Licensed To Sell
Look at the Toy...not just the license
Tags: licensed items, familiar characters.
Posted: 2013-10-11 16:50:06 By: by Joanne Oppenheim


All licensed toys are not created equal. That's why we continue to test them, looking for those that have real play value along with their recognizable image. We've seen good and not-so-good products with and without licenses. Licenses come and go and they are generally gender specific and often novelty items that lose appeal when the next new character comes along. Still, if you have kids, you know that these licensed items are often the hot toys of the season, the ones most desired.



2013 Award
Thomas & Friends Trackmaster Motorized Railway Castle Quest Set
(Fisher-Price $59.99 Score: )

Fans of Thomas will enjoy playing with this large track set that includes an elevated circular track portion, a castle turret, a collapsing mine tunnel, a break way stone wall, a broken track that has a swinging crane to replace the track with and a gate that drops down in the castle. Thomas is on the search for the King's missing crown (included). The collapsing mine is super fun as Thomas passes through it. Comes with the battery-powered Thomas and attached cargo train. You can buy additional trains.

Age: Preschool. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Award
University Games The Very Hungry Caterpillar Counting Floor Puzzle
(University Games $13 Score: )

There are all kinds of fruits and veggies to count on this colorful floor puzzle with 26 giant pieces. Put the numerals in order to make a 10 foot long finished puzzle. Good for counting skills as well as knowing and naming familiar foods. All the healthy things that Very Hungry Caterpillar loves to nibble on. 3 & up

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Award
Clifford the Big Red Dog Kitchen Science
(Scholastic $19.99 Score: )

One of a series of science kits for preschoolers. This one uses things found in the kitchen to make a volcano explosion, slime, crystals, fungus and more. The items in the kit include plastic test tubes, mini-volcano form, a small tank for making slime and other props. Best of all there is a wonderful step-by-step experiment book that will walk you through all these together activities. In the past, most of these experiments were more typically done with kindegarten, 1st and 2nd graders. That said, there is nothing in this kit that preschoolers will not enjoy trying. Clearly, this is not a solo toy, but rather a chance to explore together. They have also done a Bubble Science Kit and Rainbow Science. These are available at PBS Kids site and the Scholastic site. As of this writing they were not elsewhere. Marked for 3+, we think they make more sense with 5+.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2013.




2013 Award
Mattel Barbie Fashion Vending Machine
(Mattel $23.99 Score: )

We are not huge Barbie furnishing fans, but this clever contraption could be fun for pretend play as well as a good storage device for all those little shoes, handbags, and necklaces Barbie dolls tend to generate. The working vending machine can hold all these items on the shelves that turn or put them on the right side, turn the crank and make the toys pop out.  Comes with some accessories with room for others. They say 3 & up. We say more like 5 & up.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Award
LEGO STAR WARS Mandalorian Speeder
(Lego Systems, Inc. $24.99 Score: )

With 211 pieces, this is a great place to start for fans of Star Wars and LEGO. The small blue and grey vehicle comes with Darth Maul and two Mandalorian Super Commandos. Be forewarned there are projectiles on this build. Also smaller, the Corporate Alliance Tank Droid comes with 271 pieces. The circular middle portion of this build is unusual in that it has a moving track like a tank. Comes with Jango
Fett, Clone Trooper, and Battle Droid. Also top-rated, the Homing Spider Droid (295 pieces):  this spider- inspired droid,  comeswith Stass Allie, Clone Trooper, and two Super Battle Droids. For beginning builders - these two sets are just right.  While the bigger kits look appealing, start small so that your child has a positive experience to "build" on.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years, Tweens. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Award
Mattel Hot Wheels Car Maker
(Mattel $49.99 Score: )

Every Hot Wheels fan has probably dreamed of designing original cars and now they can! Works like some of the crayon makers we have reviewed in the past, this is an innovative toy that comes with 2 molds, 3 chassis, and 10 colored wax sticks for making 10 hot wheels. Kids can combine colors of the wax and add decals for unique results. The melting process happens when the wax is loaded and the door locks shut until it cools. In the interim there are sound effects that can be a bit annoying, but you must keep listening so that you know when to lower the handle that injects the wax into the mold. The finished product has a hard glossy finish and fits well on the wheeled base chassis. There are a variety of refill and accessory kits with wax rods, chassis, and molds ($12 each kit) for this winning toy making machine. Marked for 8 & up this is plugged into the wall and needs adult supervision. We think even 8 and 9 year olds will need adult help with the first vehicles they make. 8 & up.

Age: Later School Years. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Award
Barbie Digital Makeover Mirror
(Mattel $69.99 Score: )

We're not really big fans of toys for apps. That said, if you have a child who loves pretend, make-up, has access to an i-pad, and you have an extra $70 to spend - you will want to know about this latest Barbie interactive toy. The actual toy is a small plastic vanity with lights on either side. In addition to an i-pad, you'll need batteries, too. There is a palette of make-up on the platform and a magical applicator. The makeup is not real--but has colors that you select, but I'm getting ahead here. The mirror of the vanity is your ipad. Just be sure it's really securely in place. You'll need to download the app and now the fun begins. For any kids who have dreamed about putting on lots of makeup (but knows they'll get in trouble for invading mom's makeup) this is really a fantasy world. The app takes your picture and then you can get busy adding eye shadow, lipstick, name it.  Remember the palette of makeup that wasn't really make-up?  You can select any color and brush it on with applicator. Blue lips, purple eyes, green rouge - whatever you can imagine, you can put on.  There are fun masks and pre-made face art to explore as well. The app allows you to save your "face art."

Our general problem with such App gear? Something feels a little off about recommending toys that require a $400+ tablet to play. There's also the issue that since kids spend enough time playing on tablets and smartphones, do we really need to buy toys that encourage them to stay on longer? We think not so much. Screen time of any kind is screen time. Just like TV time, video game time, handheld gaming...this is not a new debate - just new technology.

With all of those reservations - we know this toy will be a HUGE hit with a certain audience. It's well executed and fun to play.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years, Tweens. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Award
LEGO The Lord of the Rings Pirate Ship Ambush
(Lego Systems, Inc. $99.99 Score: )

"You're kidding!" was the response we got from our die-hard LORs fans when we told them that LEGO was now doing builds inspired from the trilogy. The Pirates Ambush gives fans the opportunity to build a LEGO version of Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas surprise the Orcs with the Army of the Dead. We have a feeling there will be many teens and adults eager to help with this set!  Comes with a satisfying 9 mini-figures. With 756 pieces, this is a good parent-child build or an independent build for more advanced builders.

Age: Later School Years, Tweens, Teens, Adult. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Award
Big Hugs Elmo
(Hasbro $59.99 Score: )

Elmo is back this year and ready to give your child a big hug. This oversized version asks for hugs, tighter hugs and then says "too tight." Preschoolers will love the hugs. He encourages kids to pretend. Some of the choices seem off..."let's pretend to be rabbits...let's pretend to be astronauts"...not two things that jump to mind as the most interesting. Do toddlers/preschoolers even know what an astronaut is anymore? The body is a blend of soft red fur and a hard core (where the batteries are stored). The arms do bend so that they can be placed around a neck for a proper hug.  You will feel the mechanism in the arms - the equivalent of doll bones?  Elmo says over 50 phrases, sings songs and best of all, he goes to sleep after a pretty cute bedtime routine. Not clear whether Elmo will be as popular this year given the scandal, but as a straight forward novelty doll, he is pretty cute.

Age: Toddlers, Preschool. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on


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