I look at my calendar for this weekend, and there’s an awful lot of empty space on it. Even though it was the same way last year, I can’t help but mourn the loss again. Of course, I’m not advocating that we shrug off public health risks and potentially put people in danger, but there is something about the rush of an in-person Toy Fair that few other events can capture. The madcap clicking of cameras around new toy reveals, the connections made on tours of booths, the catching up with toy creator friends old and new – these are just a few of the highlights from a President’s Day weekend spent at the Javits Center. Maybe it all feels worse because I also find myself longing for the other, more general wellsprings of warmth I find within the toy world – community, friendly competition, play. COVID has indeed put us all back in our boxes for a bit, but I, at least, am hardly in mint condition.
That isn’t to say it’s all depressing. The Toy Association released the winners of the Toy of the Year Awards on February 18th, and there are some amazing toys on that list, which you can read in full here. My personal favorite is Mattel’s Masters of the Universe Masterverse figures, which won the award for Action Figure of the Year. Not only was the Netflix show deeply imaginative and delightfully – and, at times, darkly – reflective on an otherwise saccharine ’80s property, the toys captured wisps of the original figures and synthesized them seamlessly with modern expectations. For evidence of this, look no further than the technocult-leading Tri-Klops, which may be my favorite action figure of the past few months.
Pokemon, still celebrating 25 years with lingering Celebrations packs that Target shoppers seem to be getting into fewer fistfights over, rightly took License of the Year. They’ve done a great job of looking back on their card game’s history while adding to it with bold, new cards that feature some pretty dazzling art.
While I was saddened to see the year’s Barbie Extra and Rainbow High offerings not advance past the nominee stage, the ultimate winner of Doll of the Year, Ada Twist, is a solid choice. Her win both rewards a smaller company for a great idea, and elevates young Black girls interested in science, a good thing by any measure.
Other highlights include the ever-popular Squishmallows. I collect them not just for their uniquely squishy feel, but also the fact that they’re one of the few lines producing explicitly Non-Binary characters.
LEGO swept many of the remaining categories, largely due to their Marvel and Star Wars tie-ins, unsurprising, given the popularity of both franchises and LEGO’s ability to consistently produce fun and engaging sets whose innovative action features seem to evolve more each year.
The coming days will provide more Toy Fair and toy industry content digitally, and I will report anything newsworthy here. Until we can all again drool, perhaps into our masks, over live, in-person toy drops, be well, be safe, and buy toys!
By Jonathan Alexandratos