The 116th annual International Toy Fair just wrapped up in New York City, giving us a look at the latest trends in play for the upcoming year.
There was SO much to see, and we had a lot of fun taking it all in! Here are the top 10 play trends we saw at Toy Fair NY!
Toy Fair NY
The North American International Toy Fair is an annual gathering of members of the Toy Industry from around the world. Big toy brands and start-ups alike attend to show off the latest in toys and play. It is THE place to see what the big toys are going to be for the whole year.
We are so grateful to the Toy Association for allowing us to attend. Our second Toy Fair was not quite as overwhelming as the first. But with over seven football fields worth of toys, games, and other fun things to see, it’s nearly impossible to do even in four days!
2019 Play Trends
The play trends we’ve identified here come mainly from our first-hand experience at Toy Fair NY, attending the Toy Association’s Toy Trends Briefing, and through what we saw in social media and other press coverage. Some of these toys are available now, and where possible, we’ve linked to them.
Table of Contents
Move over unicorns! The Llama is getting some time in the spotlight. From figures to plushes, and even interactive pets, llamas are definitely trending. It seemed like every booth we visited had a llama in it! Okay, maybe not all of them. But it was definitely the first trend we noticed!
Some may say the llama craze was brought on by Fortnite and toys like the Llama Drama Loot Pinata by Jazwares. But there were also llama plushes from Aurora World, as well as “Who’s Your Llama” figures from Jakks Pacific, each with its own personality. There are “Pajama Llamas” coming later this year from Moose Toys. And though not technically a llama, Mattel’s “Hackin’ Packin’ Alpaca” game is a close relative who’ll spit on you!
But somehow we missed the twerking llama. Zuru Toys’ Boppi the Booty-Shakin’ Llama has become a viral sensation!
“Next Level” Unboxing
Unboxing continues to be a trend this year, with toymakers taking the fun of opening a toy to the next level with added layers of anticipation and even more surprises. A few of them have come up with ways for kids to unbox over and over again.
L.O.L. Surprise! from MGA Entertainment, the Toy of the Year Award Winner, continues to build on their success with even more unboxing play. Blume Dolls from Skyrocket Toys come in flower pots that you water to reveal which doll is inside when its hair “blooms” this summer. Pikmi Pops Surprise! DoughMi’s from Moose Toys come in cool donut shaped packaging that doubles as a toy and storage for your collectibles.
Don’t want the unboxing to stop? Beaker Creatures from Learning Resources now have a pod maker for you to encase your creature or even other toys all over again. Pinata Fiesta coming soon from Jakks Pacific are fun cases with multiple compartments for unleashing surprises, and then can be used over and over!
Treasure X will be bringing us “Aliens” which will add slime to the unboxing as you dissect an alien pod and find the parts of your figure in the gooey insides. This leads us into our next trend…
Slime and squishies were all the rage last year, and the slow-rising tide has apparently lifted all compounds. Sand, slime, putty, and dough were everywhere at Toy Fair this year. Usually fun to play with on their own, we noticed compounds finding their way into other types of play.
Crayola’s Silly Putty Silly Scents combine sweet or stinky smells to the fun of squishing. Zephyr (Zephyr) and SloFlo from Play Visions are sculpting compounds that act in new and different ways. And Orb Slimi Cafe (Orb) takes squishies and slimes and brings them together in a very satisfying way!
Games that used compounds to add to the fun were Sculptapalooza (Educational Insights), Meltdown (coming from Playmonster by Fall), and ThinkFun’s Thinking Putty Puzzle, and the Ultimate Putty Challenge from Barry and Jason.
Retro Toys with Updates
Another trend that is continuing from last year is the nostalgia factor. Toys that adults loved when they were kids are coming back to be enjoyed again. And these toys aren’t just being dusted off, re-packaged, and resold. They’re getting some updates as well to make them more 21st century.
One of our favorites was Playskool’s Mr. Potato Head Movin’ Lips. The mouth moves around his face when he talks/sings and he mumbles if it’s removed! And if you loved Cabbage Patch Kids, Wicked Cool Toys has brought them back with new friends and accessories, but with the very same smell that will instantly bring those memories flooding back!
2019 marks some big anniversaries, and that means special toys! Here are a few of the big milestones we saw getting attention at Toy Fair:
- Batman (80th)
- Barbie (60th)
- Sesame Street (50th)
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar (50th)
- Little Tikes (50th)
- Little Mermaid (30th)
- SpongeBob SquarePants (20th)
- LEGO Star Wars (20th)
Play food has always been around. The trend this year is that the food toys we saw were all super-adorable. And the food play is not simply about pretending to cook or shop.
In collectibles, we saw the cute DIY Mini Grocery Shop kit by Klutz. And Shopkins Real Littles (Moose Toys) are shrinking some of your favorite brands into their collection like Pop Tarts and Welch’s jelly! Littlest Pet Shop Lucky Pets will arrive to be unboxed by breaking open a fortune cookie. Not to be outdone, Basic Fun’s Cutetitos are cute plushes that come rolled up in tortillas.
But the fun is not limited to fake food. We saw a number of kits for making tasty treats you can actually eat, like the Gummy Candy Lab from Thames & Kosmos, the gross but delicious Chocolate Poop Maker from Jakks Pacific where you can make candy using a toilet bowl, and Foodie Surprise (Redwood Ventures) which combines unboxing with DIY gummy candy.
