Nintendo and the Ninja turtles are still high on holiday wish lists, but Christmas, 1990, may mark the return of an old favorite--the doll.
Celebrating her 31st birthday, Barbie, a perennial retail champion, leads this year's parade of traditional dolls.
But doll makers also are continuing to expand into two newer markets:
Thanks to advances in technology, they are presenting the second generation of "realistic" dolls that not only walk and talk, they grow when they "eat" and get diaper rash.
And, thanks to media crossovers, we also will see a wider range of "action figures" like those based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the Simpsons, aimed at boys as well as girls.
"Collectively, Nintendo is still a very powerful force, but dolls are a very strong category this year," said Frank Reysen, editor of Playthings, the toy industry trade publication in New York. "In the last few years, there's been a lot of emphasis on the boy's side with action figures and video games. Now, dolls are back."
"We're seeing a lot of dolls," agreed Larry Carlat of Toy and Hobby World magazine in New York. He predicted that "of about 30 new doll introductions, two or three will come to the fore," including Mattel's Magic Nursery.
Nonetheless, "there's nothing up there with Barbie, the Turtles and Nintendo," Carlat said. "Nintendo, primarily a boy's toy, does $4.1 billion worth of business. The whole Turtle industry is $1 billion and that phenomenon will remain strong through Christmas. And Barbie. I don't think there ever has been anything compared to Barbie. It's unfair to compare anything to it. I think Barbie lives forever."
In addition to Barbie and the Ninja Turtles, Jodi Levin of the Toy Manufacturers of America includes five dolls and action figures on the 1990 bestseller list:
The Simpsons, based on characters from the animated Fox TV series (Mattel, $6)
The Magic Nursery doll (Mattel, $20-$25)
My Pretty Ballerina (Tyco, about $40)
The 12-inch New Kids on the Block dolls, based on the teen singing group (Hasbro, about $18)
Quints, five two-inch dolls with baby bottles and bunting (Tyco, about $10 for the set).
Reysen also counts dolls as a hot item. His top 10 list was derived from a recent Playthings survey of 15,000 retailers nationwide, the magazine's eighth annual bestsellers review:
The Ninja Turtles (Playmates Toys, about $4 each)
World Wrestling Federation figures (Hasbro)
New Kids on the Block
My Pretty Ballerina
Batman action figures (Kenner)
G.I. Joe (Hasbro)
Other toys on his list included Nintendo's Game Boy, about $90, and Super Mario Brothers 3 and Scattergories, a new board game by Massachusetts' Milton Bradley Co. ($25).
Playthings' Reysen says renewed interest in dolls started last year, especially with Tyco's popular Oopsie-Daisy, a battery-operated doll that crawls, falls, cries and picks herself up.
"It was the first of a generation of very realistic dolls," he said. "Dolls that do all the things babies do encourage the nurturing, caring aspect in girls. Innovative dolls that walk, talk, and cry have a lot of play value."
"The new ones just do everything now," agreed Lea Jones of Orange County, who has collected dolls for almost 50 years. "But I feel maybe we're all reaching out to find some type of happiness that brings us back to our childhood. Dolls bring out the love in us at all ages."
Barbie, the most popular doll in the world, is expected to be among this season's top five sellers. Industry analysts estimate she'll do a whopping $700 million retail sales this year.
"Barbie's always in the top 10, if not the top five," Reysen said. "She's never faded away."
"Barbie's always an exception," agreed Levin of the Toy Manufacturers of America, a New York-based trade association. "She's third on my list this year, after Nintendo games and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."
Mattel Toys of Hawthorne hopes to keep Barbie fans happy with models including a Southwestern cowgirl with a Palamino, a ballroom Barbie, an Ice Capades Barbie and an Air Force Barbie (about $12-$13).
The Dance Magic Barbie sports lipstick that changes from pink to red to match her outfits. The companion Ken doll's hair changes from blond to brunette when wet.
"The Turtles are more than one-year wonders," said Richard Sallis, senior vice president of Playmates Toys in La Mirada. In their third year, the four original Turtles are still the best-selling action figures in the line, he said.
"They're entering the realm of must-have classic toy characters like Barbie and Mickey Mouse," Sallis said. He expects Turtle retail sales to hit $600 million this year, skyrocketing from $40 million in 1988 and $150 million last year.
For 1990, the original Turtle figures will have some new themes: Leo, the Sewer Samurai in Japanese warrior armor; Don, the Undercover Turtle in a Bogie-like trench coat and hat; Raph,the Space Cadet in a sewer spacesuit and survival pack; Mike the Sewer Surfer in swimwear.