Archive for November, 2009

Chia Obama! Yes, really.

Chia Obama
Chia Obama. Looking determined.

OK. Now I may have seen it all. And I thought the President Obama Action Figure was unusual.

Yes, it is the Chia Obama. For only $18.99 you too can own your very own President Obama handmade decorative planter. You get enough seeds for 3 separate growings. Unfortunately for our friends in the 49th and 50th states, it cannot be shipped to Alaska or Hawaii for some reason.

To quote on advertisement, "The Chia Obama is easy to set up, and it is fun to grow, achieving full growth in 1-2 weeks."

The Chia Obama is available in both a "Determined Pose" and a "Happy Pose".

If you’re stuck for a present for that hard-to-buy for person, this may be the ticket. The Democratic Ticket, that is. (Sorry.)

Are you being exploited by films?

GI Joe poster

We watched G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra this past weekend and I was most disappointed with it. Aside from the fact that I was slightly surprised with the amount of violence and profanity in a movie that is based on a child’s toy, it just wasn’t a very good movie. Too many villains, too many things blowing up, too many sound effects, and visually a mess.

I recently read an article that blamed the demise in recent years of Disney’s animated film juggernaut on the fact that parents began to feel exploited by Disney. Many parents began to feel that the long list of animated films such as The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Mulan, etc. had become nothing more than a tool to sell merchandise to children and parents, cranking them out each year just for the sake of toy and video tie-ins.

It certainly is true that not only Disney, but all major movie studios strive to have films that tie in well with toy and merchandise. In some cases, effects and gadgets are written into films just because they would make a great toy, or the toy already exists.

Years ago I remember hearing the little creatures from the original Star Wars trilogy referred to as "the oh-so-merchandisable Ewoks". That didn’t work out too well for George Lucas (if that’s what he had in mind), since parents didn’t flock to the store to buy plush Ewoks, but he has certainly made up for it with subsequent movies.

A quiet moment in GI Joe when nothing is blowing up.

The article I read wondered if the recent trend of big-budget movies aimed at boys such as Transformers and G.I. Joe may have reached its end for the same reason.

I have always disliked marketing that tries to make you feel inadequate if you do not have the entire line, summed up with the statement "collect all 37!" Licensed merchandise plays upon that by having an entire line of characters from a movie, the full complement of children’s sheets, or limited edition items such as Disney video’s that will only be on the market for a few months. I don’t like feeling manipulated.

I recently posted about Toy Story 3, and this got me thinking a bit about Pixar and their films. Pixar has had a string of film success that is unprecedented. I love Pixar. Now this may be partly because an old friend of mine worked for Pixar for a while (prior to Toy Story) and their CEO is Steve Jobs, also the force behind Apple Computer. But is it also because of the wonderful films they produce and the talent and creativity at the company. Many years Pixar has released the only great "G" rated film. I know this from experience trying to choose child-appropriate films for middle school band trips.

But Pixar’s first film, Toy Story, was almost made for merchandising. That may have partly been because the very new medium of computer animation lent itself well to animating toys. But the movie, either by accident or design, reinvigorated some classic toy lines such as the Slinky and Mr. Potato Head. One anecdote about the Toy Story movies is that Pixar wanted to include Barbie in the first Toy Story movie, but they were turned down by Mattel because they didn’t expect the movie to succeed and didn’t feel they needed them. By the time they made Toy Story 2, Mattel was calling Pixar to get Barbie in the film. The point is that Pixar certainly capitalized upon Barbie in the film.

On the flip side, the recent Pixar film, "Up" was nearly un-merchandisable. There really were very few opportunities for toy tie-ins in the film. Pixar seems to have elected to concentrate on making a good film rather than concern themselves with merchandising.

Pixar is now owned by Disney and they are making Toy Story 3 (something Pixar fought against for many years). Will Pixar eventually succumb to the temptation of cranking out films in order to drive merchandising? It will remain to be seen.

Pushalong wooden toy

At Dave’s Cool Toys, we do not carry any licensed toys. We prefer toys that are not tied to the popularity of a movie franchise. We don’t concern ourselves with fads or worry about what is "hot" this year. Some of the toys you can purchase on our site have been in-stock for 14 years, since we first started out. Some of them have been around long before that, but are now hard to find in the giant big-box toy stores. Sometimes toys we loved have become fads, but that’s not our fault, so don’t hold that against us. Many of our toys are also low-tech. Batteries die, electronics stop working, video games get old. But a great wooden toy can last for generations.

Three new Toy Hall of Fame inductees and the return of a great commercial

dodge ball
A ball.

On November 5, 2009, the National Toy Hall of Fame inducted three new toys.

The first one is the Ball. The ball, I assume, includes all balls. Dodge balls, baseballs, bouncy balls, etc. The ball is been around almost as long as Man. A ball is often a child’s first toy, yet they might still play baseball as an adult (or at least watch it).

