Since Hasbro holds the toy license for Star Wars and for Disney movies, it is no surprise that licensed merchandise makes up a major portion of the company's 2002 offerings; but in contrast to the heady days of the late 90s, Hasbro has pruned back its offerings. This reflects the relatively modest size of even the most successful licensed toy properties in 2001. Advertising Age reports that Hasbro's Monsters Inc line generated around $75 million in 2001, while Mattel's Harry Potter line generated around $160 million. So now even Hasbro's Star Wars line, its biggest initiative of 2002, looks modest in comparison to what it offered for Star Wars Episode I. The reaction to the overhyping of Episode I and Episode I merchandise induced Lucasfilm to adopt a different strategy this time around (see 'Spider-Man vs. Episode II'), and this more modest approach is reflected in Hasbro's new Star Wars offerings.
Hasbro's more cautious approach is even more evident in other licensed lines. The entire toy line for Men in Black II consists of figures of the two agents and a vehicle or two, and Hasbro has very scaled-down offerings for Medabots and almost nothing new for the Butt Ugly Martians. On the more positive side Hasbro is expanding its proprietary G.I. Joe lineup of action figures and is providing a major push for its battling tops game, Beyblades (see 'Nelvana Nabs Beyblades'), as well as continuing to develop its anime-inspired lines Transformers and Zoids.
As is the case with all the major toy companies, the quality of Hasbro action figure offerings continues to rise thanks to high tech scanning techniques, which provide excellent likenesses and superb detail for action figures. Simulation of combat is increased with 'battle damaged' elements that can be activated if a figure (or vehicle) is hit. This year Hasbro also flexed its hi-tech muscles by employing the latest speech recognition technology in its R2-D2 Astromech Droid, an 18-inch toy that recognizes 40 spoken phrases, is equipped with infrared sensors and a working sonar navigational system.
The line may be smaller than it was for Episode I, but it is still very extensive with two series of basic figures (done in the classic Star Wars 3.75' scale). The Jedi figures have a magnetic hand feature that allows them to use the 'Force' to move a lightsaber into their hands. The key characters are also available as Deluxe figures with more detailing and accessories, and this year's line also includes two attack beasts and an array of vehicles. New for this year are Star Wars Unleashed Figures -- highly detailed 7' action figures that may match McFarlane Toys offerings in scale and detail, but at $14.99/$15.99, probably not in price. The 12' Star Wars figures come clothed in their regulation uniforms at $24.95 and with electronic speech and sound effects for $5 more. The 12-inch Ultimate Jango Fett just might turn out to be a big hit with kids (it's got spring-loaded weapons) and collectors (the ancestor of their favorite bounty hunter) alike in spite of its approximately $50 price tag.
Hasbro relaunched its Transformers line last August with the release of the first Transformers: Robots in Disguise figures. This August a new series of Transformers Armada figures will hit retail. The Armada figures include Mini-Cons, which can be combined and integrated with other figures in many ways. The Armada Super Base is a giant Optimus Prime. When the truck transforms into a robot, the trailer automatically (via infrared sensor) transforms into a space base.
The Transformers are definitely in the midst of a revival (see 'Top Movie/TV Merchandise Stories of 2001'). Dreamwave Productions has acquired the license to create Transformers comics (see 'Dreamwave Gets Transformers License'), and the first wave of Hasbro Transformers toys (Robots in Disguise) did reasonably well at retail. The problem for the Transformers will be exposure on US TV after 4Kids Entertainment takes over the Fox Saturday Morning Cartoon block on Sept. 1 (see '4Kids Gets Fox Block').
These battling tops were the number one toy craze in Japan last year. Players customize their tops and then send them into battle in a special 'Beystadium;' the last top spinning wins. Hasbro has licensed the original Beyblades from Japan and is hoping that the tops catch on here, but a host of similar battling tops games from other companies may make a Japan-like boom impossible here in the States.
Medabots is another property that will be in trouble if it doesn't find a new home once 4Kids takes over the Fox block. Never a highly rated series in Japan, Medabots could be a casualty of the Fox network's abandonment of children's programming. Hasbro's Metabots lineup is relatively small headed by the electronic talking Super Metabee.
The Zoids anime series is safely ensconced on the Cartoon Network, for the time being at least, so this line of ingenious toys continues with more of the bio-mechanical marvels from Japan. Never a huge hit in the US, perhaps because the action figures have either windup or battery-operated power supplies, Hasbro is hoping that the Zoids anime series will pique interest in this classic toy line.
G.I. Joe is so hot lately that he doesn't need cartoon exposure; he gets enough on the national news. Hasbro continues a two-pronged approach with this property, highly detailed historical series for collectors (the D-Day Collection) that come complete with cloth uniforms, and play-oriented modern figures (G.I. Joe vs. Cobra) targeted at kids. The kids' figures come in the classic 3.75' size familiar from those days in 1980s when G.I. Joe grappled with COBRA before, as well as in a new 12' figure format. Collectors and kids alike will enjoy the G.I. Joe Military Figures that feature authentic uniforms and accurately depicted accessories for specialized fighting units like Navy SEALs.
Hasbro has clearly chosen Treasure Planet as the most 'toy compatible' Disney project of the year, though the Disney studio is putting out Lilo & Stitch in the prime summer release spot. Lilo & Stitch is the story of a cute little alien (Stitch) who befriends a cute little Hawaiian girl (Lilo). This is a property that calls out for plush, and that is exactly what Hasbro provides. Treasure Planet, a retelling of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic adventure yarn in a retro science fiction setting, is sure to anger anime fans, who are still angry over The Lion King's similarity to The Jungle Emperor, but will it be able to compete with the new Harry Potter film at the November box office? Hasbro's Treasure Planet line is not large, but it does contain some cool toys, especially a 13 ' electronic talking figure of the film's robot B.E.N. and Jim's Solar Surfer vehicle.
2002 doesn't look to be a great year for the Caped Crusader on the big screen, though better times may be coming soon (see 'Superman Movie Gets Charlie's Angels Director'). Hasbro's 2002 lineup of Batman toys, which is limited to a single series of glow-in-the-dark figures, reflects the franchise's low profile.
Butt Ugly MartiansThis toy line, which is based on the cartoon series currently running on Nickelodeon, just hit retail in this winter. Hasbro is in a definite 'wait and see' mode with this property and is merely offering one new 12' electronic B.U.M. figure for 2002.