Oldies But Goodies: The (Toy) Gang's All Here

Skipper is back. P.J. Sparkles is back. G.I. Joe is back. We'll let you know when we hear about She-Ra.

Toy makers, running scared from the economy, are forgoing the expensive development of new toys and going with proven winners instead. We already know about the travesty that is Shortcake 4.0, but prepare to bow in recognition next time you prance through Toys R Us: Skipper, Barbie's little sis, is back, as is some 1971 Barbie camper (a not-so-subtle nod to the housing crisis?), anniversary editions of Transformers and Candy Land, and a newly-imagined G.I. Joe.

It's cheaper and less risky to revamp an old friend. Says the Wall Street Journal,

Launching a new toy is expensive, and there's no guarantee of success. For example, Mattel is estimated to have spent more than $1 million on advertising and design for Flavas, a hip-hop doll line introduced in 2003 to compete with MGA Entertainment Inc.'s popular Bratz line. But the dolls never sold well, and Mattel discontinued them the next year.

None of which really explains why Zizzle LLC is reintroducing the vaguely-remembered P.J. Sparkles, "who has a tiara that lights up and a dress that can be transformed into pajamas." Is any old toy considered a good idea, even one whose, um, skills make no sense and are objectively unimpressive? One can only assume there's an attempt to play on parental nostalgia and ideas of comfort as much as children's - to whom, after all, such a toy is as much a novelty as something brand-spankin.' P.J. Sparkles and Skipper (the G-rated Barbie, after all) are markedly unsexy, and if the economy means an end to the precocious Bratz trend, well, some might call that a silver lining. However, if the Strawberry Shortcake tween makeover is any indication, P.J. Sparkles' nightie could be a diaphanous negligee and Skipper could be dolled up like a teen starlet on a spree. Our very unscientific observation of toy trends has given us the distinct impression that children are not credited with much imagination: the thinking seems to go that they want toys that reflect their world, rather than provide a means of escape or adventure. Children are capable of imagining beyond their own tween years, and it would be paying them a compliment to reflect this. But then, in this economy, maybe pajama outfits are as big as anyone can think.

Toy Makers Reach Into Product Attic [WSJ]