Toy Fair 2001: The Big Hits To Come

Jacquie Kubin visited New York City's Toy Fair and has a full report on the hot properties for 2001 and beyond. What's going to be in your Happy Meal? Read on...

The characters of Dragonball Z seen out and about the city in a Humvee. All photos courtesy of Jacquie Kubin.

New York City...Whether the toy spins into a cartoon or the cartoon evolves into a toy, this year's 98th American International Toy Fair was the place to find out what's hot in upcoming animated properties. For those who look beyond the packaging, the annual Toy Fair allows a sneak peek into what franchises might hold possibilities for theatrical, cartoon and video game work as toys grow into multi-media franchises.

Taking Gaming to the Big ScreenVideo gaming represents one of the greatest liaisons between the toy license and animated property. According to a communications industry report released by New York merchant bank Veronis Suhler last summer, interactive game sales will grow 21.7%, reaching $13.8 billion in sales by 2004 leading video games to be one of the number one license growers.

This year's most popular video game turned licensee franchise will be the Lara Croft Tomb Raider universe being brought to national attention through the summer release of Paramount's live-action, theatrical release starring Angelina Jolie (June 15, 2001). The venerable Lara Croft first put video game developer Eidos Interactive on the map with the release of the Playstation game Tomb Raider I in 1996. That one game has led to hours of interactive animation with multiple editions for Playstation including Tomb Raider II: Classic, Tomb Raider III: Classic and Tomb Raider: Chronicles. For PC play is Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation, Chronicles and The Lost Artifact. Tomb Raider game play has also been developed for GameBoy Color and the Macintosh platforms.

THQ's Tomb Raider starring Lara Croft for GameBoy Color from Eidos Interactive's enormous Tomb Raider franchise.

Found ready for retailer's shelves when the movie is released this summer are Tomb Raider inspired apparel, collectibles, novelties, books, stationary and action figures by Playmates Toys. Though they have released Tomb Raider figures in the past, new releases are based on the character as portrayed by Jolie. Fans can collect three different 9" Lara dolls dressed in either a wet suit, jungle or Area 51 outfit. Plus, they can create adventures with the 6" Lara Croft figure assortment featuring scenes from the movie, including Lara with a Bengal tiger, on her street assault motorbike, facing down a deadly white shark or battling a legendary yeti in the forests, a crocodile in the South Pacific or a Doberman on the rooftops of London town. With partners such as Sony and Viacom, as well as the highly successful video game franchise, one would have to imagine that a Tomb Raider cartoon will not lag too far behind the movie.

Trying to edge their way into the collectible card game market is Seattle-based Interactive Imagination and the Magi-Nation franchise that begins with a role-playing card game, Magi-Nation Duel, that began shipping last Fall. The card game has been followed by a GameBoy Color video game and by Christmas this year, Magi-Nation will reach storybooks, comic books, action figures and toys. In addition, SEGA, Nickelodeon and Konami have all signed up to help grow the Magi-Nation animated properties.

The second anime inspired

Big Screen Hits

Taking a Darwinian approach to toy licensing, Planet of the Apes (July 27, 2001) represents the very first, and still one of the most popular, collectible licensing franchises. First released in 1968, Planet of the Apes has grown to include five original theatrical releases, a 1974 episodic television series, a television movie and 13 animated cartoon episodes that ran from September of 1975 through September of 1976. With a franchise that has never faded far from consumers, 20th Century Fox and Tim Burton will reinvent a world gone backwards when Planet of the Apes is released to movie theaters this summer.

With special effects by Industrial Light & Magic and makeup by the legendary Rick Baker, the movie trailers show promise as do Hasbro's 6-1/2" action figures featuring the major heroes and villains from the movie, which include Mark Wahlberg as Leo Davidson the astronaut, model Estella Warren as the human Daena, Helena Bonham Carter as Ari, Michael Clark Duncan as Attar and George Clooney as the Ape General. Played by actor Tim Roth, General Thade with Battle Steed will make a fine addition to a Planet of the Apes collection, as will the ultra Attar, a 12" figure with electronic sounds from the movie, including Attar's ferocious roar. Fans of the original movies will want to watch the film for a cameo appearance by Charlton Heston.

