February 14, 2011 / 11:46 PM / 8 years ago

Technology breathes new life into toy classics

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Cutting-edge technology is infusing new life into classic toys such as Barbie and Mickey Mouse, according to leading toy makers.

Tom Worthington, from Hampshire, England, demonstrates the new "Let's Rock Elmo" at the unveiling of the new Sesame Street branded line of Playskool products at Hasbro's American International Toy Fair showroom in New York, February 12, 2011. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine/Hasbro/Handout

The merging of hi-tech, popular culture and classic toys is a major theme at the American International Toy Show this week in New York, where more than 1200 toy makers are showing their latest products.

Mattel’s Diana Dunn-Graves said embracing technology is vital to rejuvenate timeless toys like Ken and Barbie and Mickey Mouse.

One example of the theme is the newest “Rockstar Mickey,” which performs rock ballads.

“The mechanisms and content can be infused into a character like Mickey Mouse,” said Dunn-Graves. “The fun thing about technology is that often the kid doesn’t notice. It’s seamless. The technology enhances the play experience and never masks or diminishes it. It remains fun.”

Mattel is also launching what the company says is the first set of toys based on a smart phone application with “Angry Birds Knock on Wood”, based on the Angry Birds app — currently the No. 1 paid game app for the Apple iPhone.

“We’ve taken an app and turned it to a tabletop experience. That’s a first,” said Rachel Cooper, public relations manager for Mattel Brands. “We know how technology has infiltrated life, and this is a trend we’ll see a lot more in the future. Plus, this actually encourages people to play with another person and not just on their phone.”

Other examples of technology-driven toys include a flying attack drone that can be controlled through a smart phone, a toy car with video technology that allows children to digitally record their races from the viewpoint of the car, and a Ken doll which records messages to repeat in his own voice.

“Every girl wants their man to say what they want to hear,” Cooper said. “Now Ken can do that.”

Blockbuster films are also having an impact on toys. Lego Group is set to launch lines of toys to coincide with the releases of films such as “Cars 2,” “Harry Potter” and “Pirates of the Caribbean”.

“Legos are just the kind of toy that will last,” said brand relations director Michael McNally. “With the Pirates of the Caribbean theme, we’ve taken the always popular Lego theme of pirates and given it a fresh 2011 theme.”

Among the highlights was a life-size statue of actor Johnny Depp’s Pirate of the Caribbean character Jack Sparrow — made entirely of Lego blocks.

The U.S. toy industry is hoping their latest products will spark a rebound from a lackluster holiday sales season in which demand petered out after a strong start.

U.S. toy retail sales rose 2 percent in 2010 after declines in 2009 and 2008, with sales in the recent holiday quarter up 3 percent over the prior-year period, according to market research firm NPD Group.

Reporting by Bernd Debusmann Jr., Editing by Patricia Reaney

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