gig.) The program, which coincides with next week's annual Toy Fair in New York, will be promoted with bus and subway ads, billboards at the Jacob Javits convention site, wild postings and de rigeur Twitter and Facebook campaigns. I'm voting to make her an environmentalist, since that's vague enough to be benign and probably doesn't call for the mastery of fractions. Say, Barbie's just given me an idea …

—Posted by T.L. Stanley


Sleek 'Chuggington' locomotives on track for stardom in America

Posted on Wed Jan 20 2010


When it comes to animated kids' characters these days, you get one of two extremes: the cute and/or fuzzy sort (this is the Elmo and SpongeBob posse), and the kick-ass crew (Spider-Man, et al). Far be it from us to argue with what works, of course, but for kids hankering for heroes with a little more grit and realism, the time has finally come. Making their stateside debut on Playhouse Disney this Monday were Brewster, Koko and Wilson—three All-American friends who just happen to be diesel locomotives.
  Yeah, we know railroad engines have been done before. But Thomas the Tank Engine dates from 1946—and he's looking the part, what with that gray-rubber face on his boiler and all. By contrast, the three engines in the Chuggington series—created by London-based Ludorum and already a successful franchise in Canada, Japan and most of Western Europe—are thoroughly millennial motors.
  For one thing, there's diversity in this roundhouse. Koko is billed as "a strong lead female train … who isn't afraid to put her wheels to the rails." The moral messaging is credible, too. For instance, when Brewster arrogantly fills his hopper cars with more traprock than he can carry, he learns his lesson when his brakes fail. But best of all, the CGI-enhanced animation makes for a surprisingly realistic industrial landscape. All three characters are modeled after actual commercial locomotives (Wilson is an EMD F3-A diesel-electric unit) and follow railroading protocols right down to obeying the semaphore signals and using their sander valves to achieve better rail adhesion on steep ascending grades.
  Try that, Little Mermaid.

—Posted by Robert Klara



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