There's more than meets the eye at Toy Fair 2007.
The Autobots and the Decepticons are back and bigger than ever as Hasbro unveiled its new line of Transformers this week at the toy industry's annual blowout in New York City in anticipation of the would-be Hollywood blockbuster invading theaters July 4.
As '80s refugees can attest, Transformers are alien robots hailing from the planet Cybertron that can morph into supercool cars, trucks, jets and other vehicles—"robots in disguise" as the old cartoon series theme song and TV jingles put it.
Launched by Hasbro and Japanese toy giant Takara in 1984, the Transformers toys developed a massive following in America thanks in part to a multimedia blitz that included a popular animated series that ran between 1984 and 1987, comic books and videogames. An animated feature was released in 1986. An updated TV series ran briefly in the '90s. Now the franchise is being revived as a live-action adventure produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Michael Bay for DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures. The cast includes Josh Duhamel, Shia LaBeouf, John Turturro and Jon Voight.
And, of course, some pretty amazing robots.
At the Toy Fair, Hasbro is showcasing prototypes for a new Transformers toy line featuring updated designs for ggod-guy Autobot boss Optimus Prime and bad-guy Decepticon leader Megatron. Other old favorites getting makeovers include Megatron's henchman StarScream, who morphs into an F-15 Eagle, and Optimus sidekick Bumblebee, who travels incognito as a Chevrolet Camaro. Aside from the vehicles, there's an animatronic Transformers Movie Ultimate Bumblebee, which plays tunes like Devo's "Whip It," the Optimus Prime Voice Changer Helmet, allowing fans to channel their inner Autobot, an Arm Blaster unleashing Nerf darts, a Cyber Stompin' Robot with monster sound effects and, our favorite, the Mr. Potato Head Head Optimash Prime.
While the Transformers attracted the most attention, there are dozens of other movie- and TV-related properties getting the toy treatment.
In advance of the May 4 release of Spider-Man 3, Hasbro is offering a line of 28 Spidey action figures, including the movie's new villains Venom and Sandman. There are also a deluxe spinning Web Blaster that—parents watch out—shoots a special web fluid as well as water; Spider-Man 3 Ooze Attack Action Figures that come with slime; a Spider-Man Versus Venom Blaster Set; and a Spi-Dog Interactive Musical Companion.
For fanboys eager to play along at home with 20th Century Fox's Fantastic Four follow-up, Hasbro is bringing out new Fantastic Four figures, including the Silver Surfer and the Human Torch's Blazing Stunt Bike, as well as a host of other classic Marvel characters.
For the 30th anniversary of the toy maker's cash cow, Star Wars, Hasbro is introducing a small army of 3-3/4-inch figures, including several never-before-created that were selected by fans. Each comes with a bonus collectible coin. There's also a 30th anniversary Darth Vader doll with coin album to hold all those commemorative coins; a Force Action Lightsaber; and, yes, Star Wars Transformers, including a Vader that morphs into the Death Star and a Luke Skywalker that turns into an X-wing fighter.
Lego is also celebrating the space saga—the most successful license in the plastic brick purveyor's history—with nine new Star Wars models like the Imperial Landing Craft, Jedi Starfighter and Hyperdrive Booster Ring. The Lego folks also unveiled new Harry Potter and SpongeBob SquarePants designs.
Meanwhile, the biggest buzz coming out of Hasbro rival Mattel was last Thursday's unveiling of its Fisher-Price unit's Richard Simmons-endorsed Smart Cycle, a learning toy for tykes that doubles as a stationary exercise bike. The $100 contraption forces kids to pedal to play the various arcade games on the accompanying TV screen; the games teach letters and numbers.
"When I first saw this product I was astounded because there's never been anything in the history of toys…to come up with a product that the kids will love, that the kids will learn and that the kids will be fit," the always energetic workout guru told reporters.
Mattel is also updating its Batman and Supeman lines and adding new DC Comics superheroes, introducing Hilary and Hailey Duff dolls (including clothes designed by sisters) and new versions of the hugely popular Pixar Cars vehicles.
Also drawing heavy interest at this year's fair is a special collector's series celebrating late Crocodile Hunter star Steve Irwin. The line includes some of his daughter, Bindi's favorite critters—such as a Galapagos tortoise and Bimbo the Elephant from the Australia Zoo. And there are stuffed crocs of all sizes.
Wild Republic developed the toys over the last 18 months with Steve Irwin, who supplied voice recordings of his famous catchphrases like "Crikey!" and "Danger, danger, danger!" for the dolls before he was killed last year by a sting ray while snorkeling along the Great Barrier Reef.
The main attraction, though, is the 9-inch talking action Irwin figure ("watch out for creeky bridges, and poisonous snakes, other dangers await!") that comes with his favorite croc.
There's also Steve Irwin's Australian Tracker—a toy that doubles as a working compass—Steve's Click & View Camera, puzzles and action playsets.
A portion of the proceeds from the toys will go Irwin's Australia Zoo and its wildlife-conservation and wilderness-protection programs.
On hand for the Croc Hunter toy kick-off were members of the 44-year-old Aussie naturalist's Wildlife Warriors Worldwide Charity.
"We're really proud to be a part of the Irwin family and .the whole team back at the zoo where they continue carrying on Steve's legacy of conservation," said Kate Coulter, who along with her husband, Brian, assisted Irwin on his documentary adventures and serves as an animal handler at the Australia Zoo. "That includes Wild Republic now getting the new range of toys out there that contribute back to Steve's conservation programs...which is really, really exciting."
Jakks Pacific is going after the teenybopper demo with a range of toys based on the popular Disney Channel series Hannah Montana and The Cheetah Girls. Among the highlights: fashion dolls and playsets, including a performance stage, along with dress-up items and plug-and-play videogames.
For fans of Nick Jr.'s Dora the Explorer and Go, Diego, Go!, Jakks has the Dora Fairytale Adventure Dress and accessories so girls can share the stylings of the animated hero.
For young dudes, the toymaker showed off figures inspired by the Rocky movies, such as a muscle-bound mini-Balboa dressed in red, white and blue boxing trunks from Rocky IV; a fight-damaged Apollo Creed and Ivan Drago; rivals Tommy Gunn and Mason "The Line" Dixon figures from Rocky V and VI; figures based on real-life boxing champs Joe Frazier and Mike Tyson (sans Evander Holyfield's ear), as well as figures modeled on WWE wrestling stars. Yo, there's an Adrian, too.
Jakks also has toys based on the upcoming musical Hairspray, featuring life-like sculptures of star John Travolta in the role of Edna Turnblad and Amanda Bynes as Penny Pingleton. There are also detailed singing dolls, which retail between $14.99 and $24.99, that perform signature songs from the soundtrack.
The company is adding to its popular plug-and-play TV games with titles based on Spider-Man 3, Star Wars: Original Trilogy and NBC's Deal or No Deal and 1 vs. 100.
Finally, those Gen Xers who prefer more cuddly toys than Transformers can recapture their youth with Jakks' divison, Play Along's limited edition 25th anniversary Care Bear. The bear is accompanied by a DVD of the first episode of the animated series, The Land Without Feelings, that was made in the early '80s, but never released. The toy line comes out of hibernation this fall along with a batch of plush toys based on characters from the brand-new Care Bears animated flick, Oopsy Does It, unspooling in August.