TIME Retail

Here’s Why Barbie Is Having a Pretty Rough Month

The Biggest Barbie Collection Auctioned At Christies
Chris Jackson—Getty Images

World’s largest toy maker posts 61% drop in second-quarter profit as demand also falls for Fisher-Price and Hot Wheels brands

fortunelogo-blue
This post is in partnership with Fortune, which offers the latest business and finance news. Read the article below originally published atFortune.com.

Mattel’s iconic Barbie doll joined the popular social-network site LinkedIn this year and even appeared in a Sports Illustrated campaign, but both marketing ploys weren’t enough to drive sales in the latest quarter.

The world’s largest toy maker posted a sharp 61% drop in second-quarter profit as Barbie posted another sales decline and demand also fell for the well-established Fisher-Price and Hot Wheels brands. Results badly missed Wall Street’s expectations for the quarter, hurt by sales weakness across almost all categories.

But the sales woes for Barbie, which have plagued Mattel MAT -0.71% the past few years, are especially problematic. Barbie’s global sales slumped 15% in the latest quarter.

Worldwide sales of Mattel’s preschool Fisher-Price brands slid 17%, while Hot Wheels sales dropped 2%. The pricier American Girl doll segment was the lone bright spot, with sales rising 6%.

For the rest of the story, go to Fortune.com.

TIME Toys

Your Barbie Can Now Slay in a Suit of Medieval Armor

Dungeons and Dragons and Barbie?

Barbie has plenty of pantsuits and party dresses, but her closet is still missing the one outfit she never knew she needed: A suit of armor. And even better, it’s not pink. Designer Jim Rodda launched a Kickstarter in April to fund a 3D-printed design of a medieval armor suit that’s specifically made for Barbie.

Rodda, who isn’t affiliated with Mattel, wants to make Barbie powerful by outfitting her with intricate battle suits and weapons in his new “Faire Play” battle set. Rodda designs and sells the 3D blueprints, so customers can print the Barbie armor on their own 3D printers. Fans are given the option to buy three different types of outfits: A robe with swords and a Barbie medusa-faced shield; a highly adorned gold suit; and a silver suit of armor.

Rodda says the idea came to him when he was coming up with a birthday gift for his niece. “Back when I started this, my niece was obsessed with My Little Pony,” says Rodda. “So I wanted to make My Little Pony compatible glitter cannons.”

Rodda struggled to 3D print a spring for the cannons, so he turned to the next logical thing in the “little girl toy market:” Barbie. The “Faire Play” battle set is a result of the successful $6,000 Kickstarter campaign that closed with 290 backers. “They are the ones who have actually made this thing possible,” Rodda says.

Barbie may have shown her strength in 1965 when she went through astronaut training, Rodda points out, or her business chops with Entrepreneur Barbie, but he thinks the popular doll is stuck in the past.

“The fashion-obsessed part of Barbie’s personality pervades the collective consciousness,” says the designer. “I think Entrepreneur Barbie’s a step in the right direction, but ‘Babs’ is still carrying a lot of cultural baggage from the last 25 years. People are still bringing up 1992’s ‘Math class is tough!’ debacle, even though Mattel released Computer Engineer Barbie in 2010 and Mars Explorer Barbie in 2013.”

The designer hopes his “Faire Play” set will help young girls learn about 3D printing and foster their interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). “Maybe she grows up to be the one that invents the solution to climate change, or helps get humans to Mars,” Rodda says, “or becomes the nest Neil deGrasse Tyson and evangelizes a love of science for another generation.”

Collectors and 3D-printing enthusiasts alike stand among the ranks of customers eager to see the warrior Barbie, says Rodda. Even Rodda’s daughter, who was, “never a Barbie kid,” is helping design the armor suits.

“If there’s a lesson I’d like my daughter to learn from this phase in Barbie’s career,” says Rodda, “It’s that girls can grow up to do anything.”

Blueprints for the “Faire Play” battle set are available for $29.99 along with other 3D-printed fun..

TIME Toys

You’ll Never Believe How Many Lightsabers Disney Sells Every Year

Star Wars Fans Train As Jedis In Lightsaber Class In San Francisco
Students perform combat moves using lightsabers during a Golden Gate Knights class in saber choreography on February 24, 2013 in San Francisco. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

An elegant weapon for a more civilized age

Even though the next Star Wars film is still more than a year away, Disney is already reaping some healthy rewards from its $4 billion purchase of Lucasfilm: The media giant told Variety that it now sells 10 million lightsabers per year.

