With the economy flagging, consumer confidence low, the nation at war, and the weather unseasonably warm throughout much of the U.S., holiday sales are suffering. But if movies and television have taught the world one thing, it's that American children need toys through even the toughest of times. Fortunately, the clearance racks are stuffed with castoffs that, when the layers of labels are removed, look just like new toys: One store's stack of Dr. Laura games, reduced from $39.99 to $9.99 last year, continues to gather dust at $4.99 in 2001, but savvy buyers can still expect 40 bucks worth of shrill moralizing for their money. Here's a handy guide to aid readers who wish to spend as little as possible to fulfill their toy-buying obligations."
Titan A.E. Drej Blastin' Smith
($0.97, marked down from $6.99)
Failed attempts at kiddie-film franchises have long been a fertile breeding ground for cheap toys (see also: Atlantis), and 2001 is no exception. Lingering on shelves long after its cultural shelf-life expired, the Titan A.E. Drej Blastin' Smith (not to be confused with Marx Quotin' Smith or Dominant Paradigm Overturnin' Smith) resembles the product of an illicit union between a space kangaroo and a mutant rat. Equipped with a gun and something vaguely resembling a surfboard, Drej Blastin' Smith is a terrific way to introduce your children to the fun and magic of blasting drejs.
($9.99, marked down from $12.99)
Eerily capturing the feral, grotesque ugliness of Jim Carrey's Grinch, this doll from Ron Howard's despicably callous and mercenary How The Grinch Stole Christmas remake is guaranteed to depress Dr. Seuss-loving adults and terrify small children. Press the Grinch's furry, neon-green stomach to hear him growl, "If you're hungry for Humbug, I'm the special of the day!" and two other catchphrases that failed to make it into the cultural lexicon.
Racing Champions Hot Tracks: Matchbox 20
($2.99, marked down from $3.99)
Does anything say "I've got a need for speed" quite like a toy car emblazoned with the Matchbox 20 logo? A toy car bearing the logo of Kiss, Mudvayne, Incubus, Hanson, Rainer Maria, Belle And Sebastian, or south-of-the-border sensation Shakira would likely convey the sentiment more effectively. Even for kids wishing to show their allegiance to middle-of-the-road alt-schmaltz, few toys are less cool, in spite of the cars' "sizzling thermocoalescent wrapped graphics."
Totally Troll: Big Jack Ahoy
($3.99, marked down from $5.99)
Recent events have propelled public support for the armed forces to a virtually unprecedented high, but even that couldn't sell Big Jack Ahoy dolls. A hideous troll in navy whites, Big Jack Ahoy invites kids to "Hold My Hand To Reveal My Secrets," an unappealing offer in any national climate. (Note: Big Jack Ahoy's wild mane of hair violates all current codes of naval grooming.)
Jr. Adventures Wizard's Wardrobe
($3.99, marked down from $9.99)
No self-respecting junior wizard would go without a cape, lightning-bolt-adorned wand, or star- and moon-bedecked hat. The Jr. Adventures Wizard's Wardrobe gives children everywhere the chance to express their love of magic, while sending a clear message to their peers: "I like Harry Potter, but I'm poor."
Barbie/McDonald's Fun Time! Restaurant Playset
($11.99, marked down from $14.99)
Dairy Queen