New York City’s annual Toy Fair is basically a childhood fever dream. Life-sized Care Bears, Trolls, and Minions made out of Legos greet you from beneath a set of enormous vinyl signs advertising the newest Beanie Babies. To your left, people dressed as Crayola crayons wave with unending enthusiasm. To your right, men in suits play NBA Jam on a 12-foot tall arcade game. The sprawling convention center houses over 6,000 brands from all over the world. To get a sense of 2020’s biggest toys and trends, we spoke to Kristin Morency Goldman, spokesperson for the Toy Association (the company that puts on the Toy Fair), and spent a few hours walking the aisles. A majority of what’s on view were prototypes and won’t be available to buy until this summer or fall, but we still found a ton of cool stuff you can buy right now (or, in the case of Baby Yoda, at least order right now). Here are our 14 favorites:
Morency Goldman says that the unboxing trend, which was originally inspired by YouTube influencer videos, is still a big deal in 2020. Early on, unboxing or blind box toys came in opaque packaging that kept you from knowing exactly what you got until you opened them up. But now the term includes any toy designed with some sort of surprise reveal — and the reveals have only gotten more and more creative. For instance, this new line of ’90s-inspired collectible fashion dolls from L.O.L. Surprise now comes with a blacklight. When you shine it on your doll, the glowing light reveals surprises to her hair, outfit, and makeup. The brand has a bunch of other innovations coming, including a promise to replace their signature egg-shaped packaging with biodegradable plastic balls by beginning 2021.
Skyrocket Blume dolls were the runaway hit of the 2019 holiday season. Their innovative design uses water to reveal a surprise collectible doll that grows out of a mini flowerpot when you water it. Blume Series 2 works the same way, but now the dolls’ squishy foam hair also changes color in the sun.
Instead of a single doll in a single round flowerpot, Baby Pop gives you five secret reveals. Pop the five sprouts out of the planter to discover babies or accessories in each one. (The best part of this whole process is the satisfying pop each sprout makes when you pull it out.) The planter transforms into a nursery (with one of five secret themes), the lid turns into a swimming pool with a slide for baby pool parties, and lots of other little surprises hide within.
Another trend Morency Goldman has seen at the fair is around nurturing toys, specifically pets, which teach empathy and encourage kids to enjoy caring for their pets. But we saw one toy at the fair that does the nurturing itself. Theo the Therapy Dog is a weighted stuffed animal designed to provide comfort and a sense of security to children with sensory input needs. But it would make a great gift for any kid. At two and a half pounds, holding him in our arms provided a similar soothing feeling to what you get when curling up under a weighted blanket. And it’s cuter. In addition to being weighted, Theo has an inner pouch of ceramic beads that emit a gentle lavender scent when heated in the microwave or chilled in the refrigerator.
We saw a big push from multiple brands toward either green manufacturing or environmental education, but Shore Buddies is one of the few brands that checks both boxes. Their adorable plush sea animals, which play animal sounds recorded by marine biologists, are made with recycled plastic water bottles, and the company also offers ecologically focused picture books to teach children about ocean habitats and recycling. Each stuffed animal is shipped in plastic-free biodegradable packaging, and, for every product sold, Shore Buddies donates $1 to nonprofits that share their mission.
Children can role-play sorting paper and plastic with the clubhouse’s recycling bins, learn about conserving water with the sink that relies on rainwater, plant grass on the living roof, and harness the power of the sun with real working solar panels and lights.
According to Morency Goldman, STEM and STEAM toys have been steadily growing in popularity for years now. They have a big presence at the fair, as do toys that encourage kids to be creative through open play. “Of course parents want their kids to have fun,” she says. “But they want them to learn while they’re playing as well.” Of all of the educational toys at the fair, what truly mesmerized us, along with a crowd of onlookers, was this gravity-powered marble run. The design is completely modular so you can create your own complex track, guiding your marbles through whatever assortment of jumps, twists, and flips you want. The starter kit comes with 122 pieces and a patterned board to help you lay out your designs, and specialty pieces like gravity canons and cable cars are available in expansion kits.
Like a lot of kit toys, this realistic Lego sailboat helps kids develop spatial and engineering skills. Plus this catamaran-style sailboat can actually sail and navigate through water with working sails and rudders, so you can experience firsthand how a sailboat operates. For even more fun, you can get a Lego motor that works with the catamaran to give your boat some extra pep across your neighborhood pond or backyard pool.
Although ride-on toys have been a popular standard for hundreds of years, there’s been a real surge in interest lately with ride-on ponies and unicorns. This design-y Italian scooter pushes that trend into the automotive world. It’s kid-powered and not made of plastic.
Half Toys created a lot of buzz at the fair thanks to their simple magnetic animal toys that pull apart to reveal a skeleton within. Each collectible animal comes with its own diorama that you can connect to others to create a thriving savannah.
As with the unboxing trend, a lot of toy designers now take their inspiration from viral videos, including miniature food videos. This portable kit allows you to make your own miniature pies and cookies at home. It comes with tiny tools including a rolling pin, baking sheet, and finger-sized oven mitts, plus a book of 45 recipes for very small sweet and savory baked goods. Of all the toys at the fair, this tiny baking set is what we would be most excited to buy for ourselves.
Though the idea is not new, Morency Goldman says she has seen a ton of family toys and games that encourage cooperation and intergenerational play. (We saw this trend in reporting on the best board games, too.) This beautifully designed Jaws game disrupts the every-player-for-themselves model better than any we’ve seen before. One player gets to be the bloodthirsty shark and the rest of the players have to work together to survive. It’s a great game for tweens and teens to play with their parents, and because it’s based on a well-known Hollywood movie, you’ll probably have an easier time convincing non-gamers to join in the fun.
We’ve written about the breakout infant star of The Mandalorian before, including a particularly adorable plush doll that won’t ship until April. Unfortunately, of all the iterations of Baby Yoda at the toy fair, none will ship sooner than that. But we did at least find two excellent Baby Yoda toys that you can preorder now. One of them, from Hasbro, is an animatronic figure that made waves for its lifelike coos, wagging ears, and blinking eyes. The other, a figurine from Funko Pop!, is significantly cheaper and would make a great cubicle accessory. Both will ship this spring.
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