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Under the Radar’s Holiday Gift Guide 2018 Part 5: Toys and Other Gifts for Kids (Part 1)

Kid-Friendly Toys, Books, and DVDs/Blu-rays

Dec 10, 2018 By Mark Redfern and Austin Trunick Web Exclusive
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Welcome to part 5 of our Holiday Gift Guide 2018, in which we highlight toys and other gifts for kids and their parents, including books, DVDs, board games, technology, and more. We were sent so many cool things to write about that we had to split the post into two parts, our website couldn’t handle one post as long as our Toy Gift Guide. So here’s part 1, which features kid-friendly toys, books, and DVDs/Blu-rays. Then click here for part 2, which covers kid-friendly board games and technology.

I’ve been a parent for going on six years now and many of our writers, including Austin Trunick who contributed to this guide, are parents now too. When my future wife and I started Under the Radar way back in 2001 we were in our 20s and weren’t really thinking about kids yet. But I imagine that as some of our readers have gotten older they’ve had kids too. Thus last year I had the thought to expand our annual Holiday Gift Guide to do a segment for toys and other gifts for kids and their parents. It was a success and so we’re at it again this year. Even if you’re not a parent, you might have a niece, nephew, younger sibling, or godchild to buy a gift for this season.

Obviously you know your children and their tastes better than we do, and no doubt kids have written lists to Santa or otherwise given you some ideas. In the guide below we have included some branded gifts that are likely to be on some of those lists, as well as some more outside of the box ideas we’re really excited about. Some of the gifts aim to educate and prepare kids for the future, others are just plain fun.

We have previously posted part 1 of our 2018 gift guide (for video games), as well as part 2 (for board games), part 3 (for technology), and part 4 (for collectibles). And in the next week or so we will still also be posting more gift guides centering on DVDs/Blu-rays, music box sets and reissues, apparel and household items, and books and comic books. And don’t forget that Under the Radar subscriptions also make a great gift. Plus donating to the charity of your choice in the name of the gift receiver is also a good way to go.


Ani-Mate Mini Movie Maker Kit (NPW/Uncommon Goods)

RRP: $20.00

Is your kid an aspiring filmmaker or do you want them to be one? This fun award-winning stop-motion claymation kit comes with everything kids need to make their own animated movies with a smart phone. It includes various interchangeable backdrops, a selection of props, modeling clay in several bright colors, clay shaping tools, and googly eyes. Movies are then made via a free app for your phone. Maybe you will find yourself grooming the next Nick Park (creator of Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep). Either way, it should equal hours of creative fun. It’s recommended for ages 8 and up. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Barbie The X-Files Agent Fox Mulder Doll and Barbie The X-Files Agent Dana Scully Doll (Mattel)

RRP: $39.99 each

It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years since FBI special agents Fox Mulder (a true believer) and Dana Scully (a skeptic) started investigating alien abductions and other strange cases of the paranormal. The show wasn’t a ratings hit in its first season, but developed a strong enough cult following for the FOX network to stick with it. It eventually became a ‘90s cultural phenomenon, with stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson gracing notable magazine covers and a big screen movie hitting theaters in between the fifth and sixth seasons. It’s also hard to believe that the show returned in 2016 with two more seasons, although Anderson has publically stated she’s now done with the character. For X-Files fans who can’t enough Mulder and Scully, Barbie has released new dolls for each character to commemorate the show’s 25th anniversary. Each doll has designed by Bill Greening, comes with a wallet, badge, and stand, and has a good resemblance to the characters. We imagine these dolls might appeal to adult fans more, but they are recommended for ages 6 and up and perhaps some younger fans have also discovered the show thanks to its revival (or their parents making them watch it). By Mark Redfern (Buy Fox Mulder here. Buy Dana Scully here. Buy a Mulder and Scully gift set here.)

Ghostbusters Slimer, Stay Puff, and Ghostbuster Logo Plush Toys (Kidrobot)

RRP: $11.99 each

My five-year-old daughter was home sick from school one day and so at her insistence I decided to take a chance and show her Ghostbusters, even though she was perhaps a bit too young to watch it (it is only rated PG and most of the adult jokes went over her head). Luckily she loved it and then we dived into The Real Ghostbusters cartoon series, which is on Netflix and alas doesn’t hold up so well three decades later. We haven’t gotten into Ghostbusters II yet because a friend showed it to his similarly aged daughter and she was really freaked out by Vigo, the supernatural villain trapped in a painting. So next up might be 2016’s much-maligned, but still fitfully amusing all-female reboot. Based on how excited she’s been that The Doctor in Doctor Who is now a woman, my daughter will likely be into a gender-flipped Ghostbusters.