The multi-colored energy swords, a staple of the Star Wars universe, are sold as tiny keychains and as high-end full-size collectibles.

Expect to see more lightsabers out in the wild as Disney begins flooding the market with more Star Wars content. In addition to the upcoming film trilogy, the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars was recently revived on Netflix, a new cartoon series called Star Wars: Rebels is slated to launch on cable later this year and the action game Star Wars: Battlefront is currently in development for the Xbox One, PS4 and PC.

Star Wars merchandise helped Disney boost its overall retail sales to $40.9 billion in 2013, up from $39.4 billion the previous year.

TIME Culture

The Female Superhero May Finally Take Flight

I Am Elemental action figures I Am Elemental

A successful Kickstarter campaign for female action figures and action movies starring women promise a future where girls can kick butt too

G.I. Joe was built to be a hero. His body is engineered for action, not posing. So imagine if certain parts of his anatomy were so large that he fell over. How would he get any world saving done? That’s not a question that anyone seems to be asking about action figures modeled after Wonder Woman.

Why do these heroines look a lot more like Victoria’s Secret models than strong women capable of rescuing civilization (or at least bending their limbs)? Dawn Nadeau, co-founder of I Am Elemental, a new toy company for girls explains it like this: “The few female action figures that are on the market are really designed for the adult male collector. The form is hyper-sexualized: The breasts are oversized; the waist is tiny. When you make the figures sit, their legs splay open in a suggestive way.”

What was missing, Nadeua and her co-founder Julie Kerwin realized, were female action-figures who looked as athletic, powerful and flexible as the male-oriented toys like G.I. Joe and Captain America do. Thanks to overwhelming support from a KickStarter campaign — the company reached its $35,000 goal in the first 48 hours after launching in May and eventually went on to raise almost $163,000 from supporters in all 50 states and six continents — I Am Elemental‘s first group of action figures will hit toy stores this holiday season.

The toys come at a time when female superheroes are starting to invade the zeitgeist but still play second fiddle to men, as with Jennifer Lawrence in X-Men: Days of Future Past or Scarlett Johansson in The Avengers. Most toys are byproducts of what’s onscreen and are a large part of their profit: Last year, the success of the Hunger Games franchise inspired a set of purple and pink Nerf guns and crossbows for girls called Nerf Rebelle. But the swell of financial support for I Am Elemental proves that there is a demand for more strong heroines in both toy stories and our culture.

1009_sl_DF-09307_v04
Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Alan Markfield—TM and © 2013 Marvel and Subs. TM and © 2013 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

What’s different about the I Am Elemental action figures is that they don’t look anything like Barbie or, for that matter, Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique in X-Men, whose entire costume consists of blue body paint. The creators spent months perfecting the action figures’ measurements to make them as realistic, athletic and as non-sexualized as possible. “We were obsessed with the breast-to-hip ratio,” says Nadeau. “We were obsessed with the bum because so many of these figures have these incredible butt cracks on the back. We kept saying ‘Bridge the gap.” The result is a figure that’s decidedly feminine but could still leap into battle.

There are several action figures in the I Am Elemental sets. Each has a theme inspired by a historical muse (the first, based on Joan of Arc, is “courage”). And each figure in that set personifies a virtue and possess a power: For example, Persistence has the ability to push through any obstacle with super-strength.

Though all the characters are women, Nadeau says they hope the action figures can have a place in boys’ toy boxes too. “If you don’t over-qualify it and just say here’s a great toy play with it, the kids will be off and running. I don’t think everything needs to be gender specified,” she says. “I’d like to see them in the girl aisle and the boys aisle, next to Barbie and next to the Transformers. They should be in boys’ toy boxes too because 50% of the human population is female, and shouldn’t women be part of story lines that boys are creating?”

What toys girls play with when they are young affects how they perceive themselves and what they can accomplish later in life. In a recent study published in the Journal of Sex Roles, researchers asked one group of girls play with large-breasted, thin-waisted Barbie dolls and another group play with ambiguously shaped Mrs. Potato Head dolls. Upon interviewing the girls after they played, the scientists found that girls who played with Barbie believed they had far fewer career choices than those who played with Mrs. Potato Head. That was true even when Barbie was dressed up like a doctor.

