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COMMENTARY: Nightmare Before Christmas Products for Freaky Fans

While my folks are tuning into the Hallmark channel for the sappy Christmas movies that make them cry year after year, and my niece and nephew obsess over Buddy from Elf, I’m still stuck on a classic Christmas favorite that is often misappropriated by Halloween: The Nightmare Before Christmas. The movie isn’t called A Dream Before Halloween. For me, that’s enough reasoning to say it is, in fact—no matter how creepy—a Christmas movie.

Nightmare Before Christmas MonopolyUSAopoly will bring this cult classic into homes this holiday season in a whole new way with Monopoly: The Nightmare Before Christmas Collector’s Edition. Players can buy, sell, and trade iconic movie locations, such as Jack’s Tower, Oogie Boogie’s Casino, Sally’s Alley, Dr. Finkelstein’s Laboratory, Town Square Fountain, and (my favorite) Spiral Hill. This completely customized game features imagery of all the greatest characters from the film, with Jack and Sally front and center, as well as six collectible pewter tokens, including Jack’s Skull, Sally, the Mayor’s Hearse, Oogie Boogi, Zombie Duck, and Evil Teddy. Just like the classic, this game is designed for two to six players ages 8 and up and is sure to please all Nightmare fans.

Nightmare Before Christmas YahtzeeUSAopoly has also fused the creepy-cool Christmas favorite with another household board game: Yahtzee. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that if you love Jack, you can never have too much of him: and this game has A LOT of Jack. This travel-sized edition of Yahtzee includes a customized dice cup in the shape of Jack Skellington’s head, which also serves as a storage container for all of the game pieces. The days of one through six are over, as the included custom dice feature the frightful movie characters, including the Mayor, Oogie Boogie, Sally, and, of course, Jack. The fun doesn’t stop just there—the Pumpkin King can even be found in silhouette form on the score sheets. The Tim Burton classic has infiltrated every inch of this old school game. All of the classic rules still apply, and the game is designed for one or more players ages 8 and up.

Nightmare Before Christmas Santa Jack Skellington Pop! VinylFor those not-so-into board games (if such people exist), there are other great options that will delight come Christmas morning (as long as no skeleton man or green furry beast comes slinking down the chimney to steal them). There’s only one thing greater than Jack Skellington—and that’s Jack Skellington dressed as Santa. While it’s unfortunate that the spindly white beard covers the amazing oversized bat bowtie we’ve come to love, a skeleton in a Santa suit is still just awesome. Funko has transformed Santa Jack into a collectible figure in the Pop! Vinyl style. Fans will love his enormous gap-toothed smile, and he even holds a little present!

Nightmare Before Christmas Zero Pop! VinylWhere would the Grinch be without Max? Well, where would the Pumpkin King be without Zero, his loyal, faithful, adorably dead ghost pup? Zero has never looked cuter than in Pop! Vinyl format. Standing 3.75 inches tall, Zero features his iconic jack-o-lantern nose and the most precious dead puppy smile I’ve ever seen. Both figures are suitable for kids ages 5 and up. Sure to creep-up any Christmas décor, these figures are perfect for Nightmare fans.

So, get yourself some black wrapping paper and a shiny bow adorned with skulls and think outside the box this Christmas with these Nightmare Before Christmas collectibles. After all, some kids and adults would prefer classic darkness and creepiness to sappiness, prettiness, and/or sparkly shine.

For more commentary from Marissa, check back often. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Licensing Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!

COMMENTARY: Disney’s Frozen Toys Warms Up the Winter Season

The thing that I like most about Disney’s Frozen was that it played with the idea of a typical Disney Princess movie. It touches on the idea of falling in love and being engaged within hours of meeting each other and changes the way the audience thinks about typical princesses and princes. There is, of course, a curse that’s lifted by “an act of true love,” but this act comes from (spoiler alert!) one of sisterly love rather than romantic love. A lot of the plot is focuses on the two royal sisters, Anna and Elsa, and the animation is so spectacular as it brings this truly magical story to life.