Kidrobot has three cute plush toys for Ghostbusters fans young and old. They have wisely decided against a Vigo stuffed animal, instead focusing on fan favorites the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man (you can decide if he’s an innocuous corporate logo or the chosen form of the sadistic god Gozer), Slimer, and the actual Ghostbusters logo from the film. So put on Ray Parker Jr.‘s “Ghostbusters” theme (or the next best thing, Huey Lewis and the News’ “I Wanna New Drug”) and answer the call. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Ghostbusters Slimer HugMe Vibrating Plush (Kidrobot)

RRP: $34.99

This Slimer from Ghostbusters plush is 16-inches tall and vibrates when you hug it or clap. We promise you won’t get slimed if you promise not to wreck the hotel ballroom in order to catch the little guy. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Goldilocks and the Three Bears Toy House (Storytime Toys/Uncommon Goods)

RRP: $30.00

The classic Goldilocks and the Three Bears fairy tale comes to life in this lovingly crafted play set from Storytime Toys. The Three Bears’ house is easily assembled like a 3-D puzzle (no tools or glue needed) and is made of EVA foam and card stock. Kara Dyer, a mother herself, designed the toy and it’s got a timeless look about it, like something your grandmother could have played with. It comes with figures for Goldilocks and all three of the bears, as well as furniture and props (such as three porridge bowls of different sizes). It also includes a Goldilocks and the Three Bears storybook, so that your kids can play-along as they read-along. It’s recommended for ages 3 and up. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

GraviTrax Interactive Track System (Ravensburger)

RRP: $59.99 for starter set, expansion sets $9.99 and up

The GraviTrax line boasts the latest and greatest in marble track technology, allowing you (or, your kids) to build the biggest, most complex Rube Goldberg machine that you can envision. (If you had more fun setting up your Mouse Trap than actually playing the game, GraviTrax is for you.) Some of the marble runs we’ve built looked like the most epic, cutting edge roller coasters you’d find at the nearest Six Flags. Beyond its open-ended building possibilities, there’s also a lot of educational value in a GraviTrax set, teaching children about gravity, magnets, and kinetic energy. The starter set comes with more than 100 pieces, while add-on sets introduce additional elements-from a loop-de-loop to the incredibly cool-sounding “magnetic cannon”-to be worked into your design. An optional, free app even allows you to design your course on a tablet to see how it will run before assembling it on the table. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Lego Batman App-Controlled Batmobile (Lego)

RRP: $99.00

Lego puts out so many different building sets each year that it’s hard to keep up or remotely buy them all. This includes lots of ones featuring Batman, especially after last year’s hit The Lego Batman Movie. But this set really stands out, as it’s a remote controlled Batmobile car. It’s got 321 pieces and you still build it as you would other Lego sets, but this one includes motorized parts and a battery pack (it takes six AAA batteries that aren’t included). When you download the app to your smart phone you can control the Batmobile like a regular remote controlled car. Except that it’s not a regular remote control car, it’s a Lego one, so you can add to it and customize it the way you would any Lego toy. It’s got four-wheel drive, comes with an exclusive Batman mini-figure, and is recommended for ages 8 and up (but younger kids with help from adults should be fine). With Will Arnett returning as Batman in next February’s The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, it seems like there are more Lego Batman toys to come, but few will likely be as cool as this one. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

My Little Pony Best Gift Ever Mane 6 Celebration Set (Hasbro)

RRP: $24.99

My Little Pony has made a bit of a comeback in recent years, thanks in part to a relaunch of the toys in 2010 with the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic cartoon and 2017’s My Little Pony: The Movie. But did it ever go away? Certainly my near-six-year-old daughter loves the toys, as do some of her friends, even though she doesn’t really watch the TV show and never saw the movie. Something about colorful and magical flying ponies and unicorns is endlessly appealing to the right demographic, which perhaps is mainly young girls, but not always. This gift set features six characters: Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, Fluttershy, and Applejack. Each includes a mystery gift, an accessory that matches that character. Recommended for ages 3 and up. For certain girls and boys, this might just be one of the best gifts ever. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

My Little Pony Singing Rainbow Dash (Hasbro)

RRP: $24.99

This more advanced My Little Pony toy is a microphone/karaoke machine for kids. Youngsters can sing along with Rainbow Dash to “Time to Be Awesome” (lyrics included), from 2017’s My Little Pony: The Movie, the Friendship is Magic theme song, or three other tracks. Or kids can sit back and listen to Rainbow Dash sing or they can sing solo, without Dash. The 8-inch Dash also says 15 phrases. It would make a nice gift for aspiring young singers and/or My Little Pony devotees. It’s recommended for ages 3 and up and takes three AA batteries (demo batteries are included). By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

PowerUp Dart: Smart Phone Controlled Paper Airplane (Tailor Toys/Uncommon Goods)

RRP: $40.00

Paper airplanes date back all the way to ancient China and Japan. We’ve all made them as kids, to varying degrees of success. The PowerUp Dart truly brings the concept into the modern age. It is essentially a smart phone remote controlled propeller that can be affixed to a paper airplane to actually make it fly. It comes with red paper templates made of “crash proof carbon fiber” and a spare propeller. It can fly up to 10 minutes on a full charge at about 5 miles per hour, with a range of 180 feet (or 55 meters). It’s recommended for ages 14 and up, but with adult supervision younger kids could easily enjoy this gift too. The Wright brothers, who used their own paper airplanes to help them learn how to fly, would be amazed by how far we’ve come. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Rapunzel’s Tower Disney Doorables Multi Stack Playset (Disney)

