Meet the Minds Behind the Toys

Filmmakers Ken Sons and TimWalsh take questions at the Sunday premiere of their documentary "Toyland."
Filmmakers Ken Sons and TimWalsh take questions at the Sunday premiere of their documentary "Toyland."
SARASOTA (2010-4-12) -

They're the toys most of us grew up with: Slinky. Play Dough. Twister. All celebrated toys and games developed by virtually unknown people. That is, until now. The documentary Toyland, running now at the Sarasota Film Festival, tells the stories of toy inventors and gives a peek into the inner workings of the toy industry.

It started when toy creator Tim Walsh took a comedy class from documentary-maker Ken Sons.

“He approached me and said ‘I have this really great idea for film,” Sons said. “It’s about toy inventors, about all of these rock stars of the toy industry in their 80s and 90s and nobody knows who they are.”
Walsh wrote “Timeless Toys,” which tells how toys like the slinky and play dough were created.

“In our culture if you record a piece of music that sells a million copies, you get the cover of Rolling Stone. If you write a book that sells that many, my goodness you get on the New York Times best seller list,” Walsh said. “If you create - you know - Ant Farm - which hasn’t sold a million copies but probably 50 million copies, no one knows who you are.”

The film gives a glimpse inside the stories and lives of several “rock stars” of the toy world -- such as Betty James, the developer of Slinky.
“When we first had Slinky and we were getting publicity and orders were coming in and you thought maybe it would go,” James said during her interview for Toyland. “But, the next thing was how long. Because we were so concerned that it was a fad.”

Some fad, Walsh said more than 300 million Slinkys have been sold.

“What people don’t realize is that the man that invented it, her husband, left her in 1945 with six children,” Walsh said. “A family torn apart, a company in debt and she saved the family, saved the company”
They dedicated the “Toyland” to James, who passed away two years ago.
Besides the rock star inventors, they also take you to the New York Toy expo to meet toymaker wannabes.

“We interviewed people, their first time in New York, driving their car with their prototypes packed in the back,” Sons said. “They put their stuff out there and you go there’s no way that could ever make it to market. You know, there’s like jagged edges and stuff like that but they took a shot at it.”
The common thread that ties the film together is a game called “Crazy Chins.” Walsh developed it and let the camera follow him as he pitched the idea to the big toy manufacturers.

You have to see the film to find out if Walsh’s recent toy innovation was snapped up. But to him that isn’t the point.
“The message for me is, life is short and you got to do what you love to do,” Walsh said. “Play is a valid thing and to go for it.”
Ever the comedian, Sons says he hopes the “take away” people have after seeing the film is a DVD of “Toyland.”

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