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Elmo Doesn't Speak Up on His Cellphone, Mom's Suit Alleges

June 29, 2005|Molly Selvin | Times Staff Writer

Has Tickle Me Elmo been replaced by Bait-and-Switch Elmo?

Where most toys for preschoolers are designed to make a racket, Elmo's World Talking Cell Phone doesn't make enough noise, a Pasadena mom contends in a lawsuit.

She's accusing Mattel Inc. and subsidiary Fisher-Price, which sells toys based on Sesame Street characters, of rigging the phone so it is audible only when shoppers try it in the store.

The suit charges the companies with "unfair, fraudulent, unlawful and otherwise wrongful acts ... [that] have a direct effect on consumers."

The suit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, seeks class-action status, asking Fisher-Price to offer refunds to purchasers and seeking unspecified damages -- and a louder voice for Elmo.

Elmo is easily heard when the phone is in the box, according to the complaint filed on behalf of Elisabeth Marchetti, who bought the toy for her 18-month-old daughter, Ava, in February.

But when the toy is out of the box, the suit contends, Elmo speaks barely above a whisper, making children and parents as unhappy as Oscar the Grouch. Opening the box removes a plastic strip from the phone, resetting the volume.

Marchetti's attorney, J. Elias Sanchez of Los Angeles, said he wondered whether her complaint was frivolous after she asked him to represent her.

But after buying one of the toys for himself and taking it out of the box, he said, "I could barely hear it. It's basically not what you bargained for." Sanchez said Fisher-Price only recently added a notice to buyers that the toy became quieter after it was removed from the box.

The lawsuit is not the first time Elmo's World Talking Cell Phone has drawn complaints. Comments posted at Amazon.com, which serves as the online retailer for Fisher-Price, include several from parents irritated by the volume problem. One even offered a tip for altering the toy to turn up the sound.

Fisher-Price spokeswoman Laurie Oravec said she was unaware of complaints about the toy and declined to discuss the lawsuit in detail. But, she noted, "we're very careful with the sound level in all our toys so they're not too loud for a child."

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