RRP: $14.99

Disney’s Doorables line are cute little one-inch figures of their various characters. This playset features Rapunzel from the Tangled movie and TV series (as voiced by Mandy Moore). It includes her tower, which can be split into three parts and stacked in different ways. There’s also a slide modeled after Rapunzel’s famously long hair and various accessories, plus a surprise secret door. It’s recommended for ages 3 and up, due to various small parts. Any young fan of Rapunzel should delight in receiving this. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Transformers DJ Bumblebee (Hasbro)

RRP: $39.99

The Transformers movies have made a ton of money, $4.3 billion worldwide over the course of five films, starting with 2007’s Transformers, but they haven’t exactly been well-received by critics or diehard fans. This month’s Bumblebee hopes to turn that tide, with a more intimate film (by Transformers standards at least), the first in the series not directed by Michael Bay. It takes place in 1987 and mainly centers on the relationship between the transforming robot Bumblebee and a teenaged girl (played by Hailee Steinfeld). Travis Knight, who directed 2016’s acclaimed stop-motion film Kubo and the Two Strings, is behind the camera this time. And while the reviews for Bumblebee aren’t in yet, the fan responses to the trailers have been positive.

With any big Hollywood family film comes the merchandising and Bumblebee is no exception. The DJ Bumblebee is a nifty little toy. It records your voice and then sings your words back to as a robot in the style of one of three songs befitting the time period of the movie’s setting: Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way,” Young MC’s “Bust a Move,” and the original Transformers theme, “Robots in Disguise Theme,” from the 1980s cartoon. The robot also dances along to music (but isn’t able to be transformed into a car). It’s recommended for ages 6 and up and takes three AA batteries (demo batteries are included). By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Transformers Power Charge Bumblebee (Hasbro)

RRP: $49.99

Also available from Hasbro is the Power Charge Bumblebee. This one can be transformed, via 17 steps, into a classic 1980s Volkswagen Beetle. Kids can charge it up by revving the wheel in the robots chest (or underneath the car when it’s in that mode) and then hear over 25 sounds and phrases. Beyond that, as someone who had Transformers as a boy, I can attest that it’s simply a way cool robot toy to play with. It’s recommended for ages 6 and up and takes one AA battery (a demo battery is included). By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Zoom Tubes Car Trax (SAS Group Inc.)

RRP: $32.99

Zoom Tubes Car Trax are not like the remote control car racing sets we grew up with. Instead it’s over 12 feet of tubes that you can connect together into all sorts of track configurations. The remote controlled racing vehicle speeds around inside the tubes and is able to go upside down and any which way the tubes are put together. And the vehicle lights up as well, which makes for a fun experience if you play with it at night. The racer charges via a USB cord. If you buy more than one set then you can either race a friend (each set only comes with one vehicle) or you can build an extra long track. It’s recommended for ages 5 and up. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

DC Comics Justice League Dunny Keychains (Kidrobot)

RRP: $5.99 each

Kidrobot’s Dunny art figures series essentially takes well-known characters and gives them cute bunny ears. This version of the line presents mini figures of various DC Comics superheroes, each one a keychain. They are in blind boxes, so you don’t know which character you’re going to get. They range from well-known characters from the Justice League (Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Batman) to rare figures (such as lesser known characters Animal Man and Booster Gold) to extremely rare figures (the Guy Gardner version of Green Lantern and everyone’s favorite super-powered female magician, Zatanna). Keys have never been so heroic. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Batman x Kidrobot 3” Blind Box Dunny Figures (Kidrobot)

RRP: $11.99 each

Robin, get the Bat-Dunny! If you want to get even more specialized with your DC Comics fandom, Kidrobot also has slightly larger 3-inch Dunny figures centered around Batman, his allies, and his colorful villains. Again, you never know which character you are going to get: Batman, Catwoman, Harley Quinn, The Joker, or the extremely rare Batgirl and Hush figures. There are 15 in total collect and would be great to stuff in a Bat-Stocking of kids young and old. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

DC Comics Phunny Plush (Kidrobot)

RRP: $11.99 each

Kidrobot’s Phunny line of “sinisterly squeezable” 8-inch plush includes several DC Comics characters, such as Ben Affleck’s Batman from the DCEU films, Wonder Woman, The Joker, and Harley Quinn. By Mark Redfern (Buy Batman and Wonder Woman here.)

