- The Washington Times - Friday, March 11, 2005

NEW YORK - Even American presidents managed to make it to this year’s American International Toy Fair, held Feb. 17 through 23. OK, the majority of them were 12-inch action figures, with the only living one being an actor portraying Abraham Lincoln. Still, they were at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, and all were willing to re-create some of their more memorable moments.

The company responsible for the history lesson, Toypresidents Inc., is just one of the small business success stories to come out of the toy industry in recent years.

After first releasing a George W. Bush doll in 2003, the company has expanded to an impressive lineup of more than 20 political dignitaries. These include Presidents George Washington and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. Coming soon are likenesses of historic figures such as Moses, Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein.

Dwayne Crosby, vice president of sales and marketing for the Houston-based company, attributes its quick success to recent election turmoil and the products’ authenticity.

“We actually have one of the few political products on the market that treat political figures in a respectful, historical and educational manner,” he says. “All of the figures we put out highlight individuals who have done something positive for the country.”

The figures’ popularity also reflects the care taken in creating their clothing, in decent facial sculpting and in voice chips that use actual quotes from the real officials — when possible.

Now let’s return to a company-specific roundup of products seen at the Toy Fair, paying tribute to comic-book, movie and cartoon licenses.

Sideshow Collectibles

Sideshow also has experienced a meteoric rise in stature as it has transformed itself from the home of 7-inch classic monster action figures to the premier source of licensed movie collectibles.

Besides 12-inch versions of “Planet of the Apes” characters, a 1/4-scale version of Darth Vader and a 24-inch-tall Dark Lord Sauron figure in the works, it has branched out this year to include some polystone pieces highlighting Marvel Comics icons such as the Fantastic Four’s Thing Maquette (available this spring, $175), based on the likeness of the movie-version hero, portrayed by Michael Chiklis, and a 16-inch-tall battle between classic enemies Wolverine and Sabretooth (available this fall, $250).

A Toy Fair highlight for me each year is stopping by the Sideshow booth to see one of its supercool displays, such as a life-size Lord of the Rings Ringwraithe or Gollum. Well, the company finally has capitalized on the work put into its display: Sideshow has made it into a product for sale. Dominating the booth this year was a life-size version of a T-800 Terminator Endoskeleton — which should be available for sale late this year at a price in the $5,000 to $8,000 range.

Megabloks

The other well-known building-block company took control of the Marvel Comics license this year and will be taking full advantage of it.

Fans can expect the Baxter Building Lab Collectors Tin, which includes five microfigures: Mr. Fantastic (with tiny stretch arms), Human Torch, the Thing, Dr. Doom and Invisible Woman (partially opaque) along with the home of the famed team (available this spring, 300 pieces, $29.99).

Next, the robotic Super-Tech Heroes features versions of the Thing and Human Torch. All include flip-up masks and a punching mechanism: Twist the hip and let it go, and the fist swings (available this summer, 50 pieces, $7.99).

Finally, the Marvel 2-Go construction kits combine an action figure with a vehicle; both are stored in a character’s sculpted-head package (ships throughout the year, 40 pieces, $5.99 each).

Mattel

The Warner Bros. film “Batman Begins” gives the maker of Barbie the perfect opportunity to expand its role as the leader of child-friendly Dark Knight-related merchandise.

Months before the movie’s release in June, children will find toy shelves packed with 5-inch action-figure assortments (starting in April, $5.99 each), deluxe Power Tek figures with light-up electronics (starting in April, $7.99 each) and the Gotham City play set, for use with the figures, which folds up into the shape of the Batmobile for easy transport (June, $56.99).

Additionally, younger Man of Steel fans can become their comic-book hero via the Superman Cape (available August, $19.99), which combines the famous long red garment with stereo surround-sound speakers and motion sensors to bring the experience of flight to life.

Toy Biz

The manufacturer of Marvel Comics action figures had a handful of multi-articulated gems and role-playing items to preview.

In honor of the new Fantastic Four movie hitting theaters in July, the company offers multiple waves of 6-inch figures (shipping in May, $6.99), the Electronic Thing Hands and Feet(shipping in May, $19.99) — which gives children a pair of soft foam hands containing motion-activated phrases and sound effects along with a pair of flexible feet with more motion-activated electronic sounds — and a 14-inch-tall Super Stretch Mr. Fantastic, whose pliable arms expand him to three times his size (shipping in May, $19.99).

Marvel Legends features a 6-inch figure and comic book, and over the next nine months, collectors will revel in shuttling through toy stores for the Series 9: Grey Hulk, Series 10: Mr. Sinister, and Series 11: First Appearance Thing (shipping in October, $6.99 each).

SDI Technologies

Under the company’s KIDdesigns subsidiary, high-tech Fantastic Four fans will want to check out the Laser Blaster game (available in July, $29.99). It allows a pair of children to compete by wielding futuristic weapons topped by Dr. Doom and the Human Torch figures as they shoot at wearable targets that activate sound effects when tagged.

Also, SDI’s new plug-and-play video-gaming line, Tech2Go, includes a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants and Monster challenge (available in August, $29.99) that incorporates a light gun (available in July, $29.99). There’s also a TMNT video camera (available in August, $39.99) that puts players on a television screen with their favorite green heroes to battle within five challenges.

Second of two parts.

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