To go along with this great movie, Mattel has introduced an entire line of licensed toys that capture the lively, magical spirit of Frozen. With quirky characters (Olaf!), Frozen quickly becomes a new Disney favorite, and the toys are sure to have the same effect on any toy box.

MusicalDollsOne of my favorite toys from this line is the Disney Frozen Musical Magic Elsa and Anna Dolls. These dolls feature glittery and glamorous gowns, but I think also do a fantastic job of capturing the familial bonds that are so important to the movie’s story. When kids hold the dolls hands, the dolls hold each other’s hands, OR you create a circle of humans and dolls holding hands, Anna and Elsa magically light up and play enchanting music. Read the rest of this entry »

COMMENTARY: Jazwares Brings Popular Video Games into the World of Licensed Toys

Fans of Sega’s long-running Sonic the Hedgehog video games or the popular indie title Minecraft now have another way to get their fix: licensed toys. Jazwares recently released new plush and action figures for the two properties, and while it can’t always be easy adapting a digital character into a 3-D, real life object, in this case the results are well-made and faithful. They might even get hardcore Sonic and Minecraft fans to play without their game consoles or computer screens for a change.

First up is the 5-inch Sonic the Hedgehog from Jazwares’ Super Posers line, which captures Sonic’s devil-may-care attitude via a one-sided smirk—exactly the kind of facial expression you’d wear if you could run faster than the speed of sound. Each of figure’s arms has moveable joints at the shoulder, elbow, wrist, and fingers, and his wrists can also swivel. He can be stood up easily, thanks to extra-large feet and bendable toes, which not only compensate for Sonic’s oversized head and twig-like limbs, but allow for plenty of heroic poses. Suitable for kids ages 4 and up.

"Hey, Shadow? I thought Sonic was the one holding up this franchise."

“Hey, Shadow? I thought Sonic was the one holding up this franchise.”

The Sonic the Hedgehog toy line also includes the Shadow & Silver Comic Pack, featuring 3-inch mini-figures of Shadow and Silver, the anti-hero and futuristic versions of Sonic, respectively. Thanks to platforms that affix to the bottoms of their feet, this dynamic toy duo–also for kids ages 4 and up–can be posed in all sorts of ways while remaining stable. While not quite as articulated as the 5-inch Super Posers, they can easily be made to convey an air of either menace or mystery, which ought to be familiar to Shadow and Silver fans. Read the rest of this entry »

COMMENTARY: The Zombie Apocalypse is All Fun and Games (‘Til Somebody Gets Bit)

Along with more than 16 million other Americans, I’ve taken to spending my Sunday nights biting my nails watching Rick, Carl, Daryl, and Michonne slice through zombie skulls on AMC’s The Walking Dead. Needless to say, thoughts of the zombie apocalypse have now pretty much overrun my life. I’m dubbing this obsession #zombiebrain. If, like me, you or someone you love suffers from #zombiebrain, here are some awesome toys and games to feed your addiction.

Monopoly.WalkingDead.USAopMonopoly: The Walking Dead Survival Edition, from USAopoly brings everyone’s favorite board game into the world of the (un)dead. Based on The Walking Dead comic from Robert Kirkman, the game challenges players to fight for their own property and avoid zombies at all costs. Monopoly: The Walking Dead Survival Edition delivers classic Monopoly wheeling and dealing game play—but this time, players must fight for their survival. Everything about the game screams “WALKERS!” Properties correspond with the series landmarks, such as the prison cells, the Greene Family farm house, and Woodbury, while game tokens resemble key items from the series such as Rick’s sheriff hat, a bucket of body parts, the telephone, Dale’s R.V. (RIP Dale!), the Katana (aka Michonne’s awesome sword), and Lucille (aka a ridiculously effective baseball bat wrapped with barbed wire). Instead of using money to purchase property, players must trade essential supplies, such as food, ammo, and fuel to gain more territory on the board or to place a guard tower or wall (instead of the standard houses and hotels) to secure their safe haven from Walker attacks. The game is recommended for two to six players ages 13 and up and is now available at comic book specialty shops. Read the rest of this entry »