Marvel Comics Phunny Plush (Kidrobot)

RRP: $11.99 each ($14.99 for Deadpool Riding a Unicorn)

Kidrobot also has a huge range of Marvel Comics Phunny Plush toys. For those kids in love with Spider-Man after seeing the upcoming, already acclaimed, Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse, there’s one for everyone’s favorite wall-crawler. Plus there are Phunnys for Hulk, Thor, Rocket Raccoon, Groot, Captain America, Daredevil, Deadpool riding a unicorn, and The Punisher (probably the least kid-friendly character of the bunch). By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)


Kim Smith: Back to the Future: The Classic Illustrated Storybook (Quirk)

SRP: $18.99

Quirk, the company behind Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and other amusing titles, have a series of illustrated storybooks based on classic movies and TV shows, all illustrated by Kim Smith. Last year in the gift guide we featured Smith’s adaptations of Home Alone and The X-Files. This year she has taken on the beloved classic Back to the Future, which was originally written by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale. The gold standard of time travel movies, the 1985 film also spawned two well-liked sequels and was recently voted as a franchise current audiences would like to see brought back (which is unlikely to ever happen, at least not with the original actors or creators). The film’s plot is understandably condensed in picture book form and made even more kid friendly (there’s no Libyan terrorists and the teenaged version of Marty’s mom falling in love with him is toned down). But the basics are there and the artwork is vibrant and simply wonderful. Back to the Future is one of my all-time favorite films and my nearly six-year-old daughter loves it to. This is the perfect book to expose young kids to the Back to the Future story if they aren’t ready for the film yet or to relive the story with those kids who are already fans. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Kim Smith: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Classic Illustrated Storybook (Quirk)

SRP: $18.99

Kim Smith has also taken on Joss Whedon’s cult classic TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Instead of doing a straight up adaptation of one episode, she does what she did with The X-Files and images what Buffy was like as a kid. Buffy and her friends Willow and Xander are in elementary school in this version and encounter monsters during a sleepover. As with The X-Files, most elementary aged kids are too young to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so this is a good way to ease them into the mythos of the show. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Kim Smith: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: The Classic Illustrated Storybook (Quirk)

SRP: $18.99

Based on the beloved 1982 film written by Melissa Mathison and directed by Steven Spielberg, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: The Classic Illustrated Storybook tells the story of Elliott, a 10-year-old boy who befriends a stranded alien on Earth. Like Smith’s other storybooks, it’s the perfect way to introduce young kids to E.T. (or if they’ve already seen the film, then they’ll enjoy it even more). By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Disney Masters Collectors Box Set #1 and Disney Masters Collectors Box Set #2 (Fantagraphics)

RRP: $59.99 each

Fantagraphics have been lovingly collecting and reissuing classic Disney comic books for years. These two box sets each collect different volumes of the Disney Masters line, featuring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck comics from the 1950s and 1960s. Box Set #1 collects volumes 1 and 2. Volume 1, The Delta Dimension, centers on Italian comics creator Romano Scarpa and his Mickey Mouse work. Volume 2, Uncle Scrooge’s Money Rocket, features the work of fellow Italian artist Luciano Bottaro and a story in which Donald Duck gets stranded on an asteroid. Box Set #2 collects the third and fourth volumes. The Case of the Vanishing Bandit (volume 3) features the Mickey Mouse work of American cartoonist Paul Murry, where as The Great Survival Test features 18 Donald Duck stories by the Dutch and Danish team of Dann Jippes and Freddy Milton. Some of the comics collected in these volumes have never been published in the United States before. By Mark Redfern (Buy Box Set #1 here. Buy Box Set #2 here.)

Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck: The Don Rosa Library Vols. 9 & 10 Gift Box Set (Fantagraphics)

RRP: $49.99

Uncle Scrooge has been back in a big way of late thanks to the successful reboot of Ducktails, where he’s been voiced by former Doctor Who star David Tennant. This gift box set collects volumes 9 and 10 of The Don Rosa Library series. Rosa is an American comic book artist and writer who has been creating Scrooge McDuck and Donald Duck comics since the 1980s. These volumes collect stories from the late 1990s and early 2000s, including The Three Caballeros Ride Again! and The Old Castle’s Other Secret. Ducktails fans young and old would do well to seek this one out. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

My Miniature Library (Laurence King Publishing/Uncommon Goods)

RRP: $20.00

Ever dreamt of being miniaturized Honey, I Shrunk the Kids style? Well if you ever did, this would be the perfect gift for you. But really, it’s a darling product for kids of any size. The kit includes 30 doll-sized books that kids can cut out and make. The box turns into a library play-set, complete with a bookshelf to put all those little books on, making it suitable for The Borrowers or Ant-Man, as well as a great staging ground for dolls and action figures. The illustrated books themselves are very real children’s tales that can be read, including such classics as Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, The Frog Prince, Hansel and Gretel, Jabberwocky, The Owl and the Pussycat, and, fittingly, Thumbelina. There are also 10 blank books that kids and parents can draw, write, and make themselves, further adding to this handsomely designed creative gift. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Matthew Reinhart: Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas: A Petrifying Pop-Up for the Holidays (Disney Editions)

