Today's hot toy is tomorrow's rubbish

Set limits, buy toys consistent with parents' values, consultant advises

Material World

November 09, 2003|By New York Times News Service

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Last Christmas, 5-year-old Hannah Yarter pleaded with Santa to send her the My Size Rapunzel Barbie.

She needed it, wanted it, had to have it ... and got it.

Nearly a year later, you won't find her brushing the 3-foot doll's long blond hair, sipping make-believe tea with her or snuggling up by her side. Instead, Barbie is buck naked, behind a recliner.

"She slept with her for two nights," recalls her mother, Debbie Yarter. "Then she was afraid of her." So, Barbie slept on the couch before being tossed behind the furniture.

And we expected such great things from My Size Rapunzel Barbie. She was, after all, listed as one of 2002's hottest toys by Toy Wishes magazine.

It makes you wonder about the magazine's "Hot Dozen" toy list for 2003, which predicts the top-selling toys for the holiday season. Among this year's highly touted toys are the Barbie Cook With Me Kitchen, Transformers (an '80s toy comeback) and the No. 1 item on Hannah's wish list this year, the Swan Lake Barbie and DVD combination.

"It's human nature to want to have the cool thing," says Chris Byrne, aka The Toy Guy, an independent toy consultant in New York City. "You get this thing where it becomes fashionable to have it."

But as you're burrowing your way through toy stores, remember there's only so much fun to be had with a puppet that laughs when tickled, or an inanimate doll with a dimpled face and yarn for hair.

"Sometimes by 5 p.m. Christmas Day, it's over," says Byrne, adding that it's likely that a $2 toy, or one you pick up on a whim, will see the outside of the toy chest more often.

Parents head into the holiday hordes anyway.

Think back to the Cabbage Patch slugfest of 1983 or the Tickle Me Elmo craze of '96. A few years ago, Brian Champagne, a father of four, was pulled over by a police officer for driving too fast while hunting for a hard-to-find Power Ranger.

A ticket wasn't issued. The officer felt Champagne's pain, wished him good luck and sent him on his way. There's a lesson in there somewhere.

Byrne suggests parents buy things that are consistent with their values, even if part of them wants to give their kids the world.

"If something is too expensive, say, 'Santa may have limits, too.' "

Byrne believes there won't be one dominating toy this year; rather, he says, it will be a slew.

Thanks to Internet sales and auction sites like eBay, Byrne says, "We've seen fewer and fewer stories about lines out the toy stores. I don't have to abandon my family to get a piece of plastic."

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