COMMENTARY: No Guts, No Gator

I grew up in a household where Big Foot documentaries and alien conspiracy TV specials were always playing on TV. My dad is always watching shows such as River Monsters, Finding Bigfoot, and really any TV special with “alien” or “invasion” in the title. My mom is convinced that after he retires, my dad will venture out and live the life of Mountain Men or Alaska: The Last Frontier, and snowmobile through the wilderness. Now, while most of these shows are ridiculous—and still warrant the eye rolls following my dad’s “You know what I saw on TV the other day…”—there are a few “Dad shows” that my whole family loves that make us laugh until we cry—including Swamp People.

For those of you not in the know, Swamp People, on A&E Networks’ History channel, follows families in the alligator swamplands through the time of year that is crucial to their survival—the 30-day gator hunting season. History describes the show as “a uniquely American story of a proud and skillful people fighting to maintain an ancient way of life in a rapidly modernizing world, despite the many perils and trials that stand in their way.” And boy, is it ever. Read the rest of this entry »

COMMENTARY: New Warner Bros. Licensed Games Look at Superheroes in a Different Light

I couldn’t be happier that 99 percent of all current movies—including Thor: The Dark World, due in theaters this week—seem to feature somebody in a cape or a miraculous suit of armor battling evil. Full disclosure: I was way into superhero comics when I was a kid. I managed to amass hundreds, which I kept in cardboard long boxes, re-reading them over and over throughout my tortured adolescence. I didn’t buy them for collecting purposes, thank goodness; years later, I traded in the entire lot for $10 and a key lime pie, and considered myself lucky to have gotten that much.

(Seriously, folks, if you started collecting comics during the 1990s or later, they’re not going to put your kid through college. It just won’t happen.)

My point is, I’m a huge superhero fan. However, I’ve started to feel super-saturated by all the licensed comic book-based movies and TV shows popping up of late. They always seem so serious, with all the world-saving and high drama, the death and epic romance and heroic posturing. It’s great the first time, pretty good the second, but around the umpteenth, I have to fight the urge to stand up and yell, “Hey, grown person in hockey pants! Aren’t we supposed to be having fun here?”

For that reason, I am grateful for the recent trend in video games based on licensed superhero properties, specifically those from Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. While its offerings of late include the very seriously toned Batman: Arkham Origins, the company is also responsible for two titles that manage to be respectful of the superhero genre, while simultaneously turning it on its head in ways that are funny and downright fun. Both games are available now and suitable for kids ages 10 and up.   Phil.Nov6.3

Lego Marvel Super Heroes: This one, from Warner Bros. and TT Games, combines all the action of Marvel Comics with the game play of Lego video games. Players climb into the skins and costumes of such iconic characters as Iron Man, Captain America, and Spider-Man, ostensibly to stop Loki from an act of super-villainy. The game is available on a wide variety of platforms, with noticeable differences between the console and handheld versions. However, both offer a wide roster of playable heroes with distinct abilities, e.g., Iron Man can fire laser beams and fly, Hawkeye can shoot arrows at targets via a bulls-eye cursor, etc. Then there is the Hulk, who is—not surprisingly—enormous compared to other Lego avatars, and can toss around vehicles and all sorts of objects with ease.

In the console version, the levels have more of an open world feel, meaning players are free to roam and go on side missions. By comparison, the handheld-only Lego Marvel Super Heroes: Universe in Peril seems more like a traditional game. The levels feel shorter, and some consist entirely of fights with Doctor Octopus or other villains. This might appeal to a gamer who just wants to work out some aggression quickly. For what it’s worth, the Nintendo 3DS version makes good use of the hardware’s special features. To make Spider-Man swing around on his webs, for example, one makes an upward motion on the touchscreen. Meanwhile, both versions of the game require players to use certain heroes at particular times.