At the Toy Trends Briefing, the Toy Association talked about inspirational and aspirational toys. We’re adding inclusivity to this trend and calling it “empowerment” play.
First up we have the career-oriented play that the experts talked about. Instead of generic occupations, we saw very specific ones like Little Medical School Pediatrician, Veterinarian, and Sports Medicine Kits. And the STEM at Play kits from Hand2Mind go one step further than introducing skills by connecting that play to a career or real-life figure.
While the career toys tells kids what they can be, inclusive toys celebrate kids for what they are. For 60 years, Barbie has been empowering kids, but they have finally featured dolls with disabilities in an inclusive way in their fashionistas line, with both a doll in a wheelchair that can actually be used in the dreamhouse, and another with a removable prosthetic limb. And though it might not seem like a big deal to some, we were thrilled to see Shopkins Shoppies (Moose Toys) and Hairdorables (Just Play) both introduced boy dolls into their lines this year.
The third empowerment trend that stood out to us was inspiring literacy. We believe that when you read just for the enjoyment of reading, it counts as play. And we saw a lot of examples of physical play being paired with books to inspire that love of reading. We saw an entire line of Dr. Seuss books and character toys from Aurora World. Grow your own butterfly kits paired with Eric Carle’s classic “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”. And IamElemental paired books with their innovative action figures that showcase courage and wisdom as superhero traits.
Speaking of superheros, this year will be a big year for movies, and the toys they inspire. Toy Fair featured many toys that are being released ahead of some highly-anticipated films.
Two highly anticipated Marvel movies are set to hit theaters in the next couple of months. Look for “Captain Marvel” and “Avengers: Endgame” toys in stores now! And while we were checking out the lineup of LEGO Movie 2 sets at Toy Fair, our kids went to see “The LEGO Movie 2” with their grandma. We’re already trying to collect all the minifigures from the movie!
The Summer will bring “Toy Story 4” and “Pokemon Detective Pikachu” to theaters. We saw great LEGO sets for Toy Story 4 and a whole line of Detective Pikachu toys at the Wicked Cool Toys booth. And mark October 4, 2019 down on your calendar. That date is going to be “Triple Force Friday” AND the launch of “Frozen Fan Fest”. That will be a big release day for toys in advance of “Frozen 2” and “Star Wars: Episode IX”.
While Movies and TV have traditionally been the biggest influencers in what toys kids want to play with, more and more kids watch YouTube these days. Viral hits and YouTubers with large followings are bringing their influence to the play spaces this year.
Ryan’s World is back this year will all-new toys to follow up on his popular debut last year. Joining Ryan are gaming family FGTeeV, and fortnite gamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins. Fortnite characters are also jumping from the screen to toys this year, with a Battle Royale Collection of figures and their own Nerf blasters.
Interactive toys like last year’s Toy of the Year co-winner Fingerlings are trending in 2019. Following up on last year’s success, WowWee introduced Narwhals to their popular Fingerlings and Dragons to their Untamed line. Myla (Vtech), is an interactive unicorn.
Juno from Spinmaster is an adorable interactive elephant. The company also took its popular hatchimal technology and created the Hatching Toothless dragon eggs for “How to Train Your Dragon 2”. And Harry Potter fans will soon be able to get their own interactive Hedwig owl.
Screenless Coding Toys
Part of the huge STEM/STEAM trend, coding play was again popular at this year’s Toy Fair. In particular, we saw an emphasis on toys that taught coding in a very simplified way.
Toy of the Year Award winner Botley, the coding robot (Learning Resources), Coding Critters (coming from Learning Resources), and Code-a-pillar Twist (coming from Fisher Price) are screenless toys that introduce coding concepts to young minds.
Artie 3000 (Educational Insights) does use a screen, but can also be directed by remote control. Artie is a robot that takes your code and uses it to make art by drawing with markers. Seeing what you code expressed in art is an amazing way to make the connection between coding and the results of your hard work.
The basics of coding are sequencing and problem-solving. Which is why coding doesn’t necessarily need to be electronic at all. Two good examples of this are Gravitrax and
Augmented Reality hit the scene a while back, and 2019 seems to be the year that it really comes into its own. What we love about AR is that it uses a screen but still keeps one foot in the physical world.
LEGO Hidden Side are sets with a whole new level of play that gets revealed as you try to catch ghosts you can only see through the app, but activate with the sets. PaiBotz are robots you build and code and then watch interact with their augmented reality environment. SnapStar dolls (Yulu Toys) can be put into different environments with the app and green screen.
Pictionary Air (mattel) will take the drawing game off of paper this summer as players draw in the air and their clues show up on screen. If you thought the traditional game was hard, try drawing in the air! And the Orboot Globe (Shifu) comes to life through AR to tour the world. We think it’s a great way to inspire learning about the world.
More to Come in Play This Year
Toy Fair had thousands of toys to see, but there is more to come. Some of these toys are available now. Others will be available soon or later in the year. Many brands were only showing their lineups for the first half of the year, with more to be revealed leading up to the holidays.
So which of these trends has you most excited to play this year? Let us know in the comments!