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Barbie as Rapunzel, Harry Potter and Care Bears rank among hot holiday items

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

By Karen MacPherson, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

It's official: Barbie, dressed as the fairy tale character Rapunzel, rules Toyland this holiday season.

Barbie lets her hair down as Rapunzel for this shopping season.


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Barbie has been a reigning monarch of Toyland since her debut in 1959. This year, Mattel combined her perennial popularity with Rapunzel's long hair and princess status. The result? Barbie as Rapunzel ($19.99, ages 5 and up).

However, Barbie is for girls (and adult collectors). Retailers and toy experts say no "must-have" toy for both boys and girls has emerged so far this shopping season.

"This year, there are different top toys for every age and for boys and girls," said Jim Silver, publisher of Toy Wishes magazine ($4.99 at newsstands).

He does see some "hot categories" that appeal to both: technology-based educational toys, especially those by industry leader Leapfrog; construction sets such as K'Nex and LEGO; and all kinds of radio-controlled vehicles.

Silver and other experts also agree that toys based on characters from TV shows, movies and books continue to be popular. These include the Harry Potter Chamber of Secrets playset from LEGO, Yu-Gi-Oh! trading cards and the Dora the Explorer doll.

In addition, games will continue to be hot, predicts Sean McGowan, a toy industry analyst with Gerard Klauer Mattison.

Care Bears, top, those popular cuddlies introduced in the '80s, return to the toy shelves this holiday shopping season.

"The country is still experiencing 'cocooning' -- when families choose to stay home together -- which has led to a surge in the popularity of newfangled games, such as Cranium, as well as classics like Monopoly and Risk," said McGowan, who also is founder of Playdate Inc., an independent marketing services firm.

Maria Weiskott, editor of Playthings magazine, highlights the "retro" trend in toys, noting the return of the Care Bears. There's also a 25th anniversary edition of Trivial Pursuit, and special 50th anniversary Matchbox cars. One of the top toys of the year, according to kid-toy testers at FamilyFun magazine, is Old Century Baseball, a retro-styled, coffee-table pinball machine.

Echoing other toy analysts, Weiskott warns that there could be a shortage of popular toys because of the West Coast labor strike, which delayed shipments from the Far East. She advises parents to "get your toy shopping done early this year."

For parents who like to check a list like Santa, here's a roundup of toys expected to sell well. It's based on various "best toys of the year" lists compiled by toy experts Dr. Toy and the Oppenheim Portfolio and various parenting magazines, including FamilyFun, Parents, Parenting, Working Mother, and Parent & Child. All prices are the suggested retail price.

Infant and toddler

Naughty Naughty Pets (Scary Stories, ages birth up, $20). These whimsical, wacky-looking stuffed creatures will soon star in their own TV show and book series.

Musini (Neurosmith, ages 3 up, $69.99). This innovative electronic musical device senses children's movements and then responds musically by changing tempo, rhythm and melody.

Pretend & Learn Shopping Cart (Leapfrog, ages 2-4, $45). This talking cart full of "groceries" comes with a scanner that allows kids to hear nutrition facts and play counting and coloring games.

Lamaze Puppytunes (Learning Curve, ages birth-2, $19.99). When a baby pushes each leg of this musical electronic pup, he plays a different note.

Preschoolers

Boarding Gate with Tower (Playmobil, ages 4 up, $100). This beautifully detailed airport is the latest entry in the collection of Playmobil toy sets.

Sweet Magic Kitchen (Fisher-Price, ages 3-6, $100). This compact kitchen includes an oven with stovetop, a sink and play food that changes color when it's "cooked."

We Did It! Dancing Dora (Fisher-Price, ages 3-5, $30). This electronic version of the bilingual TV star responds to kids' requests to count in Spanish, to dance, etc.

Madeline 15-inch rag doll (Learning Curve, ages 3-7, $16). Youngsters can re-enact the beloved books by Ludwig Bemelmans or come up with their own adventures with this "dressable" doll. Outfits must be purchased separately. (Note: In addition, Learning Curve sells an 8-inch poseable Madeline doll for $15 that also can be dressed in separately purchased outfits.)

Games

Old MacDonald Had a Farm Game (Hasbro, ages 3-6, $19.99). Kids hear animal sounds when they find the baby animals hiding under haystacks in this electronic game.

Old Century Baseball (Upper Deck, ages 8 up, $130). This lovely wooden pinball machine offers hours of family fun.

Cranium Cariboo (ages 3-6, $19.95) and Cranium Cadoo (ages 7-11, $19.99) extend the fun of the adult Cranium game to the younger set.

Yu-Gi-Oh! collector's tins (Upper Deck, ages 4 up, $19.99). Based on the TV show, these cards seem destined to become the new Pokemon.

Construction toys

LEGO Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets playset (LEGO, ages 8 up, $69.99). With this 591-piece set, kids can build the Hogwarts dungeon (and then integrate it into LEGO's Hogwarts castle set, one of the best-selling toys of last year).

Imaginext Rescue Center (Fisher-Price, ages 5-7, $35). This playset snaps together and features extra items such as a cannon that shoots plastic "water" and a station-house siren.

LEGO's Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets playset can be connected to its Hogwarts castle set, one of the best-selling toys of last year.

Electronic Arcade (K'Nex, ages 10 up, $89.99). With this set, kids can build and customize their own pinball game.

Build Your Own Building Sets (K'Nex, ages 7 up, $29.99). Note: these must be purchased online at http://www.knex.com. You can create a 30-model building set customized to your child's interests (airplanes, race cars, etc.). The set comes in a storage case with your child's name on it.

Activity toys

Hershey's Chocolate Magic (Spin Master, ages 6 up, $14.99). Youngsters can melt chocolate chips into molds with this candymaker.

Crayola Crayon Maker (Binney & Smith, ages 8 up, $24.99). Kids can melt down the nubs of old crayons to create new crayons in colors they get to name.

Crunch Art Critters (HandsOnToys, ages 5-10, $7). It's an entirely new way to do crafts. Kids use a special tool to stick tiny pieces of fabric into a round piece of plastic foam and create some wild-looking creatures.

Paint Your Own Chair (Curiosity Kits, ages 8 up, $35). With this kit, kids can paint the canvas of a butterfly chair to create a unique and usable keepsake for their room.

KG Automites (Kid Galaxy, ages 5 up, $14.99). These radio-controlled cars may be tiny, but they pack a wallop of fun.

Slickster (Wham-O, ages 5 up, $4.99-$6.99). This "sled" is so lightweight that kids can wear it around their waists.

Tech toys for school-agers and preteens

Quantum Leappad (Leapfrog, ages 8-10, $49.99). Kids can learn all kinds of information about the solar system, U.S. history and more with this toy, which is designed like an electronic notebook and pen.

Talk Time (Wild Planet, ages 8 up, $16.99). Created by a preteen girl, this nifty-looking clock allows kids to record their own wake-up message. Clap your hands, and the clock "talks" and tells you the time.

Furreal Friends (Tiger, ages 6 up, $34.99 -- three different models available). They look like real cats and even act like real cats. But these furry electronic felines won't cause any allergies.


Karen MacPherson can be reached at kmacpherson@nationalpress.com or 1-202-662-7075.

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