Every holiday season brings a new wave of must-have toys. Last year's digital Tamagotchis and imitative Tickle Me Elmos are making way for 1998's digital Pokémons and imitative Furbys. Every year also brings a wave of please-buy toys, merchandise that was almost, but not quite, a smash kid fad: The toy market is glutted with the merchandising deals of this summer's dismal failures and the marginally salable dregs of last year's blockbusters. Surprisingly absent from 1998's list is the usual offering of sacrificial lambs from Nickelodeon. Consider this a breather, as next year will likely provide an unstoppable flow of discounted Rugrats merchandise. Here is a sampling of what you can find at the toy store, most of which is available for less money than it costs to shower at a truck stop.
Men In Black Jeebs With Regenerating Heads ($3.99 from $12.99)
Jeebs, apparently, is a Men In Black character who suffers some sort of disfiguring head trauma. Being an alien, though, he is able to amazingly regenerate his head, and the owner of this toy can simulate said regeneration. But, without an ample computer-animation budget, the regeneration looks static and unimpressive, and even with "Gettin' Jiggy Wit' It" blaring in the background, you'll have trouble recapturing the movie magic with this doll.
Ultimate Soldier Military Sand Bag Set ($7.99)
While unremarkable for its price, the Ultimate Soldier Military Sand Bag Set is amazing in concept and gall. Your $7.99 buys you about 10 miniature burlap sacks meant to replicate sand bags for your 10- to 12-inch action figure. No more do you have to play war with your war toys; now you can play save-the-town-from-the-flood-waters-before-they-soak-your-sofa. Or, if you have to play war, you can pretend these are the sand bags that cap your youngster's make-believe WWI trenches. Give those Barbie dolls a rousing "over-the-top" speech before you send them off to be mercilessly gunned down by the evil Huns.
Extreme Ghostbusters Figures (2 for $5 from $4.99)
Remember Extreme Ghostbusters? Probably not, as they barely registered on the kid radar. All the favorites are here: Roland, Egon, even that unpredictable scamp Slimer! Unfortunately, nothing makes these Ghostbusters more extreme than their predecessors, besides the speed at which they hit the clearance racks. Giving these as a gift will probably result in a blank stare of unrecognition.
Star Wars The Power Of The Force Action Figures ($3.99 from $7.99)
After the dust settled from the collectors racing to get the new collectible mint-in-box Star Wars action figures, a surprisingly large number was left over. No surprise. These new figures all have unnatural barrel chests and square jaws, and they only resemble the characters they purport to be in skin tone and hair color. The non-celebrities of the lot bear names that will only be recognized by the geeks who stood in line for the advance screening of the Episode I trailer. Gamorean Guard? Emperor Palpatine? Uh-huh. If your child is clamoring for a quasi-Billy Dee Williams doll, though, strike now; the iron is as hot as it's going to get.
Lost In Space Battle-Ravaged Robot ($4.99 from $11.99)
Danger Will Robinson! Choking Hazard!
Little Lulu Giggles ($9.99 from $12.99)
From the technological advances of Tickle Me Elmo comes Little Lulu Giggles. Before you get your hopes up, this is not the same Little Lulu of Little Lulu and Tubby comic-book fame. This is just a run-of-the-mill baby doll that giggles when you prod its belly. For some reason, it also makes farting or shitting noises (depending on the depth of your imagination), followed by the plea, "Tickle me again!" This is obviously some sort of Pavlovian mind-fuck designed to confuse today's youth, and only recommended for those toddlers you are preening for a lifetime of indecisiveness and submission.
Exclusive Premiere TV Dolls ($9.99-$14.99 from $19.99)
The idea was fair enough: Let's make dolls of classic TV figures. But then the project was apparently turned over to a high-school sculpture class. The new Star Wars figures are marginally recognizable, but these abominations cannot possibly be linked to the figures upon whom they are based. Daisy Duke leers with a slack jaw and fattened head, The Fonz looks like his head was caught in metal threshing gears, and Jed Clampett's simple gaze is transformed into a dull Mongoloid stare. Manufactured exclusively for the collector (what 8- to 10-year-old is going to want a George Burns & Gracie Allen figure set?), these are just too creepy to consider buying for anyone.
WCW Heavy Hitters ($9.99 from $12.99)
None of the professional-wrestling toys are known for their craftsmanship, but even in this field, the WCW Heavy Hitters stand head and shoulders above the rest in terms of sheer terror. These plush dolls, about the size of large cats, can double as pillows or be thrown around or put in hammerlocks. The creepy thing about them is that the doll's only 3D feature–virtually every detail (title belt, clothing, hair, ears, etc.) is rendered in 2D screen printing–is an oversized nose that protrudes from the flat face like a half-banana. This way, the recipient of the Heavy Hitter can have the satisfaction of biting its nose off in a fit of 'roid rage.
My Special Angel ($9.98 from $19.98)
"Honey, your special angel is a grotesque, impotent cherub that can't possibly help you in your hour of need. You're fucked."
Wonder World Beach Scene ($4.90 from $19.99)
Yet another product that claims that it "turns water into a world of creativity." What it really does is cause drinkable water to gel and coagulate, creating a medium into which you can suspend little plastic volleyball players, leaping dogs, and airplanes. The end result is a wondrous diorama, like a window opening onto an idyllic beach. If creativity really flowed like tap water, this world would be a better place!