Todd McFarlane's Dark Ages Spawn: The Samurai Wars depicting Lotus the angel warrior on the left and Dojo, Jyaaku's evil minion and host body, to the right.

New to both toys and the movie screen is Shrek (May 18, 2001), an animated fairy tale about the giant monster Shrek and his quest for the perfect wife. A DreamWorks/PDI CGI animated film, Mike Myers is the voice of the giant Shrek, Eddie Murphy offers comedic wit as The Donkey and Cameron Diaz is The Ugly Princess. Toy master Todd McFarlane has entered this childlike fantasy world creating action figures and plush toys with his first master toy license. The line will include standard 6" figures, mini figures, super-sized figures, plush and beanie toys and playsets.

For fans worried that Mr. McFarlane might be going soft, also viewed at Toy Fair were more of his trademark Spawn figures, the second anime inspired "3D Animation from Japan" figures, "Movie Maniacs IV," a continually expanding rock n' roll series that will include Jim Morrison and Metallica, and some of the most twisted, disgusting and detailed figures ever made, The Tortured Souls. Created by Mr. McFarlane after collaborating with horrorist Clive Barker, these six figures, which include Agonistes, Lucidique, Mongroid, Scythe Meister, The Vix and Venal Anatomica, will inspire the most chilling nightmares.

The highly anticipated Disney/Pixar theatrical release Monsters, Inc. seems a natural as far as plush toys are concerned.

Another huge push next year will be for Monsters, Inc. (November 2, 2001), a Disney/Pixar theatrical release featuring the voice talents of Billie Crystal, James Coburn and John Goodman as Monsters, the kind that hide in the closet or under the bed, who work for Monsters, Inc., a "scare factory" that collects power for their city from the screams of little children. A CGI tour de force in the same vein as Toy Story and Bugs Life, this film promises an extensive licensee life when wise-cracking one-eyed Mike Wzowski (Crystal) and cute, furry, blue James P. "Sully" Sullivan (Goodman) are banished to life in the human world when they accidentally let a small child, Boo (Mary Gibbs), into Monstropolis. Toys, including action figures, electronics, board games and plush, are being developed by Hasbro. Due to Disney's standing relationship, a kids meal tie-in with McDonald's is also planned.

Harry Potter's release promises to proffer a diverse merchandising future that includes the Roarin' Snorin' Norbert pet which moves his tail and head, as well as flaps his wings up and down.

Other Big Screen Hopefuls

Harry Potter (November 2001) seems to be an extremely wide spread toy license with Hasbro's Wizards of the Coast releasing a card game, Electronic Arts creating video games and Mattel releasing a complete line of Harry Potter inspired games and toys. Every fan of Harry Potter and dragons will want to have a Roarin' Snorin' Norbert pet that "comes to life" with realistic movements as he moves his tail and head and flaps his wings up and down.

In addition to Harry Potter, Warner Bros. is releasing Osmosis Jones (August 2001), an animated buddy-cop action-adventure comedy starring Chris Rock as the voice of the main character Osmosis Jones, a white blood cell living in the body of a construction worker Frank Detomello. In the "City of Frank," Osmosis doesn't like to play by the rules and fun ensues when he is assigned a new "cold-tablet" partner. Trendmasters is handling Mr. Jones' line of action figures and toys.

Other video/cartoon properties that continue to expand include Digimon: The Movie (February 2001) with the Fox/Bandai release expecting to do well in theaters before releasing to video.

Nickelodeon's Jimmy Neutron, coming to the big screen, small screen, your computer screen and toy stores everywhere.

Other properties to watch include Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius. Mattel has the toy license for this Paramount/Nickelodeon CGI animated film due out in November releasing morphing toys just like Jimmy Neutron invents.

