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A PLAY FOR THE PAST TOY MAKERS COUNTING ON BARBIE, CARE BEARS AND OTHER RETRO NAMES FOR BIG HOLIDAY SALES.

Byline: Chris J. Parker Correspondent

IF THE SHELVES in Toyland look a little familiar this holiday season, well, that's no coincidence.

``Familiarity'' is the word of the day in America's toy stores. And if that's a bit of a mouthful for most children, they can take comfort in knowing its synonyms: Retro, re-release and repetitive.

Ridiculous? Hardly.

Whether it's an old toy that's finding a new audience, or a movie franchise that's already established a multimillion-dollar fan base, toy companies are rushing to put familiar products in front of shoppers this holiday season. After all, when $25 billion is at stake - the amount of money spent in 2001 on toys - why take chances on unknown products?

Starting with well-known brands ``is the best way a toy can be advertised,'' says Julie Edelman, author and family lifestyle editor at BestStuff.com. But it's not the end-all. Manufacturers can no longer just slap a logo or familiar character on a shoddy product and expect it to sell, she says.

``Kids are so much more sophisticated now and there's so many toys,'' Edelman says. ``Manufacturers have to really pay attention to what kids want and to the quality of their products.''

Advances in technology help increase the quality of many products, especially re-released - or retro - toys that are back on the shelves after an absence of a decade or more.

Consider the following:

This year's hottest plush toy will probably be the Care Bears line, back from the toy liquidators and suddenly a must-get toy for many Gen-X parents. American Greetings, which first sold the plush teddy bears in its greeting cards stores 20 years ago, has bears, perfumes and cell phone covers - among other licensees - this time around.

``People really are so excited to see them back,'' says Ilona Weinerman, spokeswoman for American Greetings. ``It's a part of their childhood.

--Looking for a doll? Cabbage Patch Kids are back, 20 years after they were a cultural icon (and one of the first impossible-to-find presents). For boys, He-Man has been re-released by Mattel's Masters of the Universe line.

--Darth Vader is back, along with everyone else who has held a light-saber or blaster in a ``Star Wars'' movie, thanks to Hasbro Games' ``Star Wars - Epic Duels.'' Players can pit ``Star Wars'' characters against each other, even if they never squared off in one of the five movies. So Vader better watch his back: Yoda is gunning for him.

--Elmo returns seven years after his hit rookie season, only this time the Sesame Street muppet doesn't get tickled or giggle. He's wearing a chicken costume, and he's not afraid to dance in it.

--Possibly the biggest retro success story of the year is Barbie, which only a few years ago was being called out-of-touch. Not anymore. Many toy industry watchers, including PlayDate 2002, are predicting that the ``Barbie as Rapunzel'' doll will be the top-selling toy of the holiday season. And that's not including all the accessories that go with this version of ``Barbie,'' or the direct-to-home video that's being credited with reigniting kids' interest in Barbie.

Barbie is not the only familiar face at the top of the toy heap. Characters from a half-dozen theatrical movies are transitioning very successfully to the silver shopping cart this holiday season.

In fact, 2002 has to be considered one of the top movie tie-in years to date for the toy industry, with no less than a half-dozen movies expected to spur toy sales dramatically.

At the top of the list is ``Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,'' closely followed by ``Star Wars: Episode II'' and ``Spider-Man.'' Other successful movie-toy vehicles this year include ``Scooby-Doo,'' ``Ice Age'' and ``Lilo & Stitch,'' while the success of ``Treasure Planet,'' ``The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers'' and ``Wild Thornberrys'' has yet to be measured.

``It's cyclical,'' says Jim Silver, co-publisher of Toy Wishes magazine. ``Some years, you have very little good movie tie-ins. But studios more than ever before now realize that tie-ins are important for their business.

``It used to be just Disney, through the mid-'90s, that released two movies a year with good tie-ins. Now you've got six studios a year doing that.''

``Star Wars'' toys dominated the first half of 2002, according to the Toy Industry Association, with multiple ``Star Wars'' toys on the TIA's top- 10 sales lists for the months of April through July. Hasbro has new ``Star Wars'' products for the holiday season.

But ``Harry Potter'' products are expected to dominate the final month of the year, thanks to a host of new, high-quality products and a strong theatrical release.

