I have conflicted feelings about Disney sometimes, and I know I’m not alone. As a librarian I despair when my students pass over beautiful books of fairy tales and folklore because they want the “real” Disney versions. As a multiracial person I wince at the ways they have historically depicted minorities. And as a geeky mom I wonder how I will keep my daughter from becoming princess-obsessed and dodge all the marketing aimed at her.
But…I also have really fond childhood memories of Disney films. Even though I never wanted to be a princess, I loved all of the princess movies. And I deeply, truly love their other animated films (The Great Mouse Detective, anyone?). In recent years they’ve brought some pretty progressive heroines to the screen, and they have an impressive history of buying up some of my favorite franchises (Star Wars, Marvel Entertainment, The Muppets). When they bought Pixar they aligned themselves with one of, if not the most, creative visual storytelling machines working today.
So I was excited to go to Disney’s holiday preview last week to see what they had to offer, and I brought my 15-month-old daughter along. The “Disney Dozen,” the twelve holiday gifts they’re really pushing this year, are pictured above. When I saw the Minnie Mouse cheerleader doll (MSRP $44.99, hitting stores this month), I cringed slightly…BUT, then I heard Minnie sing “Hey Mickey” and had a change of heart. That was extremely cool. Disney Infinity (Starter Pack $79.99), Disney’s answer to the insanely successful Skylanders, will be big news this holiday season, and I got a chance to see some of the figures for the game. The endless possibilities for this platform are just mind blowing.
I really wanted the chance to demo the game while we were there, but it was very popular and hard to get near. I glimpsed some gameplay, though, and I have to say I’m pretty thrilled with what I saw. The game has two modes: playset and toy box. If you put two characters from the same universe on the special Infinity base, along with their “playset” (Those clear plastic figures in the picture) the platform will launch their world with games unique to them—and only those characters can be in that world. I saw the Cars world, which looked like a driving game. But each playset has different games to match its characters. When you unlock new toys for your “toy box,” you can then build whole new worlds that mix and match the characters. This is where you get the character crossover that makes this game so unique. Mr. Incredible and Sully, who come in the Starter Pack, can hang out together and explore. Which is way more fun than I thought it would be. But I didn’t get a chance to see how you build a world or what you can do with it. It’s rated age 10+, and it’s available for every console. We’ll see when it’s released on August 18th.
The Disney Dozen also featured the Flying RC Iron Man ($79.99), made out of foam and promising to fly up to 300 feet in the air. It is substantial (19″ long), and I think this would be a pretty big hit come December (it will be available this fall). Sofia the First merchandise was heavily represented at the preview, including the Magical Talking Doll ($39.99, out now) that recognizes and talks to her three little animal buddies. The Pooh and the Sneezy Day gift set ($34.95, coming in November) is licensed through Hallmark, and the stuffed Pooh interacts during parts of the story. I thought the 56-piece Duplo Jake’s Bucky Pirate Ship set ($39.99, out now) looked fantastic. I kind of want one myself. And Tinker Bell: An Evolution ($40, October 1st) is just a really lovely history of how Disney’s most famous fairy has been illustrated over the years.
I did have my first taste of how the Disney princesses captivate little girls (and possibly little boys, I only had a girl with me). My daughter took one look at the Under the Sea Surprise Ariel ($29.99, August) and audibly sucked in her breath before lunging for it. When Ariel is put into water, her fin lights up and twinkles. She had been indifferent to everything else on display, but the second Ariel went in the water she was transfixed. I don’t know how Disney does that.
The Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader Action Figure ($29.99, August) was interesting. Vader’s outfit comes off to reveal Anakin Skywalker underneath, and the figure has different lightsaber colors and noises for the two characters. The Disney Dozen also featured a collection of seven dolls from the It’s a Small World Animator’s Collection ($29.50, October). There was also a featured app, called Disney Princess Hair Salon ($3.99, available this month). The graphics on this were very well done, but it was not my favorite. You can pick Belle, Cinderella, Ariel, or Rapunzel and style their hair different ways, then pick out and customize outfits for them and send them off to a fancy ball. I’m sure plenty of little girls would absolutely adore this app, but I would love to see Disney take those incredible graphics and do something a little more adventurous with them.
The last of these featured toys, the Pilot Pals Dusty Crophopper RC Plane ($39.99, August) may have been my favorite. Dusty comes with two paddles, “plane wings” that let you control him. Slide them onto your hands, and if you turn right, Dusty turns right. Who hasn’t flung their arms wide and pretended to be a plane? Now you can actually control one, on the ground at least. I really liked this one.
The rest of the preview was packed with great stuff as well. I was especially in love with these two Star Wars holiday outfit options:
My daughter may just be sporting the Hanna Andersson pajamas on the left, and I will definitely be wearing this ugly sweater-inspired tee on the right come Christmas morning. So. Awesome.
There were too many items to possibly cover every single one in detail, so here are my highlights:
Doc McStuffins is a big draw this year after she became a coveted, runaway hit last year. The bedding set is adorable, and I’m seriously thinking about the play doctor’s office for my daughter. That’s a really nice change from the traditional play kitchens.
The Ultimate Dream Castle is huge; it’s one of the “Big Ticket” items this year, priced at $189.99. Each princess has her own room in the castle, and if you pay $1.99 for the Disney Magic Mirror app you can hold your tablet up to the room and watch the app launch an activity featuring that princess. Again, the app had lovely graphics. And I actually appreciated how interactive the app was with the physical castle. But it is such a large toy, with so many accessories to play with, that I think kids could happily play with the castle alone.
I love the bright Monsters University nursery set, and if my daughter was still tiny I’d get the Finding Nemo playmat in a heartbeat. All of the baby gear was sweet.
Pretty much every franchise character is featured on an iPhone case this year, and the Star Wars Lego sets are spectacular. I also thought the Iron Man wall light was clever, too—the cracks are wall decals you put on the wall before mounting it (Thor’s hammer is also available). I can think of at least one friend who would rock a clingy Spider-Man dress, and I think the Marvel hoodies with fake muscles are hilarious. So are the other Hanna Andersson pajamas. And a new Origami Yoda book is on its way!
There was much, much more, but I think these are the items worth looking for this holiday season.