The 2005 edition of Toy Fair was all about the alpha and omega.
The biggest buzz at the toy industry's annual merchandising confab, which just wrapped Tuesday in New York, focused on the birth of a new Batman franchise and the finale of Star Wars.
With the final prequel, Star Wars: Episode III--Revenge of the Sith, slated to unspool in theaters on May 19, toy types are celebrating with the launch of a whole new line of action figures, play sets, figurines and every other conceivable tie-in.
"The final chapter of the Star Wars saga gives us the opportunity to roll out the most impressive line of Star Wars toys and games ever assembled," says Brian Goldner, president of Hasbro's U.S. toys group, which took over the LucasFilm license after buying rival Kenner.
Among the highlights in Hasbro's top-secret show-and-tell room: new laser-scanned action figures based on Sith characters like Obi-Wan, Count Dooku and the heretofore unknown General Grievous; the Mustafar Final Duel play set where Anakin and Obi-Wan have their climactic confrontation; Sith assault vehicles; Battle Arenas; vibrating electronic light sabers; a Darth Vader Voice Changer; a Call Upon Yoda--a Jedi update of the Magic 8 Ball that dispenses the wisdom of the Force; and the AttackTix Battle Figure Game, in which kids pit up to 35 collectible figures against one another and "crash-and-bash" with the winner the last one standing.
Hasbro is also unleashing a slew of Star Wars-based crossovers with some of its most famous properties, including a DVD-based Star Wars Trivial Pursuit; Star Wars Monopoly; a Star Wars: Clone Wars edition of Risk; and, in perhaps the oddest bit of synergy, Darth Tater--a Mr. Potatohead who (gasp!) has turned to the Dark Side, complete with light saber, cape and helmet.
Hasbro plans to unleash its Star Wars line of collectibles on Apr. 2--the same day Mattel rolls out its Batman Begins merchandise.
The Warner Bros.' comic-book adventure, starring Christian Bale as a new, improved and younger Caped Crusader, is being directed by Christopher Nolan and tells the tale of how Batman got his start fighting crime. Set for release June 17, Batman Begins is expected to revive the studio's long-moribund series, while giving a big boost to Mattel's license, which already includes toys manufactured for the WB's Batman: The Animated Series.
The Bat swag features an array of new action figures, including the villainous Scarecrow facing off against an action-caped Batman, who's outfitted with a boomerang and snazzy cloak that pops out and spreads wings. Mattel also showed off some of the vehicles inspired by the film, including a rad motorcycle, helicopter and Bat Boat, the last of which enables kids to shoot tiny orange discs at their friends and annoy their parents. Bonus.
The most impressive toy on display was the updated Batmobile. Described by one Mattel rep as a "cross between a hummer and a Lamborghini," the tank-like vehicle can be rolled around and also opens up into a Gotham City play set.
But the Batman Begins and Sith toys weren't the only Tinseltown-themed playthings making their debut at the trade show.
Mattel unveiled its line of action figures and artifacts from Warners' Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth film based on J.K. Rowling's fantasy-adventure series. The toys skew to older Muggles, since in this installment, the lightning-scarred magician enters full-blown adolescence, develops a crush and faces death for the first time. Hogwarts is also channeling Woodstock as Mattel plans to release Wizard Gardens, miniature baskets that allow Harry's female fans to grow their own flora.
Sin City, which is based on the darkly stylish graphic novels of Frank Miller, opens Apr. 1 and features an all-star ensemble that includes Jessica Alba, Bruce Willis, Rosario Dawson, Benicio Del Toro, Clive Owen, Mickey Rourke and Brittany Murphy. Paying homage to director Robert Rodriguez's mostly black-and-white visual style, the tie-in toys include 12-inch black-and-white action figures (except for Yellow Bastard), along with prop replicas, lunchboxes and playing cards.
Fans of the late Douglas Adams' hilarious sci-fi adventure A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which hits the big screen Apr. 29, should be pleased to learn that Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect and the rest of the loopy crew, including paranoid android Marvin, are available as action figures, roto-cast figures and plush dolls. Other stand-out toys include Marvin's gun (with lights, sounds and projectiles) and a Hitchhiker's kit that comes with a towel, because you can't hitchhike through the galaxy without one!
Speaking of robots, Mattel has all kinds of doodads in advance of the March release of 20th Century Fox's CGI flick Robots. Keep an eye out for Roboots, metallic-painted boots with robot sound effects.
Warners' highly anticipated Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, starring Johnny Depp as mysterious candymaker Willy Wonka, is serving up numerous toy treats, ranging from action figures to play sets.
Fox has also secured tie-ins for its upcoming Fantastic Four feature due out July 7, including a full line of mini-busts of the famed Marvel Comic characters, as well as statuettes and a diorama set.
Paramount, meanwhile, is gearing up for its tentpole summer blockbuster, Steven Spielberg's take on H.G. Wells' sci-fi classic War of the Worlds. Expect action figures based on those tripod-like aliens, though don't count on seeing star Tom Cruise's mug anywhere near Toys 'R' Us, since he's not into the merchandising thing.
American Idol's Fantasia Barrino turned up last Thursday to help plug the launch of the American Idol Barbie and her famous friends--Barbie dolls based on LeAnn Rimes, Raven and Destiny's Child, among others. Barbie's also holding her very own Idol-style competition at Barbie.com, where kids can vote on their favorite doll performer. The winner will be announced during the finale of next fall's American Idol contest.
Also, as part of Barbie's new My Scene line, Mattel is introducing a Lindsay Lohan Barbie featuring a doll made in the 18-year-old Mean Girls star's likeness who is dressed to impress on the red carpet.
The denizens of Bikini Bottom are also going to be represented toy stores soon. A probable big seller is likely "Ripped Pants" SpongeBob, in which a mechanical version of Mr. SquarePants accidentally rips his pants--as seen on TV. It comes with lots of ripping phrases and action. For those wanting a more interactive experience, there's the SpongeBob Magic 8 Ball.
Palisades Entertainment is issuing goodies based on other popular 'toons, including Cartoon Network's Adult Swim and Nick's Fairly OddParents. For kiddies and collectors, the toy company also has PALz, new block figures based on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The X-Files, as well as nifty Muppet and Sesame Street action figures.
Dukes of Hazzard fans will no doubt give a big "Yeehaw!" to action figures based on Bo, Luke, Daisy, Boss Hogg, Uncle Jesse and the rest of the gang in advance of the Warners movie version. The line wouldn't be complete without a souped-up miniature of the General Lee.
Disney's big-budget adaptation of C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, due out on Christmas Day, is set to be accompanied by figures and dolls of Aslan, the White Witch and other classic characters.
Last but not least, expect a full line of toy tie-ins for Peter Jackson's remake of King Kong, due out in December from Universal. Despite the filmmaker's habit of providing daily online briefings about the production, journalists were not granted a sneak peek at the playthings. But Jackson isn't monkeying around when it comes to the merchandising. His Oscar-winning Weta Workshop, which is doing all the creature effects, sculptures, miniatures and props for the movie, is also creating the models for the toys.