Must-have toys

``Hot dozen'' toys

From Toy Wishes magazine

(in alphabetical order)

1) Barbie as Rapunzel

2) Barbie Wireless Video Camera

3) Bratz Stylin' Salon 'N Spa

4) Chicken Dance Elmo

5) KidClips Disney Tunes

6) FurReal Friends

7) Musini - MagicSensor

8) Lego Harry Potter Chamber of Secrets

9) Harry Potter Slime Chamber Play Set

10) Quantum Pad Learning System

11) Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4

12) Yu-Gi-Oh! Collectors Tin

Top 5 toys in L.A.

From Duracell batteries

1) Tyco Air Rebound

2) Play-Doh Activity World

3) ekara Real Karaoke Singing System

4) Barbie ``Shop With Me'' Cash Register

5) Lego Harry Potter Chamber of Secrets

Faves in Toyland

Retail shelves are stuffed with toys - new and old - for children. Here are 10 toys - in alphabetical order - that should get a lot of attention this holiday season:

Air Rebound (Tyco; $50) Ages 8 and older. This remote-control car has a huge, neon green front wheel and a futuristic body that's nearly indestructible. If only General Motors could make a full-scale model for parents.

Bratz Stylin' Salon 'n Spa (MGA Entertainment; $50) Ages 4 and older. Bratz dolls took Toyland by storm last year. This year, they get a new manicure.

Care Bears Plush (American Greetings; $7 to $40) Ages 3 and older. In less than six months, American Greetings will ship more than 1 million Care Bears and expects to generate more than $50 million in sales as Gen-Xers buy the plush doll of their youth for their own children. The '80s are, like, totally awesome!

Harry Potter Chamber of Secrets (Lego; $70) Ages 6 and older. With 600 pieces for four different scenes, the instruction booklet is almost as big as J.K. Rowling's novel. Lego fans are drooling over this set; Muggles will struggle to muddle through.

Icee Maker (Spin Master Toys; $20) Ages 6 and older. From the creators of last year's mega-retro hit, Shrinky Dink Oven, comes another blast from the past. What's next, homemade Pixy Stix?

Magnet School (Parent Magazine; $15) Ages 18 months and older. Teaches toddlers about letters and numbers, using magnets. Parents will like it because it comes in its own carry case and the magnets almost guarantee that pieces won't get lost. Almost.

Power Wheels Firerock Jeep Wrangler (Fisher-Price; $160) Ages 2 to 6. A ``souped-up'' version of the car every kid on the block wants. Parents who can't afford a new auto lease this year can at least upgrade their kids' wheels.

Singing Starz Video Karaoke Machine (Jakks Pacific; $100) Ages 6 and older. This is one of a dozen family-friendly karaoke machines on the market this holiday season. Kids can pretend they are an ``American Idol'' contestant without all that annoying chatter between the judges.

Spider-Man & Friends (Toy Biz; $8 to $20) Ages 3 and older. Everyone's favorite self-effacing superhero and his super friends get recast as everyday heroes such as firefighters and police officers. Nice to know Spidey has a few jobs to fall back on in case the superhero gig doesn't work out.

Yo-Gi-Oh! Collectors Tin (Upper Deck; $25) Ages 8 and older. Move over, Pokemon - this is the trading-card game that's all the rage this year. No truth to the rumor that ``Yo-Gi-Oh!'' is Japanese for, ``You can't be sold out! This is the third store I've been to!''

- C.P.

CAPTION(S):

14 photos, 2 boxes

Photo:

(1) Scooby-Doo Animated Stocking

(2) Chicken Dance Elmo

(3) Barbie Tote n' Teach

(4) Barbie as Rapunzel

Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer

(5) Yo-Gi-Oh! Collectors Tin

(6) Air Rebound

(7) Bratz Stylin' Salon 'n Spa

(8) Care Bears Plush

(9) Harry Potter Chamber of Secrets

(10) Icee Maker

(11) Magnet School

(12) Power Wheels Firerock Jeep Wrangler

(13) Singing Starz Video Karaoke Machine

(14) Spider-Man & Friends

Box:

(1) Must-have toys (see text)

(2) Faves in Toyland (see text)
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 7, 2002
Words:1408
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