It makes a compelling argument for giving girls tools to envision themselves as heroes. “Children feel so powerless, and that’s why they play. And the idea that you could be the person who could save the world is a very powerful story line and fantasy to have,” says Nadeau.

MCDAVEN EC005
Scarlett Johansson in The Avengers Walt Disney Co.

But no matter how popular I Am Elemental gets, it will never be as big as Marvel. The most popular action figures are based on blockbuster films, and Hollywood has been slow to correct the gender imbalance in summer blockbusters. Despite the success of films like The Hunger Games, Maleficent and Kill Bill — all of which feature powerful female protagonists — studios consider female-driven successes to be flukes rather than a formula for success: Recent studies found that women made up only 15% of protagonists and 30% of all speaking roles in the top 100 grossing films of 2013.

There have been plenty of women sidekicks on the big screen: Anne Hathaway as Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises; Halle Berry, Jennifer Lawrence and Ellen Page as X-Men in the X-Men films; Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow in The Avengers; and even Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts saved Tony Stark in Iron Man 3. But all of these women take a backseat to their more powerful, quippier and more heroic male counterparts. After all, these franchises aren’t named after the female characters.

Avengers director Joss Whedon, who tried and failed to bring a Wonder Woman film to the big screen in 2007, has expressed his frustration with the lack of female superheroes before. “Toymakers will tell you they won’t sell enough, and movie people will point to the two terrible superheroine movies that were made and say, You see? It can’t be done. It’s stupid, and I’m hoping The Hunger Games will lead to a paradigm shift,” he told Newsweek in 2013.

And even the female characters Whedon does get onscreen, like Black Widow, are too lame to attract some actresses. Emily Blunt says she was up for the Black Widow role in Iron Man 2 and the Peggy Carter part in Captain America and turned both down. “Usually the female parts in a superhero film feel thankless: She’s the pill girlfriend while the guys are whizzing around saving the world,” she told Vulture. “I didn’t do the other ones because the part wasn’t very good or the timing wasn’t right, but I’m open to any kind of genre if the part is great and fun and different and a challenge in some way.”

ALL YOU NEED IS KILL
Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow David James—(c) 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.- U.S., Canada, Bahamas & Bermuda (c) 2013 Village Roadshow Films (BVI) Limited- All Oth

Blunt currently stars in Edge of Tomorrow (an action flick featuring Tom Cruise in a Groundhog Day-like battle sequence), in which she cuts an imposing figure as the best soldier on the battlefield. She even mercilessly kills Tom Cruise over and over again every time the two reach a dead-end in their mission and he needs to restart the day. She’s no pill girlfriend but Cruise’s equal — if not superior — in power.

Edge of Tomorrow isn’t the only film that promises a heftier role for women in action movies. At the end of the summer, Scarlett Johansson will play a ruthless warrior in Lucy — the success of which may be a litmus test for whether Marvel feels comfortable green-lighting a Black Widow spin-off. Jennifer Lawrence will star in another Hunger Games film next year, and producers have hinted that she could also headline her own Mystique X-Men film. The original ambassadors of girl power, The Powerpuff Girls, are returning to children’s television in 2016, the Cartoon Network announced Monday. Wonder Woman will wield her golden lasso on the big screen in the 2016 Batman vs. Superman movie, and — if fans get their way — maybe even carry her own franchise.

On Saturday, DC Comics President Diane Nelson promised greater female representation in upcoming movies: “At DC Entertainment, we talk frequently about how we heighten the presence of female storytellers and creators with our comic books — digital and physical. How do we bring the female characters to light more?” she said. “We have more work to do. But I think if we talk again in a couple of years, you’ll be pleased with the results.”

Maybe then they’ll make a Wonder Woman action figure with a normal hip-to-waist ratio.

TIME Crime

Fully-Loaded Gun Found in Toy Aisle at Target

After Target Lowers Sales Forecast, Shares Plummet
Scott Olson / Getty Images

An employee found the weapon sitting in plain view

A real, loaded gun was found in the toy aisle of a Target in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, last Friday night. A worker happened upon the weapon, which was loaded with live ammo, resting on top of a superhero Playskool toy box, NBC affiliate WMBF reports.

