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FOR THE KIDS TOYS : Turtle Holiday : Members of the Teenage Mutant Ninja gang are the hottest-selling toys in the nation, but Barbie is never far behind.


Imagine Christmas morning as your kids rush to the gaily wrapped packages under the glittering tree. What's that your son has unwrapped? An assault weapon that flings mutagen ooze?

Brace yourself for a Christmas with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, those sewer-dwelling, pizza-loving reptiles that parents love to hate. The turtles and their crime-fighting gear were the No. 1 best-seller in a national survey of toy sales this year, and Ventura County retailers say they are leading the list in Christmas sales.

"It's the item," said Jeff Ferreira, director of Toys R Us in Ventura. "We ordered as much as we could get ahold of this year. We're definitely ready."

Toys R Us, like other toy stores, is devoting twice as much aisle space to the turtles and their paraphernalia this year over last year. Parents will find everything for the turtle-crazed kid: the turtles' pizza-hurling assault vehicle, the "party wagon" that takes them on their escapades, the Flushomatic ("a high-tech toilet torture trap"), or postcards that say "Greetings from the sewer."

Last year the turtles sold so fast at Christmas time that Ferreira said store crews didn't have time to unpack the boxes and put the toys on the shelves.

"We just opened the cartons and left them on the floor," he said. "It was almost like sharks going after fresh meat."

It was the same story at Kay-Bee Toy and Hobby Shops and other stores in the area. Norm Grow, manager of Target Stores in Oxnard, said he doubled the aisle space devoted to turtle stuff for Christmas.

"Most of the kids have the turtle figures," he said. "Parents are now buying the accessories and turtle vehicles." Not only that, Grow said, "we sell tons of the turtle bedding--comforters and sheets."

The turtles outsold Nintendo, the video game giant, this year. During the last three years, Nintendo has held the lead in dollar sales, according to an annual survey released before Christmas by Playthings, a New York-based trade publication.

This year Nintendo slipped to fifth place with its $90 hand-held Game Boy unit. Also in the top 10 is Nintendo's Super Mario Brothers 3 video game.

Barbie, that perennial teen, took second for the second year in a row, said Stacy Botwinick, associate managing editor of Playthings. Now in her 31st year, the Barbie doll has placed in the top 10 in seven of the eight years the survey has been done.

"They keep up with the trends," said Botwinick. "They just update the product."

Ventura County store managers expect Barbie sales to boom again this year. There is Barbie the pilot, dressed in a pink suit with epaulets and wings. At some doll stores, you can find a $120 Barbie decked out in a gold-beaded gown designed by Bob Mackie, designer to such stars as Cher. Or, there is Barbie the soldier, outfitted in khaki fatigues with her blond tresses clipped short.

This may be the year of the doll, according to Botwinick. Toy manufacturers have been focusing on boy items the past year or two. "They decided the girls' market was being ignored," she said.

This year, one of the top 10 sellers in the survey was My Pretty Ballerina, a doll that pirouettes and comes with a music cassette. Also hot are the dolls based on the five singers in the hit group New Kids on the Block. They come with casual or performance outfits.

But the doll that the industry expects to sweep the Christmas market is the Magic Nursery Doll, which sells for $24 to $29. Little girls don't know whether their newborn baby is a boy or girl when they open the package. To find out, they have to immerse the baby's homecoming robe in water. The robe disappears to reveal a packet that indicates "it's a girl," or "it's a boy." The dolls come with matching identification bracelets for mother and baby.

The dolls are not anatomically correct. "That's private, between parent and child," said Donna Gibbs, a spokeswoman for Mattel Toys in Hawthorne.

The toy industry survey shows action toys are still big sellers. Among the hottest are Batman and World Wrestling figures, as well as the always popular G.I. Joe.

"There's more interest this year in military toys, probably because of the Persian Gulf," said Playthings' Botwinick.

For four-wheel drive action, Toys R Us Assistant Store Director Ray Gonzales pointed out an awesome little number: the "Jeep Safari," a battery-operated vehicle that travels up to 5 m.p.h. The camouflage-colored toy sells for $269.

"It's real hot," Gonzales said. "We can't keep it in stock."

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