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PLAYING FOR KEEPS / TOYS ROUNDUP 1991 : Back to the Basics : Santa's Pack Is Loaded With Traditional Values as Parents Shop for Things They Know

December 11, 1991|LYNN SIMROSS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Although there are plenty of hot new toys for Christmas, toy experts predict no 1991 blockbusters like Cabbage Patch and Trivial Pursuit of years past. In fact, parents seem to be in a "back to basics" mood, buying toys and games that have been on the market for years.

"Consumers in this recessionary time are trying to get the most value for their money," says Bob Seligman of Toy and Hobby World magazine in New York. "That's why the overall trend is to basic types of toys. People are unlikely to be spending their money on a toy they're unsure of."

This year, buyers will find that the Erector set is back, after a 10-year absence from stores. Introduced in the United States in 1913, Erector sets are owned by the French toy company, Meccano. There are new Erector Juniors, heavy plastic construction toy sets for younger children ($25-$45), as well as the well-known metal ones, with and without motors. They range in price from $35 to $160.

Parents can count on finding new versions of the most enduring doll of all--the 32-year-old Barbie, which is included in the top 10 toys nearly every year. Barbie is joined by some new dolls this season, but toy industry analysts don't expect any to come close to what Barbie will generate in sales this year for Mattel.

"You're not talking about a doll; you're talking about an institution," Seligman adds. "A recent survey shows the average American girl has seven Barbies."

And a ton of her accessories.

This year's Holiday Barbie ($30-$35), an annual special edition doll, is especially popular, says Angela Bourdon, of Toy R Us in Paramus, N.J. The 1991 Holiday Barbie is dressed in a full-length green velvet gown with a hand-beaded bodice.

"Barbie continues to amaze us," says Donna Gibbs of Mattel Toys in El Segundo. "Holiday Barbie is not only popular with little girls as a keepsake, but she's also popular with adult collectors. We expect her sales to exceed $800 million worldwide this season." And that's just one version of Barbie.

There's also Costume Ball Barbie ($18) in a pink ball gown, Lights and Lace Barbie ($16) in a lacy disco dress with flashing lights and Happy Birthday Barbie ($27).

Frank Reysen Jr., editor of Playthings magazine, lists Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toys as No. 1 on his annual survey, followed by Barbie, but he predicts: "There is no one dominant toy this year. There are a lot of other good sellers, a good broad array of toys on the market."

Contenders, by category:

* Dolls: After Barbie come the Little Mermaid lines from Tyco and Mattel, based on Disney's movie "The Little Mermaid." Tyco offers Ariel the Little Mermaid, Holiday Ariel and Ariel the Beautiful Bride--complete with a white fin and wedding dress ($20-$25)--and a Talking Ariel, who can speak underwater ($20). Mattel's Li'l Miss Singing Mermaid ($30) not only sings but turns rainbow colors when placed in warm water.

Playmates' Waterbabies ($20) have soft rubber bodies that, when filled with warm water, feel like a newborn's skin; Tyco's Magic Bottle Baby ($25-$30) laughs, cries, slurps and burps; Hasbro's new member of the Cabbage Patch Kids line, Pretty Crimp 'n Curl, whose hair can be curled, crimped, straightened and restyled over and over ($30); Hasbro's Baby Wanna Walk ($32), a mechanized doll that walks and crawls.

The sleepers in this category, according to toy experts, could be Meritus' "Michelle" ($25) from ABC's "Full House," using the voices of the twins who play the role on the TV show, and Hasbro's talking Steve Urkel doll ($30) from ABC-TV's "Family Matters" sitcom. It has the voice of actor Jaleel White saying such things as "No sweat, my pet."

* Video: Such games may not be quite as popular as in the past, but this year's hot ones are the new Super Nintendo Entertainment System ($200) with Super Mario, and Sega's Genesis with Sonic the Hedgehog ($150). Both are faster and more difficult with better graphics than before.

* Action figures: Don't take Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from the top spot--there are 100 new items this year--especially with the new Playmates' Talking Turtles ($8). But Hasbro's G.I. Joe is as solid as ever and has added new characters: Flint, Clean-Sweep, Ozone, Cesspool, Sludge Viper and Toxo-Viper ($3 each).

Selling quite well are Toy Biz' X-Men ($5) line and Kenner's Robin Hood figures ($5), based on the movie "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves," starring Kevin Costner. Hasbro has some new World Wrestling Federation figures this season ($5-$6) and has added two Talking Wrestlers ($23-$25) that are 11 inches high and feature the voices of Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior.

* Board games: That old standby Monopoly ($25) from Parker Brothers is expected to have a good season, as is Milton Bradley's Scattergories ($20). Both have junior versions for children. The best new games, according to Games magazine, are Trumpets ($15) and Guesstures ($20) from Milton Bradley and a party game, Tabloid Teasers ($20) from Pressman.

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