It's been a whirlwind year for toys, thanks to the combination of a booming economy and an abundance of successful children's TV programs. Who would have guessed that Furby would remain a hot seller, or that Pokémon would explode into a toy empire rivaling the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers? Who would think that the wheelchair-bound Becky dolls, having reached a low price of $7 this summer, would return to full price in time for the holiday season? And who would have imagined that once-proud cheap-toy mainstay Nickelodeon would reduce its presence so drastically as to be virtually invisible? While it's been a topsy-turvy 1999, plenty of reduced-price toys are available this holiday season, and those in a frugal spirit can still fill a Santa-size bag with toys for about $50. Here are some highlights of this year's market.
Barbie Mini-Mart ($12.99)
The Barbie Mini-Mart is a play convenience store complete with an Icee dispenser, a SuperPretzel rack, and a handful of brand-name foodstuffs. On the box, Barbie is not pictured behind the counter, but instead shopping while a lower-class brunette friend minds the battery-powered cash register. Even this is a stretch, as Barbie would likely never shop in a convenience store. How gauche! Pornographic magazines not included.
1997 Edition (3 for $5)
It's never too early to start raising brand awareness, and in today's competitive fast-food market, you have to be on the lookout for any inconspicuous new "in" with the kids. With nosy child-advocacy groups everywhere these days, how can an organization like McDonald's sneak in gratuitous ads? Look no further than the sponsorship-happy world of car racing. Front Row has a whole line of product-shilling figures, including a Cory McClenathan that sports the McDonald's logo. And what a figure! Boasting some of the worst bodily articulation in the action-figure world, McClenathan can't even bend his legs, let alone sit behind the wheel of a toy racecar. He also comes with two different pieces of headgear: an ill-fitting cap and a helmet bearing not one or two but five McDonald's logos. The figure also features McClenathan giving a comforting "thumbs-up" sign, indicating that he is both okay and hungry for delicious McDonald's fries.
Front Row Racing Figures, Stars On Ice ($3)
Why wait for the next local Ice Capades appearance to experience the world of ice-skating, when you can bring the magic home with you? Standing at 12 inches of skating splendor, these figures each sport the same generic woman-doll body with different heads and costumes. They also feature, unlike real skaters, feet bent forward at about 45°, a feature that prevents them from remaining upright without a stand emblazoned with each skater's name. As if that weren't enough, the knees have the hideous, Barbie-like trait of emitting a sickening cracking sound when bent. (Hold the Nancy Kerrigan jokes, please.) The misleading box features photos of the actual skaters in action poses their dolls could never duplicate; even the doll photos are nearly impossible to replicate without strings, wires, and luck. They're not much fun for young or old, but cats may be entranced by the dolls' hair.
Tamogotchi Mini Keepers ($1)
A Tamogotchi Mini Keeper is a stuffed animal that supposedly simulates what your digitally rendered Tamogotchi would look like in the flesh, and it features a pouch in the back for storage. If, like most, your Tamogotchi is wasting away in some forgotten drawer—sad, confused, lonely—the only humane thing to do is buy a Mini Keeper to keep it company. Or shoot it.
Channel Surfing ($5)
Tired of games monopolizing valuable chunks of your precious television time? How about one that brings together the exciting worlds of board games and cable TV? Channel Surfing pits players in a race against the clock as they scramble to find programs featuring items dictated by a series of cards. The box hails Channel Surfing's status as "the game that will change the way you see TV!" If that sounds intriguing to you, you probably don't have enough friends to play it.
Marvel Shape Shifters Hulk ($3.97)
Shape Shifters Hulk does not transform into Bruce Banner, as might be expected, but a dinosaur. This is because, as the back of the package clarifies, it's from a different universe in which Hulk can become a gamma-powered dinosaur when he needs extra oomph. Hijinks occur when you extend the dino head from its back compartment, giving the illusion of a fanged reptilian penis emerging from Hulk's pants.
Teeny Tiny Tumbles Surprise! ($1.97)
Teeny Tiny Tumbles Surprise! is not so much a doll as an incoherent string of words attached to something vaguely doll-like: a rag-body baby with a grotesquely oversized and overweight plastic head. If you set it down, it's supposed to tumble, but it just sort of flops on its side and stares. For added incentive, the toy includes "one fun-themed play mat," which is not itself fun, but fun-themed.
Jacqueline Signature Series 3 Figure & Superstar Series 7 Dr. Death ($.90)
The Jacqueline figure has a back arched so acutely that you can easily balance the toy on your finger, as well as breasts large enough to be used as a handle by which to pick it up. Dr. Death, contrary to what its moniker may suggest, looks more like a benevolent drunken uncle looking to give you a Dutch rub than a terrifying symbol of man's mortality.
Wing Commander ($1.98) & Wild Wild West Figures ($2.97)
As go the films, so too the toys.
Sea Battle ($6.98)
In Sea Battle, two pivoting water guns are attached to a small tub that serves as an ammo reservoir. The object is to sink your opponent's boat with blasts of water, which sounds like fun—perhaps too much, and too watery to boot. Combine the fact that this is a "violent" toy with the potential for spilling about a gallon of water on the carpet, and you can see why parents steered clear. Thank goodness it's nearly cheap enough for kids to buy themselves.