Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Toy Line Promotes Aquarium; Children Helped Shape Doll Idea

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Toy Line Promotes Aquarium; Children Helped Shape Doll Idea

Article excerpt

Byline: John Carter, Times-Union staff writer

They're funny little critters -- mostly small mammals with swim fins, goggles and scuba tanks.

They're plush, stuffed toys and have punster names such as:

Mike O. Wallah (my koala)

Wally Bea (wallaby)

Ginny Peeg (guinea-pig)

Jerry Bull (gerbil)

Ham Star (hamster)

Pam deBear (panda bear)

And if you buy one at the Tinseltown megaplex lobby for $10 a pop during the holidays, a similar stuffed critter will be donated to the Toys for Tots, a toy giveaway campaign run by the U.S. Marine Corps.

Travis Dean created the line of toys to help market an invention of his called Aquatat, a pet environment that accommodates aquarium critters along with mammal "pocket pets" (such as hamsters) and birds. The Aquatat is essentially a water-filled aquarium that has tunnels and air compartments running through it so the air-breathing animals can be surrounded by the colorful movement of fish.

"It's amazing, but the animals almost always nest in the center of the tank," Dean said. "And it seems the fish and animals or birds seem to adopt each other."

He came up with the idea for plush toys after he showed a video of his Aquatat at a toy convention in London. Dean had commissioned an artistic friend -- Liza Fleming, a Flagler College graduate -- to draw comic book-type critters for use on the Aquatat web site to help illustrate how the Aquatat worked.

"The children [who saw them on the web] were so enamored with them, they started writing me, wanting me to name them, things like that," he said.

Finally, Dean decided to give the critters names based on puns. He let the children who were writing to him help create the critters' "bios" and character traits.

For example, a chronic e-mailer from France decided that Capt. …

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