The Dinglehopper

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Toys in Babeland: A Star Wars Story

We took our preschooler to see The Force Awakens, but, as everyone who’s seen it knows, it’s loud and violent and morally complicated. We honored a polite request to go home after the rathtars. I thought that was it for Star Wars.

It wasn’t. When our preschooler started talking about Finn and Rey and Phasma, I was indescribably relieved. We’re long time fans, and the next five years were going to be weird.

Last week, Entertainment Weekly reported that Rey, largely absent from the first wave of toys, was going to play a much more significant role across several brands in the next one. Her inclusion in the Playskool Heroes line caught my eye. The 2.5″ figures are designed for small hands and big imaginations.

Playskool Next Wave

Since then, I’ve been checking local stores for any of the new characters. So far, I’ve only found Kylo Ren. Our preschooler wants Finn and Rey, but nonetheless had a ball playing with the new villain.

In lieu of a review, I’ll share what a child who hasn’t seen any spoilers got up to with this apparently well designed character. The following photos are reenactments.

First, I heard a bunch of fighting sounds. I later found a Corellian down.

Playskool Kylo Solo

Shortly afterward, I heard, “Darth Vader, I like you because you’re daaarrrrk.”

Playskool Kylo Vader

And then I witnessed a renunciation. “I’m throwing you in the trash, Luke Skywalker.”

Playskool Kylo Skywalker

I take this to be a resounding endorsement for the fidelity of both the figure and the character to the story and the toy line. I can’t wait to see what hijinx Captain Phasma engenders.


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Star Wars Saturday: Special Edition Posters LEGO-ized

Next weekend is the Star Wars Celebration convention in Anaheim, California. I won’t be going. But I will be enjoying all of the news, photos, and special merch coming out of it…vicariously…through the Internet.

So here’s the first installment of that vicarious enjoyment, coming in the form of LEGO versions of the Star Wars Special Edition posters. Enjoy!







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Frozen Friday: Missed Bricks for Christmas

Frozen is coming to Lego, but sadly not in time for Christmas.  The Telegraph reported at the beginning of the month that the new Frozen sets would be available in the Nordic and Baltic regions next week, but they wouldn’t hit stores in the United States and the UK until January. Apparently even guaranteed sales couldn’t advance the toy giant’s timetable.

“It’s not so important for us with Frozen,” said Lego CEO Jorgen Vig Knudstorp. “It is definitely across all categories a very strong property, a wonderful movie, but for us, it’s a minor thing.”

Lego Ice Castle

Two of the sets have been previewed so far. Set 41062 LEGO Elsa’s Sparkling Ice Palace will include Anna, Elsa, and Olaf among its 292 pieces.  And 14001 Olaf is a fifty two piece set aimed at younger builders.

It’s certainly possible that intrepid fans will be able to find these, and others, in time for the holidays from third party resellers. Prices will be inflated and the instructions might be incomprehensible, though.

Lego Olaf

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What’s the Mater?

So, I picked up a diecast Lightning McQueen earlier this week because our toddler’s been playing with cars everywhere we go.  We’ve managed to scrounge up a few at home, but they’re all oddly sized for tiny hands.  And Cars was a big hit.

A couple days later, Lightning McQueen came down to dinner and I was informed that he was lonely.  “Need a Mater to play with him.”  Our toddler doesn’t ask for a lot.  We go shopping and play with balls and look at toys and then put them back on the shelf.  They’re fascinating but we have toys at home.  It’s great.

In other words, this is all my fault.  Even so, it’s still coming from a wonderful place.  Lightning McQueen is lonely.  He needs his friend.

Trouble is, Mater isn’t the star.  We watched Cars way too late.  And, Mater’s got his own spinoff show with its own line.

My day started with some Handy Manny meant to rouse our toddler, and me, quickly.  Six hours later one of us was napping.  I figured I could pick up a simple toy truck while I was out running errands.

Not so.  He’s no longer produced in the size and style that matches our toddler’s toy and is recognizable from the original movie.  I ended up checking Amazon.  He’s fifteen bucks.  Pretty much the same on eBay.

Why am I looking on eBay?  We swore we’d shield this burgeoning intelligence from the rigors and requirements of what’s referred to in consumer studies literature as the collector’s instinct.  We watch shows without adds on Netflix and borrow movies from the library.  And here we are. In 2006, he would have been the easiest Car to find. That irony hurts.

Waking up to Handy Manny isn’t all that bad.  The show has a lot going for it.  Having our toddler ask for a Pat and a Turner to fix the door seemed delightful.  Finding out the show ended three years ago was only the beginning of my disappointment.  A quick search revealed that there was a Handy Manny Talkin’ Toolbox.

A little more searching revealed that it was no longer available and collectible prices started at sixty dollars.  I’m still thinking about it, of course.  In the meantime I picked up a Black & Decker set.  It didn’t matter that the tools didn’t have googly eyes or voices.  It did matter that there wasn’t a flat head screwdriver.  “Don’t see Turner.  Can’t fix the door with just my hammer, Dada.”  Is that a collector ting or a practical thing?

But Mater?  Mater’s a big deal.  Lightning McQueen needs his friend.  We’d gone to visit my mother and do some shopping for her.  When I got back, I was greeted with, “Where’s Mater?”  We’re still looking for him.