Next is the Big Wheel. The Big Wheel was invented in the 60’s by Ray Lohr, head designer for Louis Marx & Co. After they went out of business in 1985, the big Wheel was marketed by Carolina Enterprises, and later Enterprise Industries. Currently it’s made by Alpha International. The Big Wheel put kids low to the ground, making skidding and spinning-out safe from rollovers (mostly). I did a quick search for the Big Wheel and was somewhat surprised to see that the price on Amazon for the Original Big Wheel
was $62.99. Yikes!

The Big Wheel

And last is the Nintendo Game Boy. The Game Boy portable video game came out in 1989 and was an immediate hit. The Game Boy certainly revolutionized video gaming and allowed kids to play on car trips, summer camp, and in school (which thrilled teachers).

The Ball and Big Wheel I have no argument with, but the Game Boy I’m not so sure about. Especially when you look at the list of previous inductees, which includes Crayola Crayons, Hula Hoop, Jump Rope, Teddy Bear, Lego, and, even the Cardboard Box. An argument could certainly be made for it, but it just doesn’t seem like a natural to me.

Thinking about the Ball, got me thinking and remembering a great commercial for Sony Bravia TV. The commercial features many bouncy balls (generic SuperBalls) bouncing down the streets of San Francisco and is set to music by José González called Heartbeats. Did they really do that? Yes! It took 23 cameras over 2 days with 250,000 balls on the streets of San Francisco. My favorite part is the riot shield that the director used to protect himself. Sony removed the original commercial from their site some time ago, and for some time all I could find were the crappy YouTube copy, but I just found a high-res "Bouncy Balls" Sony Bravia commercial on YouTube. View it below. It is amazing!

Dave’s AntWorks Day 35: Bring Out Your Dead

My AntWorks on day 35 (shown here in light with the Illuminator)

It’s been a while since I posted on the progress of my AntWorks. Today is day 35 since my ants arrived and went into their new home. They haven’t been very active for quite a few days, so there wasn’t much to post about. They are no longer tunnelling, and we’ve had quite a few ant deaths. I count about 12 ants left alive in our little "colony".

As you can see, they built about 10 tunnels through the gel. They also cleared out quite a bit of tunnel area in the bottom of the AntWorks. There are two small starter tunnels that I first created that the ants completely ignored. You can see them on the top towards the right.

The ants haven’t been quite as active in general recently. They spend most of their time in the bottom cavern area. Even so, there is usually at least one ant in the top area, on the "surface". This has prevented me from being able to clear out the dead ants, as the ones in the top try immediately to escape when the top is open. Within a few moments of opening the top, the ants in the tunnels race to the surface as well.

AntWorks top view
Now’s our chance to escape!

In the photo on the right, you can see all the deceased ant parts that are on the surface. I had the lid off for only a brief moment to take this picture and one ant escaped and had to be pushed back into the AntWorks. You can see two live ants attempting escape in this picture.

If you’re thinking of purchasing an AntWorks colony, you may be thinking to yourself "it’s cool, but I don’t want to deal with all the dead ants. That’s really gross". Well, I can see your point, but that is also part of life sciences. The ants do die. It is also interesting the way the ants bring their dead companions to the surface and usually bury them. They seem to have gotten a bit lazier about burying them now, but in the past, they had them quite well buried in the gel chunks that they had moved to the surface. One thing this illustrates is how well the gel provides for the ants as food, water, tunneling medium, and burial material.

Dead Ants
The carnage!

As for clearing out the dead ants, I have heard from a student that was part of the original Ants in Space program with NASA, and she assured me that I could refrigerate the ants to slow down their metabolism without harming the ants or the gel. I knew it wouldn’t harm the ants from the first day, when we refrigerated them to put them in the AntWorks, according to the directions, but I wasn’t sure what would happen to the gel. But this information has given me the courage to try it.

I refrigerated my AntWorks for 10 minutes, but when I checked my ants, they seemed more active than before! How strange. So I left them in for a bit longer. It took almost 25 minutes before they began to show signs of slowing down even a little. So, I took them out of the fridge, and took the top off, but they were still pretty active, and I had to really hurry to get the little body parts out. I wasn’t able to get them all because a few ants kept coming to the top and trying to get out, so I got out what I could quickly and closed my AntWorks up again. Since I was rushing, I didn’t get any pictures of this, but I took a picture of the bits I did manage to get out.

Dave’s Cool Toys Blog
We post news about new toys on our site, new toys in the market, general toy information, or stuff we just thought was cool (usually toys).

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Be sure to check out our toys at Dave's Cool Toys. We work hard to find toys you won't find at the big box stores. Now go out and play!

Dave Ference

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