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Kate Erbland
Kate Erbland

4 Awesome New Toys Debuted at Toy Fair 2015

Kate Erbland
Kate Erbland

Every February, New York City hosts Toy Fair, which gives us a sneak peek at all the toys that just might cause minor riots by the time the holidays roll around. When we visited Hasbro's showroom, we saw plenty of new playthings (for every age!) to get pumped about, from build-your-own lightsabers to truly transformative Transformers—and a little guy named Furbacca.

1. Star Wars Bladebuilders

Kate Erbland

Although this year’s Toy Fair didn’t include the debut of any new toys from the upcoming sure-to-be-blockbuster Star Wars: The Force Awakens, there were plenty of other offerings to keep the Star Wars fan in your life very happy. In a firm nod to the new J.J. Abrams-directed feature—which appears to be populated by all sorts of strange new lightsabers, creations that place a premium on individual elements and a sense of DIY to the max—the new Bladebuilders toy promises to allow fans of the series the ability to make their own lightsaber, even if it’s not exactly canon.

The new Bladebuilder sets include a ton of interchangeable elements, including various blades (from foam to extendable), hilts that offer up more extensions than is probably wise, and a mess of lights and sounds. Every piece fits together with surprising ease, making it a little too easy to go to the Dark Side by way of a multi-blade lightsaber that looks dangerous to even carry.

2. Transformers Combiner Wars Devastator

Kate Erbland

Oh, hello, giant Transformer. Devastator has long been one of the most powerful Constructicons in the Transformers universe, and while he’s appeared in toy form before, he’s never quite looked like this. A massive, multi-piece Voyager Class toy, the new Devastator breaks down into smaller Transformers—including Hook, Long Haul, Scavenger, Bonecrusher, and Scrapper—which combine to form a hulking beast of a Transformer. Each piece will only be available in this new set —no individual Hooks or Scrappers—and all the various pieces fit together into one of the most impressive Transformers yet.

Kate Erbland

Notice how each individual Transformer still retains its own look—a shovel made into a foot, a cement mixer into a leg—while forming the utterly devastating Devastator. Sure, most people would probably balk at a green and purple construction vehicle cruising towards them, but who could possibly guess what that colorful lil guy is a part of?

3. Jurassic World Figures

Kate Erbland

This summer, humans will be heading back to Isla Nubar in Jurassic World. The new film picks up after the failure of Jurassic Park has been eclipsed by a newly relaunched and revitalized park—one that promises up a fun (and safe) experience with a bunch of genetically engineered dinosaurs. But where can I get a ticket to such a park?

Kate Erbland

The new film may be all about happy visitors enjoying the park, but this new set of toys indicates that not everything is going to be all cotton candy and smiles, considering most of these playsets and figures include torn up (and frankly, pretty angry looking) dinosaurs snarling at each other. From the Tyrannosaurus Rex Lockdown set to a Pteranodon attacking a helicopter, something is going to go very wrong at Jurassic World, and soon everyone will be able to recreate it in toy format!

Most of the dinos yell and scream—including a new Velociraptor that offers up a “growling attack!” that might rival the first set of films. Although these new figures include plenty of familiar dinosaurs, like bloody T. rexes and Velociraptors named “Charlie,” there appear to be some new dinos zipping around the park—including an awkward aquatic creature that looks like a horrifying combo of a shark and a particularly mad raptor.

Kate Erbland

Many of these playsets look familiar, too, including that T. rex pen and the iconic (and now updated) “Jurassic World” gate, but the dinosaur action has been improved on and refined. Think they can still open up kitchen doors?

4. Furbacca

Kate Erbland

Few people may have ever dreamed of combining the charms of Star Wars’ own Chewbacca with ever-advancing Furby technology, but the mad geniuses at Hasbro have cooked up just such a thing for mass consumption. His name is Furbacca and you will love him.

The first Star Wars-centric (there may be more in our future!) Furby manages to look like both a standard Furby (loud, adorable, hairy) and the galaxy’s best sidekick (also loud, adorable, and hairy) in one teensy package. The normal Furby features are all here, and Furbacca responds to touch (head pats), feeding (approximated with a finger on his tongue, though an app will also be available for other feedings), and affection (tug meanly on his tail, and he’ll start playing the “Imperial March” in a high tone, otherwise he’ll happily roll his eyes in pleasure), but this is still a singularly Star Wars toy, as various intergalactic images flash across Furbacca’s eyes at various intervals (from lightsabers to the Death Star). Furbacca responds in kind to each image, from hopping with fear to gurgling in happiness. He’s a mostly upbeat little dude—even if he’s loud enough to hear across a bustling showroom—but he’s so charming that even his lack of manners is something to be loved.

Kate Erbland

And, yes, he does include a tiny bandolier (holding eggs, because Furby) and a messenger bag. Even his fur is the perfect color. He’s perfect. We love you, Furbacca.

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History
A.C. Gilbert, the Toymaker Who (Actually) Saved Christmas 
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Alfred Carlton Gilbert was told he had 15 minutes to convince the United States government not to cancel Christmas.

For hours, he paced the outer hall, awaiting his turn before the Council of National Defense. With him were the tools of his trade: toy submarines, air rifles, and colorful picture books. As government personnel walked by, Gilbert, bashful about his cache of kid things, tried hiding them behind a leather satchel.

Finally, his name was called. It was 1918, the U.S. was embroiled in World War I, and the Council had made an open issue about their deliberation over whether to halt all production of toys indefinitely, turning factories into ammunition centers and even discouraging giving or receiving gifts that holiday season. Instead of toys, they argued, citizens should be spending money on war bonds. Playthings had become inconsequential.

