One of the comments that I always hear in the teddy bear world — from both artists and collectors — is that a bear is meant to make you smile. I think that’s absolutely true, and it also holds true for all of the plush pals out there. Teddy bears and their friends are created to spread joy and to make their owners feel good!
Imagine, then, what a rush it is to take part in the Toy Industry Association’s annual Toy Fair gathering. Held in New York City, in the unimaginably sprawling Javits Center, it is floor after floor after floor (and them some more) square mileage of bears, bunnies, original designs, licensed products, and all manner of soft, luxurious critters.
This week’s first look at Toy Fair 2017, which swung closed its doors on February 21, will concentrate on a mishmash of what made me smile and happily stop and chat. First off, welcome to the “wonderful world of Walt Disney.” It’s a match made in collectable heaven — Folkmanis and licensed Disney characters. The Folkmanis booth, which is always such a popular spot for the press — pssst, the sales team are all talented puppet handlers! — was getting loads of attention because of their Disney unveiling. Yes, Mickey and Minnie, Donald and Pluto, are all on hand to become one with your hands! This quartet of cartoon legends will be a sure-fire hit with Disneyania collectors, old-movie devotees, aspiring puppeteers, and pretty much anyone with a pulse! The really cute display had everyone at Toy Fair stopping and taking plenty of photos! I could almost hear Mickey’s high-pitched, happy chuckle.
Another character that truly had me grinning was the Rilakkuma plush at the AQI booth. “Rilakkuma” means “bear in a relaxed mood,” and that’s just what that extra-large figure was doing. Stretched out and lounging, the bear invited all visitors to hug him and rest a bit from all the fast-paced booth hopping. A creation from the Japanese San-X company, the peaceful, plush character manages to be a little bit Yogi Bear and quite a lot of Yoga Bear. His likeness is emblazoned on stationery, backpacks, dishware, and all manner of lifestyle gear. The AQI booth was bursting with effigies of him, along with his chicken, cat, and other cuddly cohorts.
One of the most popular figures in toy history is Barbie, who has never aged a day since her arrival in 1959. (If truth be told, she actually looks YOUNGER these days. The plastic glamour puss must be getting some manner of plastic surgery!) At her Mattel showroom, the vinyl fashion doll was more than glad to debut a line of plush characters. Mattel has high hopes for their Dreamtopia creations; and the extremely cheerful looks on all their plush faces have me keeping my fingers crossed that Mattel will debut some more soft, huggable characters.
A very interesting development in many of the plush aisles was the emphasis on snacks, beverages, and healthy choices. Nope, I’m not talking about dim sum or smorgasbords being rolled out for the attendees. Instead, a lot of companies are unveiling a variety of vegetables, proteins, and starches as snuggly, cuddly plush pillows and toys. It’s always been said: You are what you eat. Now, we can add: You are what you squeeze.
The Squishables company had a large amount of foot traffic wanting to touch and hold their clever line of Comfort Food. Retailers and journalists had a field day dreaming up clever ways to promote this line of embraceable edibles. Squishables wasn’t the only company that had plenty of “food for thought.” ScentCo Inc. had a very large array of plush characters that were all meal-centric, and the products even smelled like the entrees they represented. From dinner to dessert, soup to nuts, the ScentCo Inc. booth was loaded with an aromatic array of merchandise.
If food-aholics had to admit to their greatest downfall, the delectable vice that undoes their willpower, well, it wouldn’t be broccoli and it wouldn’t be spinach. (My apologies to Popeye.) Nope, chocolate is the number one food that can careen people off their diets and away from their New Year’s resolutions. Russ, which has always has an enviable way of monitoring the trends, had a very large display of their Yummy Luvvies. When one of the characters is picked up and cradled, it releases a chocolate scent. Absolutely aromatic and adorable!
Continuing this theme of a creative buffet, GUND has launched a host of hands-on food-prep snack playsets. Soft and durable, the Barbecue and Campout sets encourage young children to unleash their inner Gordon Ramsay and Guy Fieri, minus the potty mouth and peroxide dye job, I hope.
GUND has always had a longstanding partnership with “Sesame Street” and its characters. The show’s producers are currently encouraging Cookie Monster to cut back on the number of sweets he’s consuming. The Sesame Workshop (formerly the Children’s Television Workshop) has grown more dietary conscious, and is making a concerted effort to make the Cookie Monster more versatile with his calorie choices. To reflect this, GUND has manufactured a plush lunchbox filled with a nourishing midday meal — but, still, there is one chocolate chip cookie tucked into the lunch pail. Even a monster has to have his weaknesses!
That’s one good thing about Toy Fair — even if a tourist to NYC has been overindulging at restaurants and bars, there’s always a way to work it all off! Very few people take the elevators to get from one level to the next. It’s all about climbing those stairs and finding the next surprising and intriguing innovation. (Plus, how could anyone think about riding in an elevator when there’s the fun challenge of trying to climb the Ty-decorated staircases, which make every step an eye-popping and exhilarating experience!)
Join me next week, when I continue The Plush Life’s look at Toy Fair 2017, where there’s more to explore in the world of huggable cubs and quirky creatures. We’ll navigate our way through a rich course of Aurora, Fiesta, Douglas, and many more familiar companies. Plus, stay tuned for a second helping of GUND feedback on their licensed characters!