Despite the fact that most American homes have toys in them (even those that are sans-kids), the general public still seems to know fairly little about the toy industry and how it works. Each year, thousands of toys hit the market, and for every one that makes it from development to production, there’s dozens more that have been pitched and failed. While most toymakers have in-house development teams, a good portion of new toys are developed by independent inventors or design studios who turn around and either sell or license their creations to one of the major companies. As a toy reviewer myself, I see a ton of toys come into The Toy Testing Facility at Rock Father HQ™ each year, and I’m always on the lookout for current and upcoming trends in play (I’m also on the Parent Advisory Panel for The Toy Insider and have served as a Play Influencer for the Chicago Toy & Game Fair). That said, when ABC invited me to take an early look at their new competition series, THE TOY BOX (premiering TONIGHT, FRIDAY, APRIL 7 from 8:00–9:00 p.m. EDT on ABC), I was intrigued – especially since I was able to see it in the screening room at Pixar Animation Studios with Jen Tan, Creative Director of Consumer Products for Pixar – a mentor on the show. The premise: Toy inventors present their concepts to a group of mentors and a panel of judges (kids!) with an ultimate goal of making it to the finals, where the winning toy will be produced by Mattel and sold exclusively at Toys “R” Us immediately following the season finale.
Much like Shark Tank with kids, Modern Family‘s Eric Stonestreet hosts the 8-episode series, while Sophia Grace Brownlee (“The Ellen Degeneres Show”), Aalyrah Caldwell (“Uncle Buck”), Toby Grey (“The Unexpected John Cena Prank”) and Noah Ritter (“The Ellen Degeneres Show”) serve as judges. Having seen the series premiere and one other episode, I can tell you that the kids don’t hold back. Having two little “toy experts” here at HQ, I know first-hand that things don’t get past a child.
In the series premiere, inventions include: Arya Ball – a reimagining of the soccer ball with special surprises inside; Wacky Worm Racing Game – a racing game where players dressed in a worm costume race to cross the finish line; Niya Doll – a multicultural doll collection who sings and speaks in multiple languages; Swurfer – a backyard swing inspired by a surfboard; and Party Cannon – a party game that launches toys, prizes and candy.
For this first episode, a few of the toys being pitched have at some point been available in the past, though certainly not in the mass-market form that Mattel could provide. In fact, I was contacted back in early 2014 by Babak Forutanpour, inventor of the Arya Ball, who was pitching me for coverage here on the site when he was in the process of doing a Kickstarter to launch his product (I passed at the time).
Also of note is the Niya doll, which has been licensed a few times over the years (going back to at least 1990), and released in varying forms. Creator Darla Davenport-Powell has been championing an entire Niya brand for decades, and was actually a finalist on another ABC series, American Inventor, back in 2007.
“We’re always looking for newness, always looking for innovative products — and there’s a lot of growing that the toy industry can do in terms of also what kind of products they offer to kids,” noted Jen Tan after checking out the series premiere with a live audience for the first time. “The Niya doll is one thing — even though you see a lot more diversity now in toys, I think there’s still a long way to go.” Will Niya make it to The Toy Box and finally make it to the big time? You’ll have to tune-in to find out!
For Tan, who studied Toy Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) before embarking on a career adventure that found her spending time at Disney Consumer Products and Spin Master prior to landing at Pixar, 2017 is off to a massive start as the release of The Toy Box (her first on-screen TV gig) comes just ahead of a massive toy launch this May. Disney•Pixar’s Cars 3 will be out on June 16, and in early May a full assortment of new toys from the film will be hitting retail, spearheaded by some all-new vehicles and playsets from Mattel. Look for more on that (from the #Cars3Event) here on The Rock Father™ Magazine in the weeks ahead.
THE TOY BOX will air on ABC Friday nights at 7pm ET, just ahead of SHARK TANK. For updates, follow the show on Facebook.