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Retro toys are today's faves

November 26, 2003|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

It turns out today's youth - or the parents buying them Christmas gifts - really do love the '80s.

Care Bears, My Little Pony, Strawberry Shortcake and Transformers are hot Christmas gifts this year, according to Toys 'R Us in Halfway and the National Retail Federation.

As far as Daniel Snyder is concerned, they're right.

The number-one item on Snyder's Christmas wish list isn't an improved offensive line for the Washington Redskins but a Transformer Unicron.

That's because this Daniel Snyder isn't owner of the NFL Redskins. He's a 9-year-old Hagerstown boy whose older brother, Jeff, let him play with his Transformers when the "Robots in Disguise" first became popular in the '80s.

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Unicron is the planet-eating character voiced by the late renowned filmmaker Orson Welles in 1986's "The Transformers: The Movie."

"Collectors and kids alike have been waiting for this for years," said Toys 'R Us employee John Powell.

Unicron, who stands about 1.5 feet tall and includes batteries, changes into a planet and regularly costs $49.99, Powell said.

For Snyder, Unicron is "the one in the biggest box" and the Transformer who crushes satellites "into tiny bits and carries them into the core of his body."

While Snyder's brother got him interested in Transformers, it was Hannah Schenning's mom that got her caught up in Strawberry Shortcake's revival.

Tressa Schenning, 31, of Clearville, Pa., bought Strawberry's Berry Happy Home for daughter, Hannah, 3, for Christmas, she said.

Strawberry Shortcake, made by Bandai America in California, was brought back after 20 years because the little girls who used to play with the sweet, innocent doll who wore a dress and bonnet now are the aunts and mothers of little girls, said Angela Fernandez with Bandai's public relations firm, Rogers & Associates.

"It's the nostalgia factor of wanting their kids to have Strawberry Shortcake in their lives as well," Fernandez said.

Schenning admitted that while Hannah likes all doll babies, it was her own fond memories of playing with the sweet-smelling, cute character that led her to buy Strawberry specifically.

"I still have all my Strawberry Shortcake (toys)," Schenning said.

Besides the retro toys, there are many newer toys expected to do well this holiday season.

Toys 'R Us is having trouble keeping the Video Now disc player in stock, employee Ray Henderson said. The portable gadget plays DVDs of popular television shows such as "SpongeBob SquarePants," "Hilary Duff" and "American Idol," on smaller discs. It regularly is sold for $49.99, with the discs selling for $7.99 to $14.99, Henderson said.

Neopets virtual pets also are expected to be popular, employee Donnie Starliper said. The interactive toys require "feeding" and come small or big, in handheld folded computers or as plush toys. They regularly cost $6.99 to $19.99.

Also expected to sell well are LeapFrog's new handheld learning game player, Leapster; DVD Trivial Pursuit; Elefun; Tyco's radio-controlled Vertigo and Rewinder; Speedeez Hummer H2 Speed City; and Hot Wheels' T-Wrecks.

The latter two toys are more complex than they sound. The Hummer H2 opens up to a battlefield play set. T-Wrecks is a car track that launches cars out of the dinosaur's mouth.

Powell said he can't keep the Speedeez Hummer H2 in stock. The store has been giving out rain checks, but this time of year, he can't guarantee when the toys will show up.

The radio-controlled Hummer H2 is hot at RadioShack, as are the upgraded ZipZaps, small $25 remote-controlled cars that now have working headlights and better steering, said Jason Green, assistant manager at the Valley Mall store. With six selectable frequencies, you can run six ZipZaps at a time, he said.

XMODS, which are similar to ZipZaps, but are bigger and cost $50, also should sell well, Green said.

For karaoke lovers, The Singing Machine's camera and monitor screen allow performers to see themselves in action, Green said. The machine regularly costs $200.

A big seller is Sprint's PCS Ready Link, cellular phones with built in walkie-talkies that cost $200, Green said.

On the bookshelves, "Dr. Seuss" always is popular at Christmastime and is expected to do well this year with "The Cat in the Hat" movie out, said Karen Cook, assistant manager at Waldenbooks in Valley Mall.

There always are new kids to introduce to the books, Cook said.

Even though the fifth book in the Harry Potter series came out in June, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" is expected to do well this Christmas, Cook said.

The paperback version won't be out in time for the holidays, so many parents probably will give the more expensive $29.99 hardback version as a gift to the kids who didn't get it when it came out, she said.

Another popular youth series is "A Series of Unfortunate Events" about a group of orphans who come into a lot of money and have an evil distant relative. The 10th hardcover in the series recently was released and costs $10.99, Cook said.

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