There was definitely a retro theme at this year’s unveiling of which toys will be the best sellers this Christmas. Every year we spend around £300 on toys for each of our children and buy them 30 to 40 toys for that money. But the biggest spend is at Christmas when we spend a billion pounds between us. Perhaps that’s why retro always works well – it helps if parents want the toys too!
Thunderbirds are not only “go go go”. It seems they are back back back.
One of the toys in the Top 12 dream toys for 2015 is a thunderbirds Interactive Tracy Island complete with 3 launch pads for the Thunderbirds rescue vehicles. As someone who collected the die cast models as a child I am delighted to see this revival – though these days the die casts are strictly for grown up collectors I’m told and the toys are some form of plastic. You can winch up the launch pads ready for launch, but I was disappointed to learn they don’t actually shoot into the air. Despite the prevalence of nerf guns and other toys that fire bullets around, apparently firing Thunderbird ships upwards could have Health and Safety ( and cost) implications. Still I asked the team to pass on my thoughts to the manufacturers and I am hopeful for next year! Other Thunderbird toys around were a Thunderbird two from Meccano, whose Meccano robot a Meccanoid is also in the top 12.
A mere £350, this “toy” is something else. First you have to build it of course showing your ( or your parents’) engineering skills but then you have a programmable remote controlled toy that spins round, dances, moves forwards and backwards, raises its arms and high-fives. It has voice recognition and you can use an ipad to control its movements – which I found a lot more intuitive than the more standard remote control. If £350 is beyond your pocket there is a smaller version Meccanoid G15 for £170.
Star Wars was all over the place – Is there a film coming out?! In the top 12 there’s a Jedi master lightsaber system, which of course has lights and music as well as two light daggers with various connectors that they say allow child to make more than 100 different combinations of lightsaber( £49.99).
There is a Star Wars playset on offer for just under £120 – a great stage for those who have a collection of mini star wars figures. The ship ( the battle action Millennium Falcon) has a blaster which does fire Nerf elite darts – hooray- as well as cannons that light up and sound effects. At the cheaper end of the scale, Hasbro also make 12 inch Star Wars “dolls”: Finn, Kylo Ren, Stormtroopers, Tie Pilot, Rey and Darth Vader.
There’s also a Star Wars Bop it R2 D2 which I like the look of (£19.99). It’s the usual Bop it game but in the shape of R2 D2 with the actor’s voice of C 3PO and R2 D2 sound effects!
There are large Star Wars figures they call room guards which are exactly what they say they are – room guards. You put them near the door of your room and they terrify your siblings by telling them to keep out! These seemed to me more fun than the battleship but the toy retailers association have not included these in the top 12 so presumably they do not believe they will be as popular. I’m out on a limb then but check these out….not in the shops yet but they will be available anytime soon.
And the Star Wars offering is far from complete – Lego would not be Lego if they didn’t give their fans the chance to build another spaceship – this time Kylo Ren’s command shuttle ( £100) . The shuttle also in the top 12 has opening storage bays, spring loaded shooters on the wings and detachable weapons racks. The wings also extend, It comes with six minifigures ( my favourite part of modern lego and why for me the Lego advent calendars which give you a minifigure a day are such a great idea for Lego fans).
Not a Star wars devotee myself – The Princess Leia hairstyle aside – I prefer the other Lego model which also makes it into the top 12 – the City Deep Sea Exploration Vessel. You seem to get more for your money here (£80), with a trawler with high tech diving equipment, a remote submarine, a scuba scooter, a shark cage, divers and sharks – and even a shipwreck for the divers to explore. This kit just has way more going on and more play potential to my mind. For Minecraft fans there is also a new Minecraft Fortress ( £70). We recently used our collection of lego planes , Harry Potter sets and everything we had, to build a mott and bailey castle for Amelie’s project at her new secondary school. We all got involved and it reminded me about what Lego used to be about and the creativity it offers once the prescribed boat, plane or train has lost some of its bits and is gathering dust. It also made me aware that what we were lacking, despite owning hundreds of pounds worth of Lego, were bricks to build castle walls – or any walls! I spoke to the Lego people about this and they reminded me about the Lego creative range which if you can get away from the hype of the latest model are probably the best buy. You can get a creative ” suitcase” of building bricks for £35.
