By Marylou Tousignant and Marchelle Abrahams
Not even the North Pole has been spared in the worldwide outbreak of the coronavirus. Santa's elves are working extra hard to make and deliver enough toys for the coming holidays. But creativity in imagining this new bag of toys seems to have stalled in 2021 as the pandemic drags on.
"There are many wonderful products but no real game-changers - no design or technology innovations that will mark this year as particularly notable in toy land," says Stephanie Oppenheim, an expert on what's hot and what's not in the toy industry.
Her company, Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, reviews thousands of toys each year, giving advice on what is worth your time and your parents' or grandparents' money when toy-shopping.
“A few of the big trends we are seeing in the world of toys which have inspired our top toy must-haves include toy unboxing, outdoor play and creative building, with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) skills toys, sensory play and educational toys that support remote learning dominating the shelves,” says Catherine Jacoby, marketing manager at Toys R Us.
Toy unboxing and interactive play sets continue to surprise, with colour reveals, scent crazes and multi-box openings across all types of toys.
Jacoby says that Fidget toys are very popular right now and the range continues to grow with new colour designs, which come with the added benefits of helping reduce anxiety, stress, and increase motor skills.
Below are some of the top picks for 2021.
Color by Number Puzzle - Jungle Animals
Ages 6 and older.
The jungle comes alive in this 100-piece puzzle that starts out as a colouring project. Use the 12 washable markers to re-create the fun picture on the box or draw your own. Break the pieces apart, and now you have a challenging puzzle.
Olivia's Electric Car (and other Lego Friends toys)
Lego Friends, from R230
Ages 6 and older
Here are three new players in the 2021 Friends lineup:
Olivia's Electric Car kit comes with a buildable car, a wind-turbine charging station, two mini dolls and a puppy.
Heartlake City Vet Clinic includes eight animals and three mini dolls, one of whom is blind and has a guide dog.
Heartlake City Movie Theater has a hinged play set that opens to reveal a screening room and popcorn kiosk for three movie-mad mini dolls.
Barbie Extra Doll and Vanity Playset
Barbie (R1 4 69)
Ages 3 and older
Pump up the style in this vanity-inspired playset with a working mirror and lights. It's the perfect space to bring extra-ordinary looks to life. Tell endless fashion stories with more than 45 pieces - an exclusive Barbie Extra doll, rolling clothing rack, fashions, accessories, hair extensions, adorable pup and more.
Talking Jelly Shake Surprise Electronic Plush
Ages 3 and older
Find all six new sweet-scented characters including BonBon the Koalacorn and Pudding Pop the Hippocorn. Press their paw once to hear them giggle, press twice and they will repeat what you say.
Star Wars Imperial Shuttle
Lego (R1 500)
Ages 9 and older
Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader are ready to board once you finish building their shuttle. Then, in the words of Han Solo, "Let's see what this piece of junk can do." The 660-piece shuttle kit is pricey, just like actual space travel.
Instax Mini 11 Camera & Film Bundle
Fujifilm (R1 399)
Ages 6 and over
The Fujifilm Instax Mini 11 is a compact and easy to use instant film camera. The camera uses the widely available Fuji Instax instant film paper to provide quality credit sized prints, so you can capture and share printed images in an instant and wherever you go.
Playful Panda Bubble Dimple Fidget Sensory Pop It Toy
Playful Panda (R259)
Ages 5 and over
Use this toy for sensory play with your little one or yourself as a stress reliever after a busy day A softer, quieter version of bubble wrap that doesn’t have to be tossed after one use. It’s long-lasting and easy to take wherever you go.