Phil.Nov6.2As far as taking a superhero epic and making it fresh, fun, and noticeably less grim than it could be, it helps that much of this universe is built on Legos. Make no mistake: Throughout the course of Lego Marvel Super Heroes, players cut a swath of impressive destruction through New York City and other locales. They also amass a considerable body count, possibly greater than all the Marvel films combined. However, when objects including cars and trains are destroyed and bad guys are smitten, they explode into colorful Lego building blocks, which somehow makes things seem less violent, and more slapstick-y. Similarly, when a player’s avatar gets killed, it topples and reverts into component Lego pieces. The implied message seems to be that it’s never game over, just time to do a quick rebuild.

Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure: On the surface, dovetailing a licensed superhero universe with Scribblenauts, a video game franchise that challenges players to use words to solve puzzles and overcome obstacles, might not seem the obvious choice. After all, superheroes have a reputation for solving their problems through physical action, e.g., smashing, hitting things with an ancient Norse hammer, as opposed to using the written word. But in the recent Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure, it turns out that Maxwell, the main protagonist of Scribblenauts, is not such a misfit in the DC Comics universe, the home of such characters as Superman and Batman. Maxwell has a magical notebook that grants him godlike power—he can make any object he writes materialize, with some limitations. Yet he’s inherently a good kid, so he uses it for good and not evil.

Phil.Nov6.1The game play is similar to previous Scribblenauts games, though this time around, some of the puzzles take on the form of rampaging super villains. Maxwell can try to punch them into submission; however, the game is always more interesting when he—and therefore the player—uses wits and a well-placed adjective. For example, at one point early on, a scar-faced criminal can be transformed into a tiny version of himself to be carried off to jail. All the various DC heroes and villains look like cute, super-deformed versions of themselves, but overall, Warner Bros. and game developer 5th Cell get their personalities and abilities down.

The end result is a vision of the DC Universe that is fairly lighthearted and surprisingly cerebral. And that’s fine by me. If more superheroes led by their brains instead of adrenal glands, I might never have stopped collecting comics. On the other hand, I live in a really small apartment now, and I can make my own pies.

For more commentary from Phil, check back often. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Licensing Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!

COMMENTARY: Character Licensing in the World of Toys

I recently attended Fall Toy Preview, the Toy Industry Association’s by-appointment-only trade show in Dallas. The show was jam-packed with licensed toys and electronics featuring characters from children’s properties such as Disney’s Sofia the First and more adult-oriented brands such as Sons of Anarchy and Duck Dynasty. At times, it felt like I was at a licensing expo rather than a toy show. Everything that could be branded, was branded. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle earbuds, from Sakar; Duck Dynasty Duck Commander blasters, from Interactive Toy Concepts; Grumpy Cat plush, from The Bridge Direct; and Hello Kitty dolls and play sets, from Blip Toys, were some of the stand-outs I saw.

It’s certainly no secret that character licensing is one of the top ways to get a product to sell at retail—no matter where you are in the world. Kids are eager to show off their favorite characters in any way they can, whether it’s on a backpack, T-shirt, or a pair of sneakers.

But, sometimes, licensed products go far beyond the standard T-shirt “sticker slapped” with a character’s face across the chest. One of the brands I am most excited for this year is The Beatrix Girls, from Popstar Club. The Beatrix Girls is a line of collectible pop star dolls, each with her own personality. The Beatrix Girls are an accomplished pop band with real music kids can download and enjoy. Each member of the band sings, plays a different instrument, and writes songs. The dolls have not hit retail yet, but Popstar Club already has nearly 10 licensees for great Beatrix products—and not just standard ones. Peavey Electronics has produced a full line of instruments for kids, including a drum set and guitars featuring detailed Beatrix-themed artwork. The instruments were gorgeous on display at Fall Toy Preview. With these unique licensed products, kids can really rock out just like their soon-to-be favorite pop stars Brayden, Ainsley, Lark and Chantal.

Characters, especially ones with strong storylines like the Beatrix Girls, really make kids feel connected to products. While there are a ton of other licensing categories that are important, this is one that seriously feels on the rise, especially in the world of toys.


