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Toys 'R' Us messes with Mother Nature: trees vs. toys [+video]

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Hey kids: Forget boring nature. Get a new plastic toy instead!

That’s the basic message behind this new Toys "R" Us ad touting a surprise outing in which they took a busload of kids and let them each pick out any toy they wanted in a Toys "R" Us store.

Giving a free toy to kids in need is great. What’s not so great is the way Toys "R" Us chose to frame this special outing, both to the kids and to viewers of this “make all their wishes come true” promo.

The kids are told they’re going on a field trip to the forest, and get on a green bus with “Meet the Trees Foundation” painted on the side, along with a faux ranger, who tells them, “We’re not going to waste any time. Let’s play ‘Name that leaf.’ "

The camera pans to yawning kids, and we’re all invited to ridicule this totally lame field trip, until the actor rips off his fake ranger uniform and announces, “You know what I like more than trees? I like toys. We’re going to Toys "R" Us, kids!”

The kids erupt into screaming, jumping, joyful chaos.

Every kid loves toys. In critiquing this ad, I’m not trying to be a killjoy who says that toys – especially for kids who don’t have much – are a bad thing.

But as a parent who cares deeply about getting my kids outdoors, and who worries about the millions of American children who rarely get outside or have a chance to interact with nature, I find the setup of the ad troubling.

I also find it ill-informed, based on adults’ preconceived notions of what must be “fun” or “boring,” rather than on kids own sensibilities. Anyone who has spent much time with children who do get to go to the forest, and have free play with dirt, sticks, trees, and stumps, knows how much they love it.

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