RRP: $65.00

The Nightmare Before Christmas wasn’t directed by Tim Burton (Henry Selick helmed it), but Burton came up with the story and characters and produced the film and it very much felt like a Burton creation. The film was praised by critics on its release 25 years ago, but was only a modest box office success. Its stature as a holiday classic, however, has only grown over the years. Its characters and themes still appeal to both kids and the Hot Topic crowd. It’s also a flexible holiday film, you could watch it at either Halloween or Christmas (or anywhere in between). I showed it to my daughter when she was around 4 years old, via my old Laserdisc copy (yep!), and she loved it. Now Disney has put out this intricately prepared pop-up book based on the film. New York Times best-selling author Matthew Reinhart put it together and the book is a wonder to behold, with pop-ups within pop-ups and beautiful artwork. Pop-up books like this must be hard to mass-produce, as they seem so handmade. My daughter is going to adore it. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Sarah Parvis: My Girl Power Journal (Downtown Bookworks)

RRP: $16.99

Downtown Bookworks have a great line of young kid-friendly DC Super Heroes books. Sarah Parvis’ My Girl Power Journal is a wonderful book for elementary and middle school girls (or boys) who can read and write (it’s recommended for ages 8 and up). It’s filled with prompts and questions to get the kids writing and thinking about themselves, mixed with an array of female DC superheroes. For example, did you know that in the comic books Wonder Woman once ran for president, way back in 1943? One section in the book asks the reader to imagine running for president. What would be the five most important things on their platform, what would their campaign slogans be, and what would their campaign logo look like? There are pages about creating businesses, donating to charity, being a reporter like Lois Lane, standing up to bullies, favorite quotations and movie lines, friendship, and more. The reader is meant to write in (or draw) their responses in the blank lines. While superpowers aren’t a thing in real life, this book can help inspire girls to embrace their inner girl power and be whatever kind of person they want to aspire to be. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Morris Katz: Super Heroes Say Please (Downtown Bookworks)

RRP: $10.99

Downtown Bookworks have a lovely line of DC Comics themed board books aimed at toddlers and preschoolers. The books each have different themes, using retro art from classic DC Comics. There are books for learning the alphabet and teaching kids to count, one about opposites, another about colors and shapes, and ones that give easy introductions to Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Super Heroes Say Please teaches basic manners, it’s a guide for how to be kind and polite. Youngsters can learn about greetings as Wonder Woman and Mary Marvel shake hands and say hi; about showing interest in your friends as Batman and Superman ask how the other is doing; about saying please, thank you, and you’re welcome; about taking turns and sharing; about giving compliments; and about saying sorry. The book is recommended for ages 0-3, but having a five-year-old I’ve found that these are lessons that even older kids could do with being reminded of. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Julie Merberg: The Big Book of Girl Power (Downtown Bookworks)

RRP: $16.99

As well as journals and board books, Downtown Bookworks DC Super Heroes line also includes several bearing the title The Big Book of…. These are larger hardcover books dedicated to various subjects. The Big Book of Girl Power is about many of DC’s female superheroes. The big three, Supergirl, Wonder Woman, and Batgirl, grace the cover and are each granted four pages. The other characters get two pages each. Each entry includes a brief biography of the character, info on their powers, and artwork pulled from their comic book appearances. The Big Book of Girl Power also features Hawkgirl, Bumblebee, Catwoman, Raven, Mera, Starfire, Katana, and Black Canary. It’s recommended for ages 3 and up. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Morris Katz: The Big Book of Superpowers (Downtown Bookworks)

RRP: $16.99

The Big Book of Superpowers highlights the powers of various DC Comics heroes, using artwork from their comic book appearances over the years. Some might be obvious to parents and kids, such as Superman’s flight and X-ray vision powers and Batman’s gadgets. Others might be less known, such as the abilities of Martian Manhunter, who can read minds, shape-shift, and walk through walls and other solid objects. The book also features Supergirl, Batgirl, Green Lantern, Hawkman and Hawkgirl, The Flash, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, Green Arrow, Aquaman, Plastic Man, and shrinking hero The Atom. It’s recommended for ages 3 and up. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Morris Katz: The Big Book of Super-Villains (Downtown Bookworks)

RRP: $16.99

The Big Book of Super-Villains, as its title suggests, focuses on many of the DC Comics baddies. The Joker, Lex Luthor, and Harley Quinn grace the cover and the book is heavy on Batman and Superman foes. Each bad guy gets anywhere from a half-page to two pages to briefly explain the character’s origin and powers, as well as which hero they fight. For Batman there is The Joker, Harley Quinn, The Penguin, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, Two-Face, The Riddler, Mr. Freeze, and Catwoman (who has actually turned over a new leaf and was engaged to Batman in the comics recently). For Shazam it’s Black Adam and Dr. Sivanna. Flash villains Grodd, Captain Cold, and Captain Boomerang make an appearance. Then there are archenemies for Aquaman (Black Manta), Green Lantern (Sinestro), and Wonder Woman (The Cheetah, Giganta). And finally, many a nemesis of the Man of Steel close out the book: Lex Luthor, Mr. Mxyzptlk, General Zod, Bizarro, Brainiac, and Darkseid. It’s recommended for ages 3 and up. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

DVDs and Blu-rays:

Batman: The Complete Animated Series (Deluxe Limited Edition) Blu-ray (Warner Bros.)