For more commentary from Marissa, check back often. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Licensing Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!

COMMENTARY: Power Rangers Brand Powers Up for 20th Anniversary

When I was a kid, I was in love with the Power Rangers, from Saban Brands. I was a huge fan of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers series in the ’90s and I was even The Red Ranger one year for Halloween (they were all out of The Pink Ranger costumes and Kimberly was my favorite, so I had to compromise). I recently re-watched some episodes of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers when the series was on Netflix, and you know what? I still thought it was great in all of its ’90s glory.

However, the lucky kids of today get to obsess over two Power Rangers series of their own—Power Rangers Super Samurai and Power Rangers Megaforce. Power Rangers Super Samurai, which began airing in 2011, is about a new generation of Power Rangers that must master the mystical and ancient Samurai Symbols of Power, which allow them to control the elements of fire, water, sky, forest, and earth. Aided by their devoted animal Zords and guided by an all-knowing mentor, these Power Rangers battle the dark forces of the Netherworld and a mysterious Warrior out to destroy.

Power Rangers Megaforce is the 20th season of Power Rangers, coinciding with the series’ 20th anniversary. This season features Gosei, a supernatural being who has protected the earth for centuries with his robotic assistant Tensou. When evil Warstar aliens begin a massive invasion, the Gosei calls upon the Power Rangers Megaforce to form the ultimate team. When morphed into the Power Rangers, the five teenagers gain superhuman strength and mastery over martial arts.

In light of the recent news of Saban extending its agreements with both Nickelodeon and Bandai America to keep the Power Rangers franchise alive, here are some great licensed toys from Bandai America that celebrates this new season of the Power Rangers series, as well as the brand’s 20th anniversary: Read the rest of this entry »

COMMENTARY: D3Publisher’s Upcoming Licensed Games Capture What Makes Cartoons Great

Licensed video games can be a risky proposition. After all, a recognizable title doesn’t necessarily mean high quality. Having personally experienced some lows in licensed games over the years, I felt it was my duty to attend D3Publisher of America Inc.’s showcase ahead of the holidays, though I had my share of reservations. To make matters worse, several of the titles being previewed were based on Cartoon Network programs–a genuine cause for concern, since I was actually familiar with most of the shows.

But despite my trepidation, a few hours later, I walked out suitably impressed. Each licensed game’s creative team seemed to get what makes their respective source material unique, resulting in a product likely to please even hardcore fans. Here’s a rundown of the games:

Ben 10 Omniverse 2: This title is based on a cartoon franchise that has been on TV since 2005, and revolves around Ben Tennyson, who in the most recent series, Ben 10: Omniverse, is a teenage superhero who can transform into 10 different alien forms. What makes the character interesting is that he must select the appropriate guise for any given situation, as each form has its own advantages and disadvantages. D3Publisher’s new game takes this basic characteristic and combines it with the “endless running” genre: For about half the game, Ben hurtles down a series of corridors, encountering one obstacle after another, with a very limited time to react.

With each impediment, players have up to three different aliens they can turn into, but must choose correctly lest they take damage. For example, if there’s an oncoming wall, changing into the red hulking creature lets Ben smash through, while the tiny lizard-like form gets pulverized. The game play occasionally shifts to a more straightforward beat-’em-up style, but even then the key is thinking on your feet. From my own brief experience, I quickly learned that I should keep my day job as opposed to pursuing a new career as a shape-changing superhero.

Ben 10 Omniverse 2 will be available November 5 for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Nintendo 3DS, Wii U, and Wii.

Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I DON’T KNOW!: The cartoon Adventure Time is popular with kids and adults, thanks to its juxtaposing of opposites. The show has a cute art style full of candy coloring, but the writing and sense of humor are often suitable for adults. The same can be said of D3Publisher’s new licensed game: It looks like a simple dungeon-crawler, with game play on par with old school titles like Gauntlet. However, it packs the same irreverent tone as the cartoon. For example, players can choose to go to battle as Cinnamon Bun, who is essentially a large, anthropomorphic cinnamon bun that fights. Meanwhile, each character has a range of special attacks that segue to funny, animated cut sequences. Playing as Marceline, the Vampire Queen, my level one special attack involved a heartfelt—and rocking—musical number starring Marceline and her trusty ax bass.

