Oh, those hairy, hip trolls! New generation of kids are making the small dolls popular again

April 02, 1992|By Wil S. Hylton | Wil S. Hylton,Staff Writer

For many parents, it's a troll down memory lane.

Not since the wild-haired troll dolls produced by Norfin and Russ Berrie Inc. first hit the United States in 1968 have so many of them covered the walls of toy stores across the country.

One of the hottest selling toys in the country this season, the figures go to school, to the bathtub, and even to bed with a generation of kids whose parents are shocked to see their old toys back in the sandbox.

"We don't even know why this is happening today," said Sid Arronson, director of communications for Russ Berrie and Company Inc. Mr. Arronson noted the company has reintroduced trolls to the market about every six years since their first success with the dolls, but that "this [success] is beyond anybody's expectations [at the company] and certainly beyond anybody's previous experience."

Last year, Russ Berrie grossed $44 million on the trolls, an unanticipated rise from the company's 1988 gross of only $200,000.

"It's their hair," said fourth-grader Brooke Ellis, explaining why the trolls are so popular. "No people's hair sticks up like that and it's not those bright colors. When you walk by [a toy store] and see them, it's like, 'take me home, take me home.' "

The rubber toys have become so popular, says Brooke's mother, Barbara Ellis, that "every holiday -- Christmas, birthdays, Easter, special-report-card treat -- we have to get a new troll. I'm just waiting for them to bring back the flatsie dolls."

Neighborhood toy stores regularly introduce new figures.

"I almost have to keep a slate of who's bought what for Suzie for her party," said Vickie Burns, whose Baltimore store, Heart to Please, has sold more than 1,000 dolls since the trend struck in October. "The toy industry has been very soft as far as anything that's very hot, and now [the troll dolls] are all kids want for gifts."

Once limited to naked figurines, the trolls have assumed trendy new fashions and styles. From surfer trolls to Christmas trolls, a line of more than 250 different figures is offered by Russ Berrie ranging in price from $1.25 to $23.99.

Ms. Burns added that the dolls are an alternative to more modern, computerized toys like Nintendo video games or Laser Tag. "High tech is very independent. A lot of [children] play with trolls because they can get together and put clothes on them and trade them."

A new series of plush dolls, similar to the Cabbage Patch Kids with troll heads, is even on the market for those who want their trolls to be more lovable. "You would buy a girl a [plush] doll," Mr. Arronson commented. "You would not buy a boy a doll; you would buy a boy a surfer troll or something similar."

Baseball trolls, with suits modeled after nine major league teams, including the Baltimore Orioles, were placed on the market for the spring season along with Easter trolls, which have a pair of rabbit ears and a bunny tail attached to the standard troll bodies.

Today's trolls also adorn pencils, key chains, rings, necklaces and pins. "We like to pride ourself on having a product for every season and for every purpose a person could want," Mr. Arronson explained. "What we want is for kids to have a product that they can take with them wherever they go . . . a lucky friend."

And some insiders say the troll trend is picking up speed. "They've been in style for the longest time," one fourth-grader said. "They've been popular since, like, the beginning of the year. I don't think it'll ever end."

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