RRP: $112.99

Batman: The Animated Series is continually voted as one of the best animated TV shows of all time and also won four Emmy Awards, all for good reason. The show, which debuted in 1992, the same year as Tim Burton’s Batman Returns film (the one with Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman), took the character seriously. It had film noir and art deco influences, but wasn’t so dark that kids couldn’t watch it. And it influenced the comic books too: Harley Quinn was first introduced in the show before becoming a major character on the print page and on the big screen. The series has been on DVD before, but now it’s been released on Blu-ray for the first time. It includes the two seasons where it was titled Batman: The Animated Series and then The Adventures of Batman & Robin (in season two), as well as the third season when it moved from Fox Kids to Kids’ WB and was re-titled The New Batman Adventures. All-in-all it’s 109 episodes. Also included in the Deluxe Limited Edition is the theatrical film based on the show, 1992’s Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, and it’s straight-to-video sequel, 1998’s Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero!, as well as three mini POP figures of Batman, Harley Quinn, and The Joker. Some fans consider Kevin Conroy’s voice acting as Batman/Bruce Wayne and Hark Hamill’s voice work as The Joker to be the very best interpretations of the characters, characters they continue playing in various TV shows, direct-to-DVD movies, and video games to this day. Certainly when reading Batman comics it’s easy to hear Conroy’s voice in your head when Batman speaks. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Coco Blu-ray/DVD (Disney)

RRP: $39.99

Pixar’s track record is fairly stellar. The computer animation imprint of Disney has had few misfires. Perhaps the Cars films and 2015’s The Good Dinosaur are less beloved than classics such as the Toy Story franchise, Up, WALL-E, and Inside Out, but they aren’t actively hated by many. 2017’s Coco continued Pixar’s winning streak with a moving and beautifully realized tale of a 12-year-old Mexican boy, Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez), whose dream of becoming a musician defies his parents. When he accidentally ends up in the afterlife on the Day of the Dead, Miguel is forced to confront his family history and the secrets of his ancestors. Coco was acclaimed by critics, won numerous awards, and became the biggest grossing film in history at the Mexican box office, a signal that director Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3) and the other filmmakers did a good job representing the culture and traditions of that country. The Blu-ray/DVD includes over two hours of bonus features, including deleted scenes, commentary, and documentaries. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!: The Ultimate Edition Blu-ray/DVD (Warner Bros.)

RRP: $24.98

Sure a new animated version of Dr. Seuss’ children’s classic was just released in theaters, The Grinch starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the Christmas hating creature, and it’s done well as the box office. Then there was Ron Howard’s 2000-released live action film, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, starring Jim Carrey as the title character, which hasn’t aged all that well and wasn’t particularly well-received by critics at the time. But what about the original 1966 animated TV special? It was directed by Looney Tunes master Chuck Jones and starred Boris Karloff (he of various Frankenstein films) as The Grinch. Warner Bros. has now put it out on Blu-ray in an Ultimate Edition that also includes a DVD and digital code. Special features includes various making of documentaries (including an old one hosted by the late Phil Hartman), as well as two sequel specials: 1977’s Halloween is Grinch Night and 1982’s The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Early Man Blu-ray/DVD (Lionsgate)

RRP: $19.99

It’s too bad Early Man didn’t do better at the box office. It may not be quite the classic that some previous Aardman Animations films were (such as Chicken Run, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were Rabbit, and Shaun the Sheep Movie), but Early Man was still clever, amusing, and lovingly made by director and Wallace & Gromit creator Nick Park. Any film that could be described as a “stop-motion animated historical sports comedy film” would have to be a labor of love. Early Man starts in prehistoric times. After an asteroid hits Earth and kills all the dinosaurs, cavemen take a chunk of it and invent the game of football (meaning soccer). The film’s main setting is many years later, in the Stone Age, and involves a Stone Age man, Dug (Eddie Redmayne), challenging the evil Bronze Age king Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) to a football match in order for his tribe to regain control of their valley. Perhaps the film was too British for American audiences, as it only made $8 million in America and a total of $54 million worldwide, half what Shaun the Sheep Movie made and also roughly a quarter of what Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were Rabbit grossed. Hopefully families can discover it on home media. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Fireworks Blu-ray/DVD (GKIDS/Shout! Factory)

RRP: $26.99

Fireworks is a 2017 Japanese animated movie, which is based on a 1993 Japanese television play. It’s kind of an anime Groundhog Day and features two teenagers who end up repeating the same day over and over again thanks to a magical orb. GKIDS’ Blu-ray release includes both the English dubbed version and the original Japanese version with subtitles. The film is technically unrated, but is recommended for kids 13 and up. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Fraggle Rock: The Complete Series Blu-ray (Sony)

