NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Toymakers are betting on blockbuster movies, pop stars and an iconic relationship to sell toys in 2011.
The Toy Fair being held in New York City this week is hoping to stir excitement in the sector after an overall lackluster holiday season. In 2010, toy sales grew 2% in 2010 to $21.87 billion, according to the NPD Group, with online toy sales buoying results with a 22% surge. The strongest category was plush toys, which saw sales climb 18%, followed by building sets, which spiked 13%. Dolls and preschool toy sales increased 6%. With more than 1,100 vendors vying for attention at the Jacob Javits Center this week, TheStreet narrowed down the massive pile of new toy offerings to our picks of the top toys of 2011...
Sweet Talkin' KenEven at 50, Ken apparently still has the right moves -- and hair. According to Mattel propaganda, the plastic heartthrob wooed back Barbie this week, exactly seven years after the iconic couple split in what was deemed the breakup of the millennium. The blonde bombshell was, according to the company, won over by Ken's showers of affection via billboards in Times Square that read "Barbie, you're the only doll for me," and his Facebook and Twitter pages.
Ken, who is celebrating his 50th birthday this year, is apparently out to prove that he is a new man in 2011. To commemorate his birthday (and new persona) Mattel ( MAT) has launched Sweet Talkin' Ken -- who presumably knows exactly the right thing to say. By pressing on Ken's heart, girls can record messages that play back in three different voices, including "Ken's" voice. Ken also has a new look -- more boy-band than George Clooney -- and sports jeans, a graphic t-shirt and a haircut that resembles that of Justin Bieber. Sweet Talkin' Ken is available now for $15.99.
Justin Bieber CollectionJustin Bieber may not have won a Grammy, but he is winning the toy market. The Bridge is launching the new Bieber collection to capitalize on the mega-music sensation. The line, which includes a revamped doll and transforming tour bus play set, was unveiled in New York this week following the release of Bieber's movie Never Say Never over the weekend.
The new Bieber doll has the teen's real hairstyle, after fans loudly voiced their desire to be able to style Justin's hair. "When we introduced the first series of Justin Bieber dolls right before the holidays last year, the most frequent comment we heard from fans - besides how much they love them -- was: 'Why doesn't he doll have Justin's hairstyle that you can comb?'" Jay Foreman, president of The Bridge, said in a statement. The doll, with a suggested retail price of $17.99, also sings some of Bieber's most popular songs, and features several fashion collections and accessories. The Rockin' Tour Bus and Concert Stage play set, with a suggested retail price of $79.99, also contains a spinning floor, an mp3 dock with speakers and a backstage lounge. Hysterical 13-year-old girls not included.
Hot Wheels Video RacersHot Wheels is becoming interactive, with its new Video Racers on sale this fall. Mattel has implanted video cameras into the miniature race cars to allow children to shoot footage of the cars traveling along the track. The video is stored on the car and can then be downloaded to a computer by plugging it into a USB that comes with the car. These Hot Wheels cars can also be used as accessories by popping them into protective cases that attach on to almost anything, including skateboards, bikes and helmets.
Rock Star MickeyFor a new generation of Dance Star Mickey fans -- and you know who you are -- this year Fisher Price will launch Rock Star Mickey. "This year with Rock Star Mickey, we're bringing the pure magical experience of music and movement to the youngest fans. It's all about the fun and excitement of being in the rock star moment," Diana Dunn-Graves, vice president, marketing at Fisher-Price, said in a statement. "Mickey will encourage kids to get on their feet, sing, dance and rock along with him. We think he can even teach today's artists a move or two."
Mickey plays three classic rock songs, including You Really Got Me. Aspiring children's singers can also rock out with Mickey through the "You're a rock star" mode. Rock Star Mickey will be available on Sept. 13 and will retail for $49.99.
Movie FranchisesToy makers are capitalizing on some blockbuster movie launches this year, including Green Lantern, Happy Feet 2, Cars 2 and The Smurfs. Mattel's Fisher-Price division inked a deal with DreamWorks last week giving it the exclusive license for DreamWorks Animation.
The first of the toy collections will be tied to Kung Fu Panda 2 and The Penguins of Madagascar. The lines feature a Kung Fu Po Wrestler, which makes sound effects as you wrestle with him, and Regurgitating Rico Launcher, which spits out popcorn balls. Other movies making appearances at the toy fair this year include Thundercats, Transformers 3, and Thor. --Written by Jeanine Poggi in New York. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jeanine Poggi. >To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/jpoggi. >To submit a news tip, send an email to: email@example.com.