The game’s dungeon levels, which change with every visit and re-visit, are another aspect that reflects the spirit of the cartoon. According to D3Publisher, it’s intended to increase the game’s replay value; but I prefer to view it as an extension of the life philosophy of Adventure Time‘s two main characters, Jake and Finn, each of whom is fairly impulsive in his adventuring. (Anyone else remember the episode in which Finn throws himself into the fangs of Lumpy Space creatures, in order to be infected with the Lumpy Space curse so that he can become a monster capable of floating across an abyss?) It’s possible to imagine them charging half-cocked into a dungeon filled with monsters and/or treasure, and thanks to the randomizing aspect of the game, players must do the same. After all, there’s precious little preparing one can do for an unpredictable situation, though like Jake and Finn, you can at least bring a buddy along to watch your back.

Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I DON’T KNOW! will be available November 19 for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Nintendo 3DS and Wii U.

Regular Show: Mordecai & Rigby in 8-bit Land: The hapless slackers of Regular Show, Mordecai and Rigby, find themselves trapped in an old-school video game, where the play style alternates between that of side-scrolling platform games, shooters, and games of chance. Interestingly, that premise wouldn’t sound out of place in the actual cartoon, where the protagonists frequently find themselves in parallel dimensions or reality-warping situations, at times related to video games.

But beyond that, the game captures an important aspect of the cartoon through its depiction of Mordecai and Rigby as complementary characters. Players must consider the strengths and weaknesses of each and utilize them as a team. For example, they’ll need to use Mordecai, who can jump high—after all, he is a Blue Jay—in order to reach certain items. Similarly, they’ll have to switch to Rigby, who is a raccoon, to crawl into passages that Mordecai can’t fit into.

For better or worse, the two characters must work together to get through their video game adventures, which is no different from the cartoon.

Regular Show: Mordecai & Rigby in 8-bit Land will be available on October 29 for Nintendo 3DS.

For more commentary from Phil, check back often. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Licensing Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!

COMMENTARY: Sony Pictures Consumer Products’ Breaking Bad Products Are Oh So Good

Sony Pictures Consumer Products (SPCP)’s Breaking Bad has captivated AMC audiences for five seasons. With a solid storyline, interesting and twisted characters, and Emmy nominations and wins galore, the show has earned more attention than Walt and Jesse have money. For those who are not fans, the show revolves around high school chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston) who “breaks bad” when he begins cooking high-quality meth with an ex-student, the now-drug-dealing Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul).

There are a million things to love about Breaking Bad—the quality of the writing, the constant state of anxiety it leaves you in, Aaron Paul’s Twitter page—but a more tangible result of the show are the licensed products that come out of it. As the world of meth-cooking RVs, sleazy lawyers, hidden identities, and lovable sidekicks (read: Badger and Skinny Pete) enters into its final episodes, here are some products fans can collect to keep on cooking long after September 29—and some Breaking Bad quotables just for fun.

“Yeah, Mr. White. Yeah, science!” – Jesse Pinkman

Do you, like our dear friend Jesse, get excited when discovering that science can answer your biggest questions (such as not having to buy a ton of Sudafed, how to destroy evidence, and how to jump start an RV in the desert)? Are you a fan of both Mr. White and science? Well good news: SPCP has partnered with Halloween costume manufacturer Rasta Imposta for the only officially licensed Breaking Bad Halloween costume in the U.S. The costume features Walt’s yellow HAZMAT suit, red and black HAZMAT mask, blue gloves, and a goatee. Really though, there’s a goatee. The costume is available for pre-sale at top online Halloween retailers and will ship in early October. Read the rest of this entry »

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