Jewish World Review Feb. 20, 2002 / 8 Adar, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- NEW YORK |A tour through last week's International Toy Fair here proves one thing: Dinosaurs are dead.
Oh, sure, you can still find a few scaly hangers-on scowling on jigsaw puzzles or lumbering across educational board games. There's probably a sand toy or two still stuck in the Pleistocene period. But for the most part, dinosaur playthings have been wiped off the planet, and not by an asteroid. By Pokemon.
At least, that's how it looks from where I sit, which is in the middle of a living room strewn with Pokemon pencils, stuffed animals, coloring books and - ugh - chapter books (soooo bad they make "The Berenstain Bears" look like "The Brothers Karamazov"), as well as an avalanche of Pokemon cards, several Poke-plastic pieces of indeterminate, overpriced function, a Pokemon talking action figure who appears to be channeling Paul Harvey ("Do you want to" pause "battle" pause "again?") and two sons who look like drunken sailors, so covered are they with rub-on tattoos of the object of their desire: more Pokemon.
Oh, did I mention the Pokemon music - yes, there's actually a pop CD - playing in the background?
What makes this scene so disturbing is not the mother on the couch with a pillow over her head, body jerking like a zapped bug, but the fact that, by all rights, Pokemon products should be sitting on the remainder shelf by now, squished between the Smurfs and Furbys, a Mutant Ninja Turtle winking from across the aisle.
Instead, Pokemon USA just opened a humongous store in Rockefeller Center. Pokemon cartoons are the No. 1 kiddie show on broadcast TV - and have been for four seasons. Presumably, they're just as popular in the 65 other countries where they air. And somebody must be enjoying the 85 million Pokemon video games that have been sold - so far - and the phenom shows no signs of stopping. Why in Pikachu's name not?
"It's kid power," says Timothy Burke, author of "Saturday Morning Fever." "There's a fascination in knowing a total system that adults don't know."
In other words, Pokemon have outdinosaured the dinosaur. Just as kids once loved reeling off the obscure properties of prehistoric creatures, now they delight in describing each of the 251 Pokemon: their weird names and magical powers and family trees.
Most parents can identify a T. rex. But few can say for certain whether Charmander evolves into Charmeleon or Charizard. Our colossal ignorance makes kids very happy.
Kids are also happy to have a toy they can train, like the Tamagotchi pocket pets of a few years back. Electronic Pokemon grow strong when rewarded and slothful when spoiled. Once again, kids are in control, because they're the parents.
And let's not ignore brilliant marketing. Unlike those Cabbage Patch Kids, who took the world by storm, then just sat there looking ugly, Pokemon are beyond proactive. As Jeanne Meyer, spokeswoman for toysrus.com, says, "It's a brand that has legs."
So they've got video games for the video addicts and TV shows for the TV addicts (i.e., every kid I've ever met). The trading cards are collectible like baseball cards, but they're also playable like playing cards. Girls like Pokemon because they're cute and cuddly. Boys love them because they fight, fight, fight. And some breathe fire.
Come to think of it - our toys may be evolving, but our kids seem pretty much the same as ever.
02/12/02: The smoking gun of white-collar crime is making some folks very happy