The toys are back in town.
Despite fears of a dearth of toys following the collapse of Toys R Us, the industry is seeing signs of life as it heads into its second holiday season sans Geoffrey the Giraffe, says James Zahn, a senior editor with the Toy Insider. Though sales are down 5.5% through the end of September, the third quarter got a 3% bump, according to data from NPD Group.
Large retailers are funneling more resources into their toy sections: Walmart expanded its lineup of exclusives by 25% this year, while Target is partnering with Disney and a scaled-down Toys R Us. Amazon, meanwhile, has stepped in with a 92-page toy catalogue featuring exclusives like a Star Wars Chewbacca mask and Barbie pop-up camper. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Local toy stores are playing along, too, Zahn said, by bolstering their selections and offering services like free gift wrapping.
"Despite there being no Toys R Us proper anymore, in the last year and a half so many companies have upped their game," Zahn said. "It feels like there's more places than ever to actually buy toys."
This year's crop of hot toys brings back such favorites as Hatchimals and L.O.L. Surprise! as well as an array of marvelously messy slimes and exciting options from the Star Wars and Frozen movie franchises.
Here's a guide to what retailers and industry experts say will be the hottest toys of the season.
- Super surprises
The surprise craze continues - no surprise there!
Ryan Kaji, the YouTube toy tastemaker of Ryan's World (formerly Ryan's Toys Review) has a Super Surprise Safe for $39.99, available exclusively through Walmart. Unlocking the safe is just the beginning: From there, kids access secret doors, use tiny sledgehammers and crack codes to reveal 30 unique, engaging surprises. No two safes are the same, but assortments include slime, stickers, temporary tattoos and figurines.
Another YouTube favorite, the Tic Tac Toy Family, has partnered with Blip Toys for new XOXO Friends ($7.89). Follow the numbers on the boxes to uncover eight collectible surprises and cute accessories.
MGA Entertainment has a new batch of dolls this year: O.M.G. Fashion dolls ($26.99), which are meant to be "older sisters" to L.O.L. Surprise! dolls. Each of the four, 11-inch collectibles comes with 20 surprises, an array that includes clothes, accessories and a biography.
The O.M.G. dolls "represent what has been lacking in the market today - real fashion dolls that are on-trend and relatable to kids," said Isaac Larian, the chief executive and founder of MGA Entertainment, said in a news release.
The packing doubles as a reusable closet and dressing room play set, and the dolls' hair can withstand hours of brushing and even washing.
- Fluffy, feathery friends
Interactive toys are hotter than ever, and this year toymakers have come up with a menagerie of furry and feathery friends that kids can engage with and learn to care for.
The best-selling Hatchimals line now has Hatchimals WOW ($59.99). The Llalacorn - part llama, part unicorn - hatches from a pink or purple egg and grows as much as 2 1/2 feet tall. It sings "Hatchy Birthday" to itself, and has 10 moods and more than 250 sounds and expressions. Unlike previous Hatchimals, it can be re-hatched for fresh fun.
Spin Master, which counts Hatchimals, Paw Patrol and Bakugan among its many popular offerings, has added the groundbreaking Owleez ($38.99) to its lineup - an interactive toy that can be taught to fly. Toss the baby owl into the air to help it learn to soar and comfort it when it doesn't (Don't worry; Owleez are made of lightweight, durable material that can withstand a rough landing). The toy gives children the chance to guide and nurture the baby owl, which learns and responds with more than 100 sounds and movements.
"It's extremely satisfying for kids to see the result of the love and care they put into their own Owleez toy pet," Kate Keller, Spin Master's vice president of marketing, said in a news release. "They experience the delight and reward knowing it is something that they taught it to do."
- Squishy, sticky, slimy
Yulu's Pop Pops Snotz bring together the surprise, slime and collectible trends in a single squishy experience. Use a hammer to pop sets of sticky, stretchy, slime bubbles and reveal a variety of characters. Packs come in multiple sizes and involve 60 collectible characters. A full 18-piece set, which includes the hammer for popping, is available for $14.99 at Target.
For another slimy delight, try Nickelodeon's Peanut Butter and Jelly Slime from Cra-Z-Art ($9.99.) The slime is premade (saving some mess) and scented like real peanut butter and grape jelly. Kits come with two slices of slow-rising "bread" that returns to its shape after being squished.
- What's old is new again
Many bygone favorites have gotten modern makeovers to engage a new generation - and stir up some nostalgia.
"The retro trend has been building for five years now and shows no signs of stopping," Zahn said.
University Games breathed new life into Rubik's Cube - which will celebrate its 40th birthday next year - with the Rubik's Cage, a mash-up of the classic toy and Tic-Tac-Toe that will challenge kids and Rubik's Cube experts alike. Players insert cubes into the cage, then twist or turn the cage to reset the playing field.
"We took the twist of an original Rubik's Cube and matched it with the fast and exciting competition of the sport, and created a game for all ages and stages," Christoph Bettin, the chief executive of Rubik's Brand, told the Toy Book when Rubik's Cage debuted.
Big G Creative, maker of Bob Ross: Happy Little Accidents and Kenny G Keepin' it Saxy games, has a Trapper Keeper-inspired card game that allows parents to share their memories about the iconic '80s school supply while enjoying fresh fun with their kids. Available exclusively at Target ($16.99), the game is packaged in a reproduction of a Trapper Keeper - complete with Velcro. Players collect school-themed cards - homework, quizzes, report cards, field trip slips - and strategically stash cards in the Trapper Keeper folders. The winner is crowned "the coolest kid in school."
"Our new Trapper Keeper Game has a retro feel that will appeal to adults who grew up in the '80s and '90s," Shannon Swindle, Big G Creative's product and communications manager said in a news release. "The game's authentic Trapper Keeper makes it a fun conversation piece, giving families the opportunity to share memories of their elementary and high school days."
- Franchise fun
Toys from the "Frozen" and "Star Wars" movie franchises are still going strong this holiday season, and the films have inspired a new empire of merchandise.
Star Wars is unleashing multiple new Lego sets, including the Millennium Falcon ($159.99) and the Boost Droid Commander, which lets kids build, customize and practice coding with three droids, including a miniature R2-D2, and droids that spin and shoot on command.
"Kids now have the chance to develop essential 21st century skills while immersing themselves in the amazing world of Droid Commanders," Julia Goldin, Lego's chief marketing officer, said in a news release.
New this year from Hasbro is the D-O droid ($49.99), a remote-control toy from the upcoming film, "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker," that beeps, spins and balances on a single wheel.
Build-A-Bear is introducing a line of furry friends inspired by Disney's "Frozen II," including princess sisters Anna and Elsa and pals Olaf, Kristoff and reindeer Sven. Order the bears prestuffed, or take them to Build-A-Bear to get them filled and pick from a range of related costumes and accessories. Get the plush characters on their own for $27, or the bear and a set of accoutrements together for around $66.
Disney also released other toys that draw on the film's music or characters, including a "Frozen II" Bluetooth karaoke machine ($49.99), a Follow-Me Friend Olaf that sings and speaks ($34.99) and a 3-foot-tall Sven ($89.99) that can support kids who weigh as much as 70 pounds and has 20 interactive sounds and phrases. He can even eat a (toy) carrot!