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Top trends at this year’s Toy Fair: Dinosaurs and customization

Hasbro’s raptor claws.Hasbro’s raptor claws.
Hasbro’s raptor claws.Courtesy of Hasbro

Dinosaurs last roamed the Earth more than 65 million years ago. They returned to prowl the aisles of New York City Toy Fair this week.

Among the top trends in the toy aisle this year will be dinosaur-themed toys, games and wearable gear made by Hasbro (HAS), Lego and a slew of toy companies angling for a piece of a toy theme that looks poised to be one of the most popular for 2015. This trend is piggybacking off of the upcoming film “Jurassic World,” a sequel to “Jurassic Park” that’s hitting theaters in June.

Part of the reason dinosaurs are so popular this year is toy companies don’t necessarily need to pay Universal for the privilege of making dinosaur toys. Dinosaurs, unlike superhero characters from franchises such as “The Avengers” and “Spider-Man,” are free public domain and thus a license agreement isn’t needed to make the toys.

To be sure, some are paying for the privilege. Hasbro and Lego each have licensing agreements with the “Jurassic World” makers, enabling them to build figurines based on the dinosaurs and human characters that will appear in the film. They’ll have the advantage of being able to make gear that can be specifically marketed as a tie-in with the movie. Mattel (MAT) doesn’t have a license but still showed off a massive dinosaur toy on its showroom floor, angling to take advantage of the halo effect that the film will create.

Hasbro’s line was perhaps the most comprehensive in terms of its association with the film. The company is selling raptor claws, dinosaur figurines and play sets. In a somewhat meta twist, Hasbro’s toys are poised to appear in the film when a gift shop is shown at the park.

“There are a lot of tech dinosaurs out there, obviously that’s not the game we play,” said Lego Americas president Soren Torp Laursen in an interview. “Ours are much more hands on, low tech. It doesn’t require digitalization or batteries. And that’s where we think we fulfill a meaningful niche in the dinosaur space.”

The “customization” of toys was also a top trend this year, building on a theme that first showed real strength in 2014. Hasbro’s My Little Pony and Transformers characters have even more customized features than last year, while Jakks Pacific (JAKK) is going to sell a “3D Character Creator” so kids can make their own Justice League and Avengers figures.

Lego's toys are idea for customization: all of its building blocks can connect within the same system.
Courtesy of The LEGO Group
Courtesy of The LEGO Group

Lego is in some ways the king of customization. Its sets often come with instructions, but free play is always allowed as all of the building sets and characters can be connected. Building sets have been a strong spot for the roughly $18 billion U.S. toy industry, with sales rising 13% in 2014. Lego has increased market share in the U.S. and reported strong sales in recent years, partly benefiting from growing interest among children and parents for toys with customizing features.

To further embrace that trend, Lego this year is selling a new set called “Lego Classic” that gives builders no instructions. The box is filled with an assortment of basic bricks featuring Lego’s full color palette and is meant for open-ended play. But Lego is giving parents some wiggle room: downloadable instructions are available via a free mobile app.