Toy Fair took over Javits Center in New York City for four fantastic, fierce, and very furry days. From February 17 to February 20, plush delights were everywhere. The exhibiting companies were truly driven this year to make their critter’s coats softer to the touch and easier to squeeze and cuddle.
Plush pals as pillow proxies were a main theme throughout the miles of aisles. Dan Grody at the Kellytoy booth suggested that next year the company should set up a “snuggle center,” a corner where weary retailers and pooped press members can sit down and commune with their huggable and squishable creations. The Kellytoy Squishmallows have developed a cult following all their own, and Grody is the go-to person for maintaining the Instagram, Facebook, and SnapChat conversations and photo posting. Like he so cleverly stated, “The SNUGGLE is real!”
But it wasn’t just characters that could be intensely cuddled or placed behind one’s neck or back for extra comfort on a train or plane — no, the feeling of slumber and dreamtime swirled around so many of the booths. True, many tied into the notion of a plush pal as a bedtime confidant (for kids and grown-ups alike). Still, others had an aura of peacefulness and absence of anger. After the godawful carnage of February 14 — the Valentine’s Day massacre at the Florida high school — it was restful to wander among critters that represented kind aspirations and gentle inspirations.
At the Dream Pets booth, the mood was definitely calm and relaxing. The sweet and silly menagerie had its first go-round in the late 1950s, the era of “Leave It to Beaver” and “Ozzie and Harriet.” Produced in Japan for R. Dakin & Co., the animals were wide-eyed and happy. With an array of deep, rich hues, they didn’t attempt to re-create nature or natural wildlife. Rather, the Dakin Dream Pets appeared as if they had popped out of a child’s favorite pop-up book.
In their new incarnation, the Dream Pets come with an aspirational goal. One might want to run off to Paris to paint the Eiffel Tower; another one wants to set the world record for being the fastest runner. Another might dream about becoming a hairstylist for, let’s say, a ladybug or a unicorn! In other words, the Dream Pets are like real-life children: filled with wonder, ambition, hopes, and grand intentions — some attainable and some simply amazing.
The notion of “amazing” and “reaching for the stars” underscored so many of the Toy Fair 2018 arrivals. There was no shortage of make-believe and “let’s pretend.” One of the big, most amusing revelations was the odd hybrid of animals with unicorns.
Unicorn horns are plunked down upon the scalps and foreheads of many a plush pal. These designs, which look like runaways from the Island of Doctor Moreau, were everywhere. Suddenly, it’s cool to have a great big horn dominating a stuffed animal’s skull. Go figure!
Another trend that has conquered the plush terrain was the blending of CosPlay with critter costuming. Gund has their DC Superhero line, where Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman are reimagined as bears. (They had a similar line last year where the Justice League founding members were different animals: Wonder Woman was a bunny; Superman was a dog; Batman was a bear.)
Now, for 2018, Gund has listened to their collectors who adamantly declared they wanted all their heroic good guys to be of an ursine bent. The arctophiles spoke loud and clear: crime-fighting bears make sense; battling bunnies did not.
It’s funny how plush aficionados have definite ideas about what flies and what should remain grounded. I saw many bird characters at Toy Fair — some exotic and multicolored, like parrots and macaws; others more ordinary and domesticated, like parakeets. It was fun encountering these pets that are often given short shrift when household animals are discussed and debated. (In my growing-up years, when our house resembled a well-stocked pet store, we had a quartet of parakeets. There was CoCo and JoJo, then Mickey and Chickey. Each duo seemed to live only as long as the other one was alive. When one ascended to the Big Aviary in the Sky, the other parakeet pal swiftly followed.)
The most dramatic skyward-bound creatures were the large phalanx of dragons that dominated the Toy Fair. Inspired by “Game of Thrones,” the dragons have gotten more sleek and sophisticated. Each one is a work of art. Their color selections, mythical shapes, and solid structure are worthy of a guest shot on the HBO series.
In fact, “Game of Thrones” was represented at the Factory Entertainment booth where the Khaleesi’s dragon babies and the Direwolves of the Stark family were meticulously crafted and displayed. The wolves looked like they should be out loping with Arya Stark or Jon Snow rather than lazing behind a glass case.
The choices of cuddly companions were enormous for this year’s outing. Licensed merchandise was aplenty, as was brand-new characters that leapt from up-and-coming designers, like Ryan Zanfei of Tasty Peach. The young artist has concocted a line of fanciful beasts that were inspired by Japanese anime.
That’s the beauty of attending Toy Fair. Physically located in New York City, the event brings together designers from all corners of the world. Each of the on-hand companies brings its own national joie de vivre (like France’s Coin company) or a plea for all of us Earthlings to get along and to stop the quarreling. (This was a big message at the Roooz Planet booth.)
Whatever was on a person’s mind could come true, could be real, and its plush representation could become heart-tugging and heartfelt at this year’s global gathering!
Come back for next week’s Toy Fair report where you’ll get to do a booth-by-booth peek into what’s new, hot, and bestselling at GUND, Douglas, and many more favorite firms.