Visionary educational fare for Mensa preemies or the devil’s latest playthings: Over the course of four days, the American International Toy Fair has something for every taste, demure to disgusting. This is the biggest toy trade fair in the Western hemisphere, where hundreds of manufacturers—from independent fledgling to Mattel behemoth—compete for buyers’ attention and a chance to muscle in on a chunk of the over-$20 billion toy industry. The action figure little Jimmy Jr. gracelessly decapitates today most likely got its start here, where product reps spend 32-plus hours shilling at their appointed Javits Center exhibition booths. Though one rep ruefully remarked to us, “This is my prison for four days,” it’s a heady experience for the mere observer, akin to racing through the gargantuan Toys R Us as a kid. Here’s what we encountered:
Decorative covers for bicycle helmets that were shaped like human brains or shot through with faux bent nails; Fear Factor candy lollipops meant to look like pig hearts; toilet-bowl attachments with names like Gatago (pronounced got-to-go) Giraffe and Ca Ca Cow to transform commodes into half-cartoon character/half-toilets and make the toilet-training process less intimidating (why does Ca Ca Cow look stoned on the can?); a machine to create your own hard candy (choose the variety of powdered flavors, then watch the dispensing system compress the powder into supposedly edible tablet form); and the sinister Penelope Peapod, a purse that converts into a bassinet with (what we are convinced) is Rosemary’s baby inside. Unlike the name suggests, Penelope Peapod didn’t emerge from a vegetable: Bassinets and baby clothes come in matching prints unabashedly named after well-to-do cities and Manhattan neighborhoods, such as the blue-checked Nantucket and the wowee-zowee, hypercolorful Soho that looks like you swaddled your kid in Pucci and laid him in one ugly cradle.
Others we only heard about but didn’t have time to see: Younique Gemz, multiracial dolls with authentic facial characteristics (a product whose time has come, for those of us bothered that Asian, Hispanic, and Black Barbies just resembled white Barbie with a really really good tan); Holy Folks, plush-doll versions of Moses, Jesus, Mary, and Noah (the freaky tagline: “Always Faithful, Always Smiling”); SuperMom, a maternal action figure juggling eight accessories at once, including work high-heels and sensible Mom shoes; Cattle-pult, a contraption to hurl one-inch-long plastic heifers into the air (“beneath their docile cud-chewing exterior, cows are fine-tuned flying machines,” says the exhibition description ); and a board game for venting corporate-ladder frustrations with characters like Becky Backstabber, Bernie Brown Nose, and No Follow Through Drew.
Inspired creations all.