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Toy Fair 2000: Keep Those Toons Comin'!

Toy Fair 2000 bombarded buyers with 5-days of non-stop showroom tours featuring the latest and greatest in gadgets, games and action figures. Joseph Szadkowski reports on what's hot.

Merchandise featuring the mugs of The Powerpuff Girls are already popping off shelves at toy stores across the U.S. © 2000 Jacquie Kubin.

Toy Fair 2000 bombarded buyers with 5-days of non-stop showroom tours featuring the latest and greatest in gadgets, games and action figures. Considering 40 percent of all toys sold are from licensed products, according to the Toy Manufacturers of America, a slew of animated properties could supersonically propel this year's toy sales figures, much like the Powerpuff Girls' formula X. The current cartoon resurgence brings an enormous market to the lucrative licensing game.

"We believe in the characters and feel what Cartoon Network is doing makes sense in that they are developing programming that combines new and classic cartoons to attract an all ages audience," said DeWayne Booker, Senior Vice President, marketing of Trendmasters, Inc. "The shows impact the toys in that, while they would be interesting without the cartoon, they would not be as powerful."

Cartoon Network is banking on the popularity of their licensed brand to conjure up great merchandising sales. © 2000 Jacquie Kubin.

Citing The Powerpuff Girls as an example, Mr. Booker noted that Blossom, Buttercup and Bubbles are empowering to the girl audience, while also being entertaining to boys, adults and teens. "Powerpuff Girls combines girl characters in a boy style play pattern and gives them a new play lexicon. The play pattern of going out to save the day is great and works perfect for the toys. And without the television supporting that it is neat to be like Blossom, Buttercup and Bubbles, launch of this toy could be slow. The Cartoon Network and the show bring the line forward much faster."

Here's a peek at what fans of television and movie animation will enjoy with the newest three dimensional versions of popular characters.

Bandai

For 2000, Bandai will continue to create toys based on the Power Rangers franchise while releasing Digimon characters based on the Fox Kids Networks Digimon: Digital Monsters. The Action Feature Digimon will feature characters such as Biyomon, Gomamon, Lillymom and Zudomon ($2.99 each).

Rankin/Bass Rudolph and friends hope to be on many childrens lists to Santa this holiday season. © 2000 Jacquie Kubin.

Also part of the Fox Kids Network, Dinozaurs will have its own Bandai toy line. Action Feature Dinozaurs ($5.99 each) will each have their own actions and weapon. For example, Dino T-Rex has a sword-slashing action and Dino Stego has a skeletal saw action.

Dinozaurs Transformers are metallic colored figures that change from dinosaur to battle mode. The good Dinozaurs include Dino Saber, a saber tiger with thrasher whip, while Drago Tigra and Drago Dactyl are the bad guys ($4.99 each).

An animated television series based on Gundam Wing will begin airing this spring on the Cartoon Network to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the franchise. Bandai is releasing a set of Gundam Wing action figures and model kits. On the toy shelves will be a line of detailed, fully articulated 4.5-inch action figures and snap together model kits that will range in height from 5 to 7.5-inches.

Playing Mantis

Known for reviving Johnny Lightning die cast vehicles and Polar Light model kits, Playing Mantis has also reached into the two dimensional world. Fans of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band will want to find the Polar Light model kits featuring the Fab Four as their characters from the animated film. Each figure comes with an optional "Sgt. Pepper" disguise head. The George kit includes the "clown dog" figure and the Paul kit includes the logo drum.

Lovable and unforgettable are the Memory Lane Collectibles featuring action figures, key ring/ornaments and snow globes from the stop-motion classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Action figures will include Herbie, Calrice, Sam the Snowman, Santa, Yukon Cornelius and Rudolph with a nose that really lights up.

Based on the 1960s Hanna-Barbera adventure series, Playing Mantis introduces Hyper Action based on Jonny Quest. Collectors will want to find Jonny Quest, Dr. Quest and Race Bannon.

Kids will be able to bring home the adventures of Jonny Quest with the newest line of action figures from Playing Mantis. © 2000 Jacquie Kubin.

McFarlane Toys

McFarlane Toys (TMP) plans to release more than 100 figures based on sports, movies, music, children's fantasy, gaming and Japanese animation in 2000. Highlights include South Park characters Kenny, Cartman and Stan, The Beatles as Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, figures based on Maurice Sendak's children's book Where the Wild Things Are and, of course, Spawn.