Frantic toymakers persuaded Gilbert, founder of the A.C. Gilbert Company and creator of the popular Erector construction sets, to speak on their behalf. Toys in hand, he faced his own personal firing squad of military generals, policy advisors, and the Secretary of War.

Gilbert held up an air rifle and began to talk. What he’d say next would determine the fate of the entire toy industry.

Even if he had never had to testify on behalf of Christmas toys, A.C. Gilbert would still be remembered for living a remarkable life. Born in Oregon in 1884, Gilbert excelled at athletics, once holding the world record for consecutive chin-ups (39) and earning an Olympic gold medal in the pole vault during the 1908 Games. In 1909, he graduated from Yale School of Medicine with designs on remaining in sports as a health advisor.

But medicine wasn’t where Gilbert found his passion. A lifelong performer of magic, he set his sights on opening a business selling illusionist kits. The Mysto Manufacturing Company didn’t last long, but it proved to Gilbert that he had what it took to own and operate a small shingle. In 1916, three years after introducing the Erector sets, he renamed Mysto the A.C. Gilbert Company.

Erector was a big hit in the burgeoning American toy market, which had typically been fueled by imported toys from Germany. Kids could take the steel beams and make scaffolding, bridges, and other small-development projects. With the toy flying off shelves, Gilbert’s factory in New Haven, Connecticut grew so prosperous that he could afford to offer his employees benefits that were uncommon at the time, like maternity leave and partial medical insurance.

Gilbert’s reputation for being fair and level-headed led the growing toy industry to elect him their president for the newly created Toy Manufacturers of America, an assignment he readily accepted. But almost immediately, his position became something other than ceremonial: His peers began to grow concerned about the country’s involvement in the war and the growing belief that toys were a dispensable effort.

President Woodrow Wilson had appointed a Council of National Defense to debate these kinds of matters. The men were so preoccupied with the consequences of the U.S. marching into a European conflict that something as trivial as a pull-string toy or chemistry set seemed almost insulting to contemplate. Several toy companies agreed to convert to munitions factories, as did Gilbert. But when the Council began discussing a blanket prohibition on toymaking and even gift-giving, Gilbert was given an opportunity to defend his industry.

Before Gilbert was allowed into the Council’s chambers, a Naval guard inspected each toy for any sign of sabotage. Satisfied, he allowed Gilbert in. Among the officials sitting opposite him were Secretary of War Newton Baker and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

“The greatest influences in the life of a boy are his toys,” Gilbert said. “Yet through the toys American manufacturers are turning out, he gets both fun and an education. The American boy is a genuine boy and wants genuine toys."

He drew an air rifle, showing the committee members how a child wielding less-than-lethal weapons could make for a better marksman when he was old enough to become a soldier. He insisted construction toys—like the A.C. Gilbert Erector Set—fostered creative thinking. He told the men that toys provided a valuable escape from the horror stories coming out of combat.

Armed with play objects, a boy’s life could be directed toward “construction, not destruction,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert then laid out his toys for the board to examine. Secretary Daniels grew absorbed with a toy submarine, marveling at the detail and asking Gilbert if it could be bought anywhere in the country. Other officials examined children’s books; one began pushing a train around the table.

The word didn’t come immediately, but the expressions on the faces of the officials told the story: Gilbert had won them over. There would be no toy or gift embargo that year.

Naturally, Gilbert still devoted his work floors to the production efforts for both the first and second world wars. By the 1950s, the A.C. Gilbert Company was dominating the toy business with products that demanded kids be engaged and attentive. Notoriously, he issued a U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, which came complete with four types of uranium ore. “Completely safe and harmless!” the box promised. A Geiger counter was included. At $50 each, Gilbert lost money on it, though his decision to produce it would earn him a certain infamy in toy circles.

“It was not suitable for the same age groups as our simpler chemistry and microscope sets, for instance,” he once said, “and you could not manufacture such a thing as a beginner’s atomic energy lab.”

Gilbert’s company reached an astounding $20 million in sales in 1953. By the mid-1960s, just a few years after Gilbert's death in 1961, it was gone, driven out of business by the apathy of new investors. No one, it seemed, had quite the same passion for play as Gilbert, who had spent over half a century providing fun and educational fare that kids were ecstatic to see under their trees.

When news of the Council’s 1918 decision reached the media, The Boston Globe's front page copy summed up Gilbert’s contribution perfectly: “The Man Who Saved Christmas.”

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Bob Ross’s Happy Little Menagerie Is Getting the Funko Treatment, Too
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Amazon

Back in August, the pop culture-loving toy fiends at Funko introduced a happy little Pop! Vinyl figurine of beloved painter/television icon Bob Ross, decked out in his trademark jeans and button-down shirt with a painter’s palette in his hand and his legendary perm (which he hated) atop his tiny little vinyl head. This Joy of Painting-themed addition to the Funko lineup proved to be an instant hit, so the company added a couple of additional toys to its roster—this time incorporating members of Ross’s happy little menagerie of pets, who were almost as integral to the long-running series as the painter himself.


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If you’re looking to score one of these toys before Christmas, it’s going to have to be a limited edition one—and it’s going to cost you. In collaboration with Target, Funko paired Ross with his favorite pocket squirrel, Pea Pod, which will set you back about $40. For just a few dollars more, you can opt to have the happy accident-prone painter come with Hoot the owl.


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On Friday, December 8, the company will release a Funko two-pack that includes Ross with a paintbrush and Ross with an adorable little raccoon.


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If you’d prefer to save a few dollars, and are willing to wait out the holiday season, you can pre-order Ross with just the raccoon for delivery around December 29.

So many happy little options, so little time.

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