According to a police report, a suspicious male was seen on surveillance video wandering up and down the toy aisles, including the aisle where the gun was later found. Target plans to release that footage to the public.

A Target rep sent WMBF the following statement:

The safety and security of our team members and guests is a top priority for Target. We take these matters very seriously and we are partnering with local law enforcement on this incident. Because this matter is under active investigation, we are unable to share additional information.

The incident came just a few days before activists launched a petition calling for Target to ban people from carrying firearms in its stores.

TIME Toys

Soon There Will Be Female Scientist LEGOs

A child plays with Lego building blocks
A child plays with Lego building blocks in 2010. Jim Watson—AFP/Getty Images

New "Research Institute" collection will feature women chemist, paleontologist, and astronomer

Get ready, LEGO fans: Tiny female LEGO scientists will storm toy aisles with their tiny scientific equipment starting this August.

That’s because the toy company just selected the Female Minifigure Set, which features a female chemist, a female astronomer, and a female paleontologist, as its latest LEGO Ideas Winner. Each scientist comes with their own equipment, including a chemistry lab, a telescope and a dinosaur skeleton, and the collection is called the “Research Institute.”

The idea was proposed by Dr. Ellen Kooijman, who wrote in her project proposal that professional LEGO figurines could “show that girls can become anything they want, including a paleontologist or an astronomer.”

Anyone can submit a proposal for a new LEGO set to the LEGO Ideas platform. Proposals that get more than 10,000 votes get reviewed by the company as a potential real-world project.

LEGO has been criticized for its lack of female toys after a 7-year old girl wrote to the company earlier this year asking why only male toys got to do cool things. In her handwritten letter which went viral, Charlotte Benjamin lamented that there were “more LEGO boy people and barely any LEGO girls” and observed that “all the girls did was sit at home, go to the beach, and shop, and they had no jobs, but the boys went on adventures, worked, saved people … even swam with sharks”

Benjamin was apparently not excited about the “Lego Friends” series, which features pink-clad figurines who get their hair done, make cupcakes, and drive around with their girlfriends.

TIME Crime

Police: Thieves Steal $15,000 Worth of Legos

Could the popularity of the Lego movie cause an uptick in crimes involving the plastic building blocks? Last month at Toyworld, a massive toy store north of Melbourne, Australia, robbers removed the store’s glass door panes, and went to town

Last month at Toyworld, a massive toy store north of Melbourne, Australia, robbers removed the store’s glass door panes, walked in, removed a CCTV hard drive, and stole $15,000 worth of Lego kits in two separate raids with the help of an escape van, according to police, AAP reports. In the thefts, Legos were the only goods taken—specifically, Lego Technics, the brand’s robotics line, and Lego City toys.

The professionalism of the operation suggests that the theives could be “could be part of a syndicate that are specifically targetting Lego,” according to Australia’s 3AW Radio. In fact, there’s a rash of Lego crime going on, and not just because the Police Building Kit is apparently on a lunch break. Legos are highly portable and easily resold, plus they’re more popular than ever as of late—the Lego Movie has earned over $400 million worldwide.

Either the robbers are capitalizing on a trend for commercial toys to profitably break the law in the Lego black market, or they were just inspired by the movie to create their own version of Legoland. And if it’s the latter, can we really blame them?

TIME Parenting

Airborne ‘Bouncy Houses’ Have Nothing on Those Dangerous Rubber Balls

Children's Bounce House Inflatable Jumping Playground
Getty Images

Reports of two "bouncy houses" rolling in the wind have raised questions about the inflatable ride's safety record, but they've got nothing on scooters, dolls and rubber balls

Inflatable “bouncy houses” have been in the headlines lately for two spectacular mishaps. A gust of wind lifted one bouncy house in Colorado off of the ground and rolled it end-over-end for roughly 200 feet on Sunday, injuring two children. This came just weeks after another airborne bouncy house in upstate New York sent two young children tumbling into the emergency room. The scares have put the iconic bouncy house’s safety record in the spotlight, and it indeed looks spotty—that is, until you compare it with injuries related to a rubber ball.

