Toy retailers generally concur that the Toy & Hobby World's Top 10 list for December toys accurately projects Christmas sales. "It's typical of the country. I think the die is pretty much cast at this point," said Ken Cunniff, advertising director for Kay Bee Toy Stores, which has 580 stores in the continental United States, Hawaii and Puerto Rico, including 72 in California.
Playthings also publishes a list of Top 10 toys, and its December ratings are almost identical to Toy & Hobby World's survey. However, Playthings does not rank its Top 10 in order. "I think they're really too close to call," said senior associate editor Donna Leccese.
The highest-ranking toy on Toy & Hobby World's list that wasn't around last Christmas is Pound Puppies, which is fourth and sells for $18 to $30. This cuddly little doll, roughly the size and shape of a small dachshund, comes in 80 variations with different colors, eye and nose designs and head, ear and mouth shapes.
Pound Puppies' charm stems from their cute appearance and the way they are stuffed with polyester fiber. Elaine Swanger, a toy designer at Tonka Corp., which makes the dolls, said that "stuffed toys are generally packed very firmly. What we wanted was a feeling of floppiness. So we stuffed Pound Puppies less hard. There might be about 60% as much stuffing in them as in the standard plush toy, and the fabric is a polyester fiber that stretches more and has a shorter fiber than most dolls. When you pet a real puppy's face, its skin is sort of loose and it has those little short hairs, and that's the kind of feel we wanted to get."
'Cuddly' and 'Squishy'
The result is that Pound Puppies are softer and more resilient than many dolls. "To use the terms used by children we've done research with, they are 'soft,' 'cuddly' and 'squishy,' " said Cyndee Graves, girls' toys product manager for Tonka.
No. 6 on the list is a set of transformable robots collectively called Voltron, made by Matchbox Toys (USA). Other companies make similar toys with the Voltron name, but only the Matchbox brand can claim a place among the top ten sellers.
Voltron, which was not available last Christmas, offers three robots about 16-inches tall with body parts of smaller, transformable robots. The larger Voltrons cost about $70 each, or they can be bought piece by piece, with the smaller, component robots starting at about $13.
The "deluxe lion set" Voltron transforms from a robot to five lions with three distinct body types. Two of the felines have spring-loaded projectile heads that pop off at the touch of a button. The "deluxe warrior set" Voltron transforms into 15 different space vehicles that, in turn, combine to become three attack vehicles. And the "deluxe gladiator set" transforms into three 8-inch tall mini-gladiators.
MASK toys, No. 7 on the list, also weren't around last December. MASKs (for Mobile Armored Strike Kommand), made by Kenner Products, are transformable vehicles like Jackhammer, an 8-inch-long, four-wheel-drive "Bronco" truck that, with a few strategic manipulations, become an assault vehicle complete with rotating anti-aircraft turret. MASK vehicles--there are seven of them ranging in price from about $5.50 to $28--come with 3-inch tall action figures that fit in appropriate seats and cockpits on the toys.
The last "new" toy on the list ranks tenth, and is a line parallel to the highly successful Masters of the Universe action figures that Mattel Toys began marketing in 1982. The difference is that the eight Princess of Power characters are female.
She-Ra, "the most powerful woman in the universe," leads the Princess of Power retinue. Her entourage includes 5 1/2-inch tall characters like Castaspella, the "enchantress who hypnotizes" and Catra the "jealous beauty" who sports a cat mask. When wanderlust strikes, She-Ra mounts Swift Wind, her personal "magical flying unicorn."
She-Ra and her associates, who sell for about $6 to $8 each, are not exclusively the domain of girls, said Candace Irving, a Mattel marketing manager. "We have found that girls buy about 10% of the boy-oriented Masters of the Universe toys, and we expect boys will account for a significant percentage of Princess of Power sales, though we don't expect it to reach 10%."
The No. 3 toys on the list are Masters of the Universe, the 5 1/2-inch tall boy-oriented relatives of She-Ra. These articulated little characters retail for about $5 to $6, and include 29 different figures. New on the market this year are the villain Stinkor, who smells mildly foul and peppery, and Moss Man, a pine-scented hero who appears to have just emerged from a swamp and brought half of it with him.