RRP: $75.99

When Jim Henson’s Fraggle Rock debuted in 1983 it felt like it was attempting to bridge the gap between Sesame Street (which was more aimed at preschoolers) and The Muppet Show (which also appealed to older kids and adults). The puppet-based show was filmed in Toronto, broadcast around the world (sometimes in slightly different versions), and used fantasy as an allegory for all sorts of serious issues, including prejudice, the environment, spirituality, and personal conflicts. Now, to celebrate its 35th anniversary, all 96 episodes have been released on Blu-ray for the first time. It has a slew of special features, including some new ones, such as a sing-along option for every episode and “Life on Set: Moments with Jim Henson.” Plus there are a ton of special features from the previous DVD edition. It also includes the complete Fraggle Rock: The Animated Series, which ran for one season on NBC in 1987. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

The Incredibles 2 Blu-ray/DVD (Disney)

RRP: $39.99

It took Pixar 14 years to follow-up their 2004 superhero family classic The Incredibles, but it was certainly worth the wait. Despite the time gap, The Incredibles 2 actually picks up right where the first film ended, as they fight the Underminer. Most of the original cast returns, including Craig T. Nelson as Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible, Holly Hunter as Helen Parr/Elastigirl, Sarah Vowell as Violet Parr, Samuel L. Jackson as Lucius Best/Frozone, and director Brad Bird as Edna Mode. The family’s speedster son, Dash Parr, was voiced by Spencer Fox in the first film and Huck Milner in this one, due to the 10-year-old age of the character. The film was nearly as acclaimed by critics as the first one and was a box office smash (it’s currently the second highest grossing animated film of all-time, worldwide, beaten only by Frozen). If you’ve got kids, there’s a good chance you’ve already seen the movie, but the Blu-ray includes the new mini-movie Auntie Edna, in which Edna babysits baby Jack-Jack, the Pixar short Bao that player before the movie in theaters, 10 deleted scenes, and various other behind-the-scenes documentaries. Hopefully the wait for The Incredibles 3 won’t be quite so long. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Lady and the Tramp (Walt Disney The Signature Collection) Blu-ray/DVD (Disney)

RRP: $21.99

Disney are making a live action version of Lady and the Tramp that’s set to premiere on their new Disney+ streaming service. The live action cast will include Kiersey Clemons, Thomas Mann, and Yvette Nicole Brown, with Tessa Thompson voicing the presumably computer animated Lady, Justin Theroux as Tramp, Janelle Monáe as Peg, Sam Elliott as Trusty, Ashley Jensen as Jackie, and Benedict Wong as Bull. No release date has been announced yet, so in the meantime why not revisit the 1955 animated original about a classy dog from a well-to-do household who falls in love with a scruffy street dog. Interesting, the film was panned by some major critics on its release, with the likes of The New York Times and Time Magazine calling it too sentimental and gooey and even criticizing the animation. It was a box office hit nonetheless and has since been regarded as a classic. This Signature Collection Blu-ray includes a new sing-along version, as well as various other special features. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

My Neighbor Totoro (30th Anniversary Edition) Blu-ray/DVD (GKIDS/Shout! Factory)

RRP: $49.97

Hayao Miyazaki’s Japanese animation classic My Neighbor Totoro turned 30 this year. Despite its age, the 1988 film still resonates with kids today. It is one of the favorite films of my daughter, who’s nearly six. Although we already had it on Blu-ray, earlier this year we took her and some of her friends to a 30th anniversary screening in our town and they all loved it (for one four-year-old it was the first movie he’d ever seen in the movie theater; what a way to start). The film takes place in 1958 when sisters Satsuki and Mei have to move out to an old house in the countryside with their father, university professor Tatsuo Kusakabe, to be closer to their sick mother, who is recovering from an illness at a nearby hospital. In the forest behind their house the sisters encounter magical creatures. The 2005 Disney English language redub of the film featured real-life sisters Dakota Fanning and Elle Fanning as Satsuki and Mei, with Tim Daly as their father. GKIDS already released the G-rated My Neighbor Totoro on Blu-ray last year, but the 30th Anniversary Edition also includes the soundtrack on CD and a 40-page essay book, along with other Blu-ray special features. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Peter Rabbit (Special Garden Edition) Blu-ray/DVD (Sony)

RRP: $24.99

Peter Rabbit has been around since 1902, and yet this year director Will Gluck (Easy A, Friends with Benefits) was able to make Beatrix Potter’s mischievous rabbit relevant to modern audiences with this live action/computer animated film. Perhaps it was the casting of late night TV host/actor/social media star James Corden as the voice of Peter. Perhaps it was the tone and humor, which was Home Alone-esque in its slapstick cartoon violence as Peter and Thomas McGregor (a live action Domhnall Gleeson) go to war with each other for both control of the farm and the affections of Bea (Rose Byrne). Whether Potter would have approved is up for debate, but either way the film connected with audiences, making $351 million worldwide, enough to green-light a sequel for release in 2020. The Blu-ray release includes an all-new mini movie starring Flopsy (voiced by Margot Robbie), Mopsy (voiced by Elizabeth Debicki), and Cottontail (voiced by Daisy Ridley). The Special Garden Edition is a Target exclusive and includes the exclusive bonus disc, Make Your Own Macgregor Garden!, as well as “plantable carrot seed cards with planting tips to create your own garden.” By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Pixar Short Films Collection Volume 3 Blu-ray/DVD (Disney)

