Sunday, March 2, 2014

So the holidays came and went months ago and I look around and notice something is very different lately in homes with young children. Where are the toys and the fighting and yelling and even broken or lost pieces of games and puzzles that the kids are supposed to be accusing each other of destroying and they just got the stuff for Christmas or a recent birthday? The floors are bare, no truck to slide my feet on. No Barbie boobs to glance at since her shirt is half on. No giant puzzles made with the last few pieces found in the corner where the cat barfed a hair ball on it so no one will touch it. What is happening to America?

America used to be the land of the free and the brave vocal in protests and pride in our country. Now we have become the silent and the savvy. We all wear earphones and swoosh our hands over   Korean made tablets and fancy silent computers that   satisfy our every need and want in one slight movement of one hand. What is even worse is that we don’t need a single soul in the house to play a single game with. Nothing to hold or put together physically.  It is all there on the new mirror like gizmo piece of glass we even bought for the 4 year old this Christmas. I hate it but I do love my new tablet and computer. Sigh.

I remember when I was a young boy living with three sisters they even had a doll called Chatty Cathy that when you pull a string on her back the thing would always have something to say. It was like having 4 sisters. No earphones then for anyone. Her manufacturer was a household name to us all at one time. Let’s talk about just the famous Barbie. Now at age 54 she has had 145 careers and so many kinds of outfits to wear who knows if anyone ever counted all the accessories and shoes she has owned. Somehow one of her shoes always ended up in my Play Dough.

Barbie is one of the most popular toys on the planet worth billions to her owner Mattel. I prefer to know Mattel for all the great little metal Hot Wheels cars you could always sneak in your pocket and bring to school to make your day worth living. The current Executive Vice President Tim Killman is working hard to keep current and compete with the popular tablets that have kids racing in a real car race instead of just scratching up Mom’s furniture as far as their arms can reach with a Hot Wheels car. Yes, those were the good old days. And then blame the scratches on your sister’s annoying metal hair clips they left everywhere in your way. Do I need a therapist?

Mattel has a Fun Factory in El   Secundo, California where they tweak new ideas to keep toys in the hands of children.  They have their marketing design and packaging departments there. Engineers and designers all there under one roof. You feel like a kid again if you are luckily enough to visit there. Things like He Man, Fischer Price Toys, UNO, The   Magic 8 Ball that predicted our all so important future. There is a chemistry lab there where scientists make slime. If designers have a new idea for a toy they will just order it up on their 3D printer. There is a department just for doll hair. You can see the sewing machine penetrate the doll’s skull with a needle and leave a pike of hair on her head. Cool!
The best place is the Hot Wheels Garage which is a mini city of Detroit complete with car designers like Alec Tam. He admits that he was a real car designer for a short time but was annoyed that the job wasn’t that fun. All cars now look pretty   much the same. Working for Mattel is fun because he gets to design all different kinds of cars. Here his mini-van can be equipped with a jet engine. Cool. Yes imagination at work again like the old cartoons where they had dancing brooms.  Brian Stockton is Mattel’s CEO who is promoting different things to promote holding real toys again.

Matel’s newest push to get kids to hold toys again is   to have stores where girls can make dolls o look like themselves. It is Build a Bear times 3. It is called American Girl. At about $100 dollars per doll, the  stores are a huge money maker for Mattel. Some stores have their own hospital and hair salon. It is all a long way from 1945 when a couple needed some money and started to make doll house furniture from the left over wood from their picture framing business and then Ruth and Elliot Handler started Mattel.  Soon Mattel was in the toy business making deals with Dr. Seuss and Disney. Then in 1959 entered Barbara Millicent Roberts and keeping Barbie up to date is the job of designers who could have made clothes for the rich and famous but chose to work for Mattel. The only difference in their job is that they make fashion designs at an 11 and a half inches instead for a full size woman.

The problem facing toy makers today is that there are a lot of free options out there and a lot of digital ways to keep your child busy.   Monster High is a Mattel product of dolls featuring the kids of famous monsters going through high school. It is a Billion dollar brand that was launched as a music video on UTube  that led kids to a website that had the story line being played. Then the girls were lured into buying the real doll. It is the new way to advertise products and get kids hooked. Almost everything Mattel makes has its own story that you can find on line in the computer.

On line you can find a Barbie reality show and a Hot Wheels movie that will make your kid want to hold these characters in their hands so you can happily trip over them and yell at them to put your toys away before you go to bed. Yes, the good old days. Is remembering to plug in your tablet or computer fun? Nah!

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