Small But Powerful

From the Cartoon Network, The Powerpuff Girls (April 2001) are expanding their video line with the April 3 release of two new videos, "Boogie Frights" and "Twisted Sister," and a special edition DVD, "The Mane Event." These releases are being supported with a Dairy Queen kids-meal tie in.

The ever-popular Powerpuff Girls merchandise continues to showcase a plethora of must have items for every fan.

Irwin Toys, a 75 year-old toy maker, launched its most extensive animation-based toy line in history revolving predominately around anime shows acquired for Cartoon Network's popular Toonami block. Part of this new line includes Dragonball Z action figures, vehicles and accessories that align with the action-adventure series. Another acquired from Japan Toonami hit, Sailor Moon has been a favorite with girls, teens and college students. At the show, Irwin Toys featured a new packaging line including 25 dolls representing the five Sailor Scouts as well as dolls for Sailor Uranus, Sailor Pluto, Sailor Neptune, Sailor MiniMoon, Princess Serena and the Wicked Lady. Irwin Toys also grabbed the license for the ever-growing in popularity pre-school PBS sensation Caillou.

One of the most popular children's universes is Dragon Tales (March 2001) with Sony Pictures Family Entertainment and Sesame Workshop releases "Keep on Trying" and "Let's Play Together" on video in March.

Nick Jr.'s Bob the Builder series created by HIT Entertainment PLC and Keith Chapman plans to expand merchandising along with the popularity of the show.

Bob the Builder (May 2001), the popular Nick Jr. cartoon created by HIT Entertainment PLC and Keith Chapman, will be releasing two new, as yet unnamed titles this May through New Home Video. The hard working Bob promises to build out as a leading licensee for the pre-school set with Hasbro unveiling a new product line. Released in April 1999 on the U.K.'s BBC, the Bob the Builder television series has become an international success currently sold in over 100 countries worldwide. The Hasbro toy line will include a broad range of products including plush, figures, play sets, board games, puzzles and electronic novelty products under their brand names Playskool, Tiger, Milton Bradely and Parker Brothers.

Another HIT Entertainment product is Angelina Ballerina (Fall 2001), a tiny mouse that wants to dance. Originally released by Mattel's American Girl as a book with plush toy tie-in, Angelina Ballerina will launch on television this fall.

Currently airing on the U.K.'s CiTV with great success, The Butt-Ugly Martians' toy license expects to put these characters in front of a lot more viewers and in many more homes.

Being broadcast in the U.K., Butt-Ugly Martians is a 30-minute CGI episodic cartoon featuring Doo-Wah-Diddy, B. Bop-A-Luna and 2-T-Fru-T who have been sent to Earth for purposes of invasion, only to befriend three Earth friends, Mikey, Angela and Cedric, and the invaders become the protectors. Hasbro has scooped up this property's master toy license and we can expect to see more of the Butt-Ugly Martians on American television and, quite possibly, movie screens.

At the end of the event, one thing was very clear. The hottest toys include a multi-media franchise stretching from Saturday morning cartoons, through video games and on to the silver screen.

Looking ahead to next year, a few animated properties announced include (all dates 2002):

  • The Fellowship of the Ring (New Line; December)
  • Eloise in Paris (Di Novi Pictures; television and film; Summer)
  • The Country Bears (Walt Disney Pictures with the Jim Henson Creature Workshop; animatronic puppets; date TBA)
  • Scooby-Doo (Warner Bros.; CGI animation and live-action; date TBA)
  • The Wild Thornberrys (Paramount/Nickelodeon/Klasky-Csupo; date TBA)

Jacquie Kubin, a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist, enjoys writing about the electronic entertainment and edutainment mediums, including the Internet. She is a frequent contributor to the Washington Times and Krause Publication magazines. She has won the 1998 Certificate of Award granted by the Metropolitan Area Mass Media Committee of the American Association of University Women.

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