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If You Can’t Feel It, It Must Be Real: Second Thoughts About The Lego Movie

Our toddler didn’t like The Lego Movie. I’ve learned over time that there’s really no better barometer for how I’ll end up feeling about a lot of things.  Our toddler loves Frozen, so Frozen is compelling.  Breakfast at the dank college pub is superior to the once a month Beatles themed brunch at the posh restaurant because our toddler prefers their pancakes.

So, while seemingly everyone thinks everything about The Lego Movie is awesome, I know there’s something rotten in trademark.

The Lego Movie is, first and foremost, a toy commercial. I know. I know that sounds trite and obvious. So obvious, in fact, that a lot of reviews take it for granted with a knowing wink and move on. Sure, it’s a toy commercial, a parade of registered international licensed properties. But is it a good movie?  Maybe it is.  Superbowl commercials can be as entertaining as the game.

It’s pretty, in a LEGO® way. It’s action-packed, in a LEGO® way. And it’s clever, in a LEGO® way.

You can see what I’m doing here. And the viewer can see what The Lego Movie is doing. It’s offering up a wry postmodern ironic take on its lack of sincerity and its status as a toy commercial. Juxtaposition, shock, and bricolage fuel the cynically arch humor. It’s custom fit for Gen-X parents brought to you by two Gen-X dudes. In the same way The Matrix congratulated us for going to college, The Lego Movie mocks us for ever thinking that was profound.

mob 1The narrative is the same. It’s every postmodern narrative. The protagonist cannot see the world as it is. This happens on both levels of the story, actually. And the protagonist chooses, not to be a hero, but to confront the metanarrative dominating his story. Again, this happens on both levels. That’s not special. It’s just the same story told twice. They reinforce one another.

The Lego Movie is particularly pernicious, though. In a lot of those narratives, there’s at least a simulation of real challenge to patriarchal capital. There are stakes that, while bathetic and melodramatic, question authority. Here, the tension is all about play. Do you follow the directions or make up your own? You know, in a LEGO® way.

The film isn’t merely a catalog of Lego licensors. It’s actually structured as a toy commercial; with about two thirds animated fantasy followed by a hyperrealized demonstration of actual play.

The emotional crux of The Lego Movie is nested in this final third, which is objectively quite clever. Having dealt with archetypal ciphers for much of the movie, the viewer is plunged along with the plastic protagonist into an environment with an entirely different, more immediate set of stakes and required to reorient herself.

Well.  Him. Self.  Since the male protagonist concretely supercedes the female lead.  Despite being the talented firebrand of the story she’s subservient to and dependent upon the overwhelmingly male cast.  We didn’t need Emmet, but we got him.

Maintaining the frenetic pace of the Lego narrative, these sequences are effective insofar as they give the viewer the opportunity to invest in them. For me, there were missing pieces. I got it. It just didn’t stick.

The conflicts on both sides of the bifurcation are resolved through play. In a LEGO® way. The narrative, whatever it was, is recuperated into the Lego ethos. The young build for fun and the old build for realism.

The Lego Movie is a child’s-eye view of where power lies and the fanciful notions of detournement we allow ourselves. Senseless stories set against a rigid reality. But always a reality overdetermined by a carefully constructed system of interlocking parts.

You can make Metalbeards and Double Decker Couches out of spare parts. But you don’t have to. As long as you have $250. They even come with directions.

couch 1


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Adventures in the Toy Store: Whisky Tango Foxtrot

There used to be a store about ten minutes away that carried a vast array of HABA and PlanToys.  It was a block away from the safety gate store in the old part of town that used to be a train stop.  I loved it.  Our toddler has toys waiting for the third birthday from when they had their moving sale.

Full disclosre.  That’s where I’m coming from.  Our toddler might not have anything other than art supplies and blocks, which are really just art supplies, and flash cards if I were allowed to mitigate the love and generosity of family and friends.

Anyway, about once or twice a year we dare Toys R Us in order to see what our toddler seems to be into.  This Spring was satisfying.  Easels!  Yay!  Trains.  Um, okay.  And Balls.  Oh, thank goodness the trains have been forgotten.

There’s some 20140517_201154stuff in there that’s pretty weird.  This thing, for example.

A friend compared it to a cross between Little Big Planet and Pet Semetary.  I found it terrifying and luridly fascinating.

“Pillow Featherbed” here is part of a huge collectible line of Lalaloopsy dolls or, from what I gather, a spinoff from that toy line called Lalaloosy Babies.

Since there’s really no telling what a toddler will like, I have to admit that I’m glad ours currently has no interest in dolls beyond a well preserved ’83 Cabbage Patch Kid from the first time America went nuts for hideous monsters with individual backstories.  Apparently those were rumored to desensitize the survivors of nuclear holocaust to some of the potential consequences.

Designed to encourage a child’s imagination and creativity, Bitty Buttons™ teaches important life lessons such as diversity, individuality and the idea that everything deserves a second life.

“Bitty Buttons™ was designed to teach kids that everybody is unique in their
own special way.  The new brand promotes the idea that old things can become new again, everything can be repurposed and nothing should ever go to waste,” said Isaac Larian, CEO of MGA Entertainment.

I grabbed the ad quality image online for comparison.  It’s certainly more flattering than my in store “reality” shot, but not so much so that I’d want one in my home… waiting for its moment.  The PR copy really blows my mind, though.  Is this a study in unintended irony?  A cynical parody of hand me downs and gently used bargains?  Was there a target market of hipster children envious of their less affluent friends’ cool looking toys?

Even if we grant them initial sincerity, I think they might have “sold out” after changing the name to Lalaloopsy.  If not then, certainly by the time they aired this: