TDmonthly Magazine!
October 2005 | Vol. IV - No. 10


Ready, Set, Playset!

"Young boys are not playing as much with action figures. Instead, increasingly, they want ´action toys´ that are media tie-ins." Timothy Burke, professor, Swarthmore College
Playsets: those ubiquitous catch-alls that provide an entire world in a box to a child. In recent years, the top-sellers have been action-figure driven. But that’s changing: TDmonthly Magazine has discovered that action figure playsets are evolving into active role-playing sets. What’s the playset wave of the future, and can retail stores capitalize on it? TDmonthly examines the trends.

“There’s a slow and interesting transformation happening to the action figure market for boys,” explained professor Timothy Burke, assistant professor and cultural historian in the department of history at Swarthmore College. “What I’ve heard from a few sources is that the major manufactures increasingly regard the action figure market as an adult collector’s market — that young boys are not playing as much with action figures. Instead, increasingly, they want ‘action toys’ that are media tie-ins the way that action figures have been.”

Toy Biz (a division of Marvel Enterprises) confirms this trend. They are going for “dress-up” playsets for their rollout of the “Fantastic 4” movie — the Electronic Human Torch Dress-Up Set as well as Thing Feet, Electronic Thing Hands and The Thing Dress-Up Set with mask and chest plate.

Playmates Toys is unveiling role playing sets for their premier Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line: Stealth weapons that turn from a staff to a spongeball shooter, and Turtle bandanas that have lights and sound effects.

“Role playing is the hot button now,” explained Michael Rinzler, director of marketing, boys’ toys, at Playmates Toys. “Hulk Hands showed that the role playing category could be huge, opening the door for more. Kids don’t want to watch anymore, they want to do.”

But that doesn’t mean the traditional movie-driven playsets have gone away. The bigger the movie, the bigger the push, and the big push this year is going to be for the biggest guy of all: King Kong.

“It’s got everything: playset potential (Skull Island), dinosaur tie-in, action figures, and… the Big Guy,” enthusiastically contemplated Ellen Cockrill an executive at Universal, the company putting out the movie.

“Because of plastic becoming more expensive, we can’t make the sets as big as we could in the past,” explained Rinzler (Playmates is manufacturing the Kong sets), “so we’ve found other ways, like a Skull Island mat that goes under the playset, expanding the feel and area of the experience.”

Other media-linked premiers? “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” won’t be far behind Kong. “Although we have seen no drop in performance in the Harry Potter franchise,” explained Michael McNally, head of public relations of LEGO, USA, “We are doing something different this time. Only four new products, none of them will focus on Hogwarts Castle, but taking it outside, on the grounds. This will add something fresh, for those new to the line, and those who have been collecting for awhile.”

And what about Disney’s huge fantasy, the Chronicles of Narnia? Teaming up with Hasbro, they are releasing Narnia Action Figure Playsets that are a cross between collectibles and just plain fun.

The Walt Disney Company, via Hasbro, has also been driving a large segment of the girl-market, according to retailers TDmonthly has spoken with, with their Disney Princess Series of playsets (Princess Jasmine, Cinderella and Belle). Likewise, Polly Pocket (Watch the Polly Pocket Snow Cool Hotel Video Watch Video) by Mattel is the number one playset selling on


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