If you are not into Star Wars or Thunderbirds there is another play-set in the Top 12 – the Paw Patrol Paw Controller . No, I have never heard of it either, but Paw Patrol is the fastest growing brand this year. This toy is essentially a control centre which can hold three paw control vehicles. It has sound effects and a working lift and comes with Ryder and his ATV vehicle.
Princess Elsa’s Ice Castle
Frozen has been around so long now that it almost seems retro itself and our children just cannot get enough of that song. I dare not write the words for fear that I – and you – will start singing it. While Lego has brought us Princess Elsa’s Sparkling Ice Castle with a disappearing staircase and of course the cute minifigures of the main characters, fortuantely the castle does not sing! The judges of the Top 12 though, consider that it is the Disney Frozen Singalong Elsa that will be the top seller this Christmas. The doll has a “magic” microphone so that your child can sing a duet with the doll. If the microphone is near the doll’s mouth, the doll sings. If darling daughter or beloved boy takes the microphone Elsa stops singing so the child can take over. This little girl was clearly enraptured by it and although I can’t share her voice with you, I thought she rather upstaged Elsa!
For the little girls who are not into Frozen ( are there any?) and those that are, Shopkins is the new craze. If you are saying what? You won’t be for long. The Shopkins are little rubbery collectables in the same vein as Trashpack if your remember them? So each Shopkin has a character and you can collect and swop them. The Shopkins Scoops Ice Cream Truck has made it into the Top 12 ( £19.99). The ice cream van is fully equipped with an ice cream display, freezer and the van has moving wheels. There is also a fashion boutique (£30) with a slide in it – did they take that idea from Jigsaw on Westbourne Grove? It is a brilliant way of keeping real kids busy and in one place while you are shopping!
Another one for the battle weary is Little Live Pets Cleverkeet – an interactive singing and talking pet bird also in the Top 12 (£59.99). He will respond to touch and to your voice and answer questions (though the answers are random, he does not have the knowledge of Google so you wouldn’t want him to be helping with homework). I rather liked him and the obvious advantage over a real pet is that the cage doesn’t need cleaning and he can’t die! They also make a mouse and a terrapin.
There’s always a huge market for pets and toy animals whether interactive like these or the Bright Eyes Pets or simply cuddly like the Beanie Boos Buddies. Parents may not understand why these large eyed, strangely coloured creatures are so popular with children – but they are – and there is no age limit I’m told. Certainly, my 11 year old still classes them – along with most animals and young children – as “adorable”.
Pie Face is a plastic contraption that allows you to put a wet sponge ( or cream pie if you have one at home!) into the face of your nearest and dearest and it be considered good family fun. It’s been advertised on the TV to good effect and both my children think it hilarious and an essential on their Christmas lists. On the plus side, it is the cheapest toy in the Top 12 at £19.99 so it is at least affordable, unisex – and could even be a shared present – although it could create family warfare that makes Star Wars look tame!
For the creative, the Deluxe 3D Design Studio ( £40) allows you to draw or trace 3D models with a pen that creates the outline in a kind of plastic. You wait for it to dry and then put the pieces together to make the model. It looks ingenious and again made the Top 12.
And finally for the little ones the judges have put Toot Toot Friends Busy Sounds Discovery Home – not the catchiest of titles – in the Top 12. It’s basically a plastic dolls-house from Vtech (who make the kidizoom cameras), where you can place the characters in certain places and they will interact, sing talk and light up. Actually at £44.99 this one again seems good value.
Most of the toys are priced fairly for what has gone into them and hopefully for what the children will get out of them and of course these are the recommended retail prices – where they are 29.99 I have rounded it up to a penny as I think it is more accurate. But you should be able to get most of these things more cheaply if you shop around. A third of all the toys we buy are bought in the Christmas run up each year . So there are a lot of shoppers out there and if there is something your child has set their heart on, then do buy early. The “Buzz Lightyear – must-have-it, but-it’s-sold-out effect does still go on I’m told. Manufacturers make a finite number of the products based on predictions of sales and if many more people actually want them they cannot turn a new order round in time for Christmas.