RRP: $24.99

Pixar started out by making short films at the dawn of computer animation in the 1980s. Their earliest shorts, some which were utterly charming for their time, were collected in 2007 on Pixar Short Films Collection Volume 1, which has gotten a lot of replay in our house. These days Pixar shorts generally screen before their feature films and Volume 3 collects a lot of those. It includes 2016’s Piper, about a little sandpiper bird, which screened before Finding Dory and won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. Sanjay’s Super Team (2015) was paired with The Good Dinosaur and was nominated for an Oscar, as was 2017’s Lou, which showed prior to Cars 3. Riley’s First Date? was a continuation of 2015’s Inside Out and was included on the home media release of the film (as the title suggests, it’s about 12-year-old Riley going on a first date and how the emotions inside her deal with that). Party Central features the Monsters Inc. characters but didn’t actually screen in front of another Pixar film, instead it was shown ahead of 2014’s Muppets Most Wanted. The films range from 2012’s Partysaurus Rex, a Toy Story short in which Rex parties with some bath toys, to the most recent Pixar short, Bao, which screened with this year’s Incredibles 2. Included are filmmaker commentaries, a making of Bao, and a documentary on the caricatures Pixar animators draw of each other. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Satellite Girl and Milk Cow Blu-ray/DVD (Gkids/Shout! Factory)

RRP: $26.99

Satellite Girl and Milk Cow is certainly a strange one. It’s about an out-of-commission satellite that comes to Earth and turns into a robot girl named Satellite Girl. There she falls in love with a twenty-something singer who has been turned into a cow. Oh, and there’s also a walking/talking roll of toilet paper. The South Korean film sure is quirky, but it’s not exactly a premise you can say you’ve seen before. The film is officially unrated in America, but perhaps would be good for 9 or 10 year olds and up. The Blu-ray includes the additional short film Coffee Vending Machine and Its Sword. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Sofia the First: The Secret Library DVD (Disney)

RRP: $14.99

Sofia the First: The Secret Library collects four episodes from the third season of the popular Disney Junior show. The series centers on Sofia (played by Ariel Winter, Alex Dunphy on Modern Family), who becomes a princess after her mother marries a king. Sara Ramirez (Grey’s Anatomy), Wayne Brady (Whose Line is it Anyway?), and Tim Gunn (Project Runway) all voice characters as well and sometimes episodes feature other well-known Disney characters. On this DVD, “The Secret Library,” for example, features Merida from Brave and “The Secret Library: Olaf and the Tale of Miss Nettle” features Olaf, the snowman from Frozen, as voiced by Josh Gad. The DVD also includes the episodes “Princess Adventure Club” and “The Princess Ballet,” and comes with a sparkling Sofia necklace. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Teen Titans Go! To the Movies Blu-ray/DVD (Warner Bros.)

RRP: $35.99

Teen Titans Go! To the Movies was criminally under-seen in the theaters, despite a whopping 91% Certified Fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes. It did make $51.9 million worldwide, with $29.6 million in the United States, against a $10 million budget, so it wasn’t a complete flop. The film would certainly appeal to fans of the Cartoon Network show it’s based on, Teen Titans Go!. But really anyone with a passing knowledge of superheroes will get a kick out of it, as the whole motion picture is a loving send up of superhero movies. The Teen Titans superhero team, especially its leader Robin, are desperate to have a movie made about them. All sorts of obscure characters are getting movies made about them, including the Batmobile and Batman’s utility belt, so why not the Teen Titans? The problem is that no one takes them seriously. Robin is still thought of as just Batman’s kid sidekick and the team as a whole are viewed as goofballs. What they need is an archenemy. Enter supervillain Slade (aka Deathstroke, voiced by Will Arnett). The film takes potshots at some of DC’s ever so serious superhero films, such as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and the much mocked part about the adversaries’ mothers both having the same first name. But Marvel isn’t immune either, be it jokes about Deadpool (who was initially kind of a rip-off of Deathstroke) or the late Stan Lee making not one, but two cameos poking fun at how much he loves to make cameos in all the superhero movies, even though this isn’t a Marvel one (it was Lee’s one and only cameo in a DC film and his final animated role). Plus the songs are really good (oh yeah, it’s a musical too), including the sax-tastic “Upbeat Inspirational Song About Life” sung by Michael Bolton. And Nicolas Cage plays Superman, which is a reference to the cancelled Tim Burton Superman Lives film from the late 1990s, in which Cage was scheduled to play the Man of Steel. So, in summary, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies offers an exploding truck full of laughs for both kids and adults. The Blu-ray includes music videos, sing-along segments, The Late Batsby DC Super Hero Girls short film that screened before the movie in theaters, storyboard animatics, and more. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Click here for part 2 of our 2018 Toy Gift Guide, which covers kid-friendly board games and technology.

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