Fans of anime will want to watch for figures from the sci-fi animated thriller Akira, the television series Trigun and the Tenchi Muyo! empire of video and television fame.

Definitely not for the kiddies, and also from TMP, is one of the strangest animated toys I have ever seen -- Death Row Marv based on the Frank Miller Sin City comic book series. Marv is seated in an electric chair and when activated, one hears an electric buzz sound, Marv's eyes glow red and he says, "That's the best you can do, you pansies?" Articulated at the neck, shoulders, waist and wrists he comes to life, or should I say death, quite realistically.

Hasbro

In theaters this summer, Fox's Titan A.E. promises to be a spectacular animated film by award-winning producers Don Bluth and Gary Goldman. The action figures from this animated adventure movie promise to be highly collectible and fun with which to play. Electronic Quest ($7.99 each) allows children to join the Titan A.E. hero Cale and his compatriots as they journey to find the legendary Titan spacecraft. Figures will come packaged with vehicles complete with pulsating lights, firing missiles and working gear. Toys based on this new animated film will be available in May 2000.

Toy Biz

Highly anticipated are the new X-Men cartoon (fourth quarter) and summer's feature length movie starring Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin and Rebecca Romjin-Stamos. Toy Biz is adding to the excitement with 11 new action figures based on the characters from the movie and television shows. "X-Men is going to be the all time high for us," said Joann McLaughlin, Senior VP of Boys Toys for Toy Biz. "The movie characters, the comic books and the animated show are creating a huge fan base of all ages. The new show is going to be a sure success because it is going back to the origins of the X-Men, when they were teenagers."

Toy highlights included the technologically-enhanced X-Men Grip TechMutants that incorporate Toy Biz's exclusive "Smart Sense" technology that allows children to become Wolverine or Sabretooth ($49.99).

Action figures will be 6-inch fully pose-able with a character dedicated action feature that mimics their mutant powers and an accessory. For example, Storm is equipped with a lightning base and Professor X will have his trademark motorized wheel chair and cerebra accessory. Action figures will be available in a trio of battle ready twin packs that spotlight three of the most thrilling confrontations from the movie -- Wolverine vs. Sabretooth, Logan vs. Magneto and Logan vs. Rogue ($5.99 individual figure/$12.99 twin pack).

All X-men toys will be available June 2000.

Mattel

Hoping to recapture some of the success of Tarzan, Mattel has a complete line of toys for little paleontologists based on this summer's Dinosaurs by Disney.

Kids will be hatching dinosaur eggs and playing with their very own Aladar, the films hero with Dino Alive ($34.99). It takes the egg about four minutes to hatch during which it lights up, rumbles and shakes. Children will also be able to hear the dinosaur's heartbeat and scratching from the inside. Once hatched, the more kids take care of Aladar the more he will do.

The Fossil Finder set lets children become real paleontologists, as they dig for dinosaur bones and build their own skeletons ($19.99). The kit includes a rock block filled with bones that children chip away to reveal the hidden fossils.

Dinosaur Action Figures ($7.99) will talk and roar. By pressing a button on the figure's back, the dinosaurs mouth will open, legs will move and the tail will sway as it roars.

These and numerous other toys including activity sets, figure gift sets and inflatable dinosaurs will be available in stores April 2000.

The Simpsons atop desk tops may cause less work to be done in 2000. © 2000 Jacquie Kubin.

Playmates

Playmates has moved away from collectible figures featuring Captain Kirk and created some interactive gems for the kiddies.

This winter, director Ron Howard brings Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas to cinematic life with Jim Carrey in the title role. Look for an assortment of 4-inch figures including Santa Grinch with Cindy Lou Who this October. My favorite, the Interactive Grinch, has a wide variety of phrases and songs from the movie and when smiling his heart lights up bigger and bigger.

The Simpsons have been around for 10 years, but in August Playmates will offer Simpson's E-Pals with a Bart and Homer version that will sit on top of computer monitors and aggravate users. Each animatronic character paints the room with sarcastic remarks and phrases from the show.

Joseph Szadkowski writes on various aspects of popular culture and is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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