Thinking back to my childhood, I never actually owned a legit toy box. I kind of just tossed my toys in piles. Marvel Secret Wars figures in the closet. Hot Wheels under the bed. Uno cards on my bookshelf. You get the picture.
In a sense, you could say my entire house was a toy box, with ample playability just an arms’ length away. Now as an adult, I still don’t have a real toy box, but I do have a home office with oodles of toys taking up most of my bookshelf. Plus, we have a basement where I can just “hide” my favorites right there among my kids’ toys too.
Toy making is a monstrous industry. Always has been, always will be. And because of that, just about anyone with a good idea can make it big. How many times have you as a parent whipped up a quick toy invention to make your kids happy? Well, ABC TV is tapping into that very creativity with its brand new series The Toy Box, premiering on Friday April 7 at 8pm EST.
Hosted by the hilarious Eric Stonestreet (Cam from Modern Family), the show takes a unique and fun approach to other series like Shark Tank. Would-be toy inventors first get to tell their stories and show off their toys to a panel of three experts: Dylan’s Candy Bar owner Dylan Lauren, toy guru Jim Silver and Pixar Creative Director of Consumer Products Jen Tan. If the majority of these mentors give the thumbs up, then the inventor and their toy move on to The Toy Box!
What’s The Toy Box? Well, it’s a chance to show off your toy to the toughest, hands-on panel of judges you’ll ever face. Yep, a quartet of very opinionated kids!
These no-holds-barred judges are not afraid to speak their minds, nor to truly put these toys to the test!
Meet the kid judges from The Toy Box:
Sophia Grace Brownlee (The Ellen Degeneres Show)
Aalyrah Caldwell (Uncle Buck)
Toby Grey (The Unexpected John Cena Prank)
Noah Ritter (The Ellen Degeneres Show)
What does the winner get? Mattel will actually produce their toy, which will then be sold exclusively at Toys R Us!
For some contestants who’ve spent decades putting their blood, sweat and tears into their toy (not to mention their kid’s entire college fund!), this is a life-changing event.
Recently, I had the pleasure and privilege to join a few dozen bloggers on a fabulous Disney Trip to Pixar Studios out in California for a #Cars3Event. Besides getting a tour of Pixar (coming soon! Spoiler: OMG, was it amazing!), we had a private screening of the first episode of The Toy Box. It was insanely entertaining!
I’m so not a fan of reality shows in general. I do enjoy Shark Tank, though, and The Toy Box is full of just about everything that I love. There’s the toys themselves (I’m still just a big kid), the business side of the toy industry, and then judges who actually would use the products they’re reviewing.
The kid judges are perfectly cast too, each with their own style. Noah, though, is far and away the best of the bunch. This red-headed kid has a definite future in comedy. Whether he means to or not, he’s downright hilarious.
I can’t wait for the show to air so I can watch it with my whole family. It’s the kind of fun series that even my kids would enjoy, as I’d love to see which toys they’d pick to move on and which they couldn’t care less about.
Besides screening The Toy Box, we had some time to sit with Pixar Creative Director of Consumer Products Jen Tan, who was just incredibly sweet and forthcoming with her answers. It’s obvious she loves her job and really connected with all the inventors on the show. You practically feel your own heart breaking as she reluctantly tells contestants that they won’t be moving on to the next round.
It’s also obvious that Jen knows her toys, especially when it comes to making a really good toy. But there is a built-in danger with toy making. “It’s hard because as an adult, sometimes you forget what it’s like being a kid,” she said. “And how to play – which is why I love this show. I always look for something that is not a one trick pony. So you can play with it multiple times and there’s various ways to play with it.”
The toy mentor also pointed out that a good toy is one that allows a child to be creative and really use their imagination. These days, so many toys are built around tech, which can be fun for sure but it can also be a bit repetitive, said Jen. “That’s why I love this show,” she added, “because a lot of these toy makers, their inventions are not necessarily tech related. They’re just fun classic toys.”
Jen, who actually attended the Fashion Institute of Technology where she enrolled in their toy design program, has really built up a toy box of a career all her own. After graduating from FIT, she spent time designing toys at Disney Consumer Products and Spin Master before landing her current job at Pixar Studios. Besides getting up early for makeup, the hardest part of The Toy Box for her, though, was giving these toy makers a thumbs down and rejecting their inventions.
“It was really hard,” she said. “We had to make the decision on the spot. I had to kind of weigh all these options. And it was really hard because when you hear someone say, ‘I’ve spent my kid’s college tuition. And it’s on this one idea. And I spent all these years doing it.’ It was very stressful. So I tried my best to separate the two. But I think that there are times that I wasn’t able to. I did try my best to make sure if it wasn’t very good, I had to be honest too. I can’t give them false hope.”
When you’re the Creative Director of Consumer Products at Pixar, what’s your favorite toy of all time? Easy, it’s plushes. Stuffed animals really took over Jen Tan’s world as a child. But so did one other very special electronic toy: the Texas Instruments Speak & Spell. Yes, the very same toy from the movie E.T. was the go-to toy that Jen would carry around with her everywhere. A daughter of two immigrant parents, English wasn’t Jen’s first language, so she actually attributes learning English and spelling to the Speak & Spell.
As for Cars 3 toys, all I can say is you had better start building a new toy box for your child’s room. According to Jen, “You can expect a lot of Cars 3 products. Yes. A lot!” Besides a really comprehensive product line from Mattel, you can start revving your play engines up for everything from Lightning McQueen RC toys to die-cast cars and interactive playsets. Most product usually starts hitting shelves about six weeks before the movie release, so mark your toy calendars for around May 15.
In the meantime, don’t forget to tune in to ABC’s The Toy Box with the premiere episode featuring a multicultural singing doll, wacky worm, party cannon and more competing against each other for a shot at the grand prize. Watch along week after week as toymakers try to win over the mentors and the kid judges in order to win big with their actual toy getting made by Mattel and sold exclusively at Toys R Us.
Now, who’s ready to play?
Premieres April 7, at 8/7 pm ET/CT on ABC