Each year roughly 265,000 children suffer from toy-related injuries, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Some toys lead to more injuries than others, and to find out which topped the charts, researchers surveyed 100 emergency rooms across the country. One clear chart-topper, vaulting past stilts, rockets and pogo sticks, was a run-of-the-mill kick-push scooter. It was followed by toy balls, toy vehicles and a third category labeled “not specified,” which closer inspection shows to be dolls, plush toys and action figures. The most injurious childhood amusements are also the most ordinary.

Injuries
And that makes sense, given that these toys are staples of the toy cabinet. Children are going to spend a lot more time on a scooter than inside of an inflatable castle that occasionally rolls through town (figuratively, one would hope). And children being children, almost any object over an extended amount of time can pose a risk. Researchers could not observe one statistically significant change in toy-related injuries between 2008 and 2012. The same toys seemed to cause the same injuries year in and year out. It’s a finding that won’t make headlines, but it might be of interest to a parent whose concerns might be momentarily fixated on a rolling bouncy house.

TIME movies

The Lego Movie’s Ninja-Themed Spinoff Set for 2016

Warner Bros.

Tron: Uprising's Charlie Bean will direct Ninjago, which centers on the toy franchise's ninja characters; a direct The Lego Movie sequel is also in the works

It appears “everything is awesome” for Warner Bros.’ blockbuster movie series about blocks. On Tuesday the studio announced a release date for its The Lego Movie spinoff: September 23, 2016.

Ninjago, which focuses on the toy franchise’s ninja-themed figurines, will be the directorial debut of Charlie Bean, who previously directed the animated series Tron: Uprising, Deadline reports.

The studio previously announced in March that Chris McKay will helm the The Lego Movie 2, which is the direct sequel to The Lego Movie. The original film — which TIME film critic Richard Corliss calledthe funniest, cleverest, most exhaustingly exhilarating animated feature in ages” — grossed $452.4 million worldwide after opening in February.

[Deadline]

TIME Technologizer

Anki’s Slot Cars for the iPhone Era Get a New Game, New Tracks and New Cars

Anki Drive
Anki's new cars, Corax and Hadion Anki

Whenever I write about Anki’s Anki Drive — a remarkable plaything that involves tiny robotic cars you control via iPhone — I call them a dazzling modern-era take on the slot-car racing of my youth.

They are. But strangely enough, until now, Anki Drive hasn’t been racing. The gameplay involves shooting tiny virtual weapons at other cars (controlled by your friends or artificial intelligence). Rather than being the fastest car, it’s often been advantageous to hang out in back so you can shoot at the ones in front.

And for all the ways Anki improves on old-school slot racing, it’s only offered one track — the giant, roll-up one it comes with. With slot car racing in its old-school form, you could vary gameplay by breaking apart the track pieces and reassembling them in new configurations.

With some new additions to its lineup, Anki is addressing both these issues. It’s giving its iPhone app a free update with a new game that really does involve racing: You compete to be the first to complete a set number of laps. The weapons are still part of the play, but the dynamics of the competition are meaningfully different, since you can’t win through pure violence alone.

The company is also rolling out two new tracks, each with the same dimensions as the original one (8.5 feet by 3.5 feet). “Crossroads” has a figure-eight layout, with an intersection where cars may cross each others’ path as they whiz by in both directions. And “Bottleneck” has an unevenly-shaped road, with one particularly narrow area that forces cars to squeeze through one at a time. You can play in either battle or racing mode on either track. They’re $99 apiece, and here they are…

 tracks
Anki

Then there are two new Anki cars, which go for $69 each. Like the others, they’ve got their own capabilities and personalities: Corax can use two weapons at once and works only in AI mode until you’ve beaten it on the track, and Hadion is Anki’s fastest car to date.

Anki’s cars may be physical, but a huge percentage of what makes its products interesting is the software that powers the experience. When the company does something like introducing additional tracks, it’s less about designing the new layout, and more about updating the iPhone app — which orchestrates the competition and keeps track of where the cars are — to deal with the new gameplay dynamics that layout introduces.

“People should expect products to change over time,” says Hans Tappeiner, Anki’s co-founder and president. “You see it with cell phones, but you don’t see it in this industry with toys. That’s just wrong. There’s no reason you can’t use software to make things better over time.”

The updated app and additional cars are available on Anki’s site beginning today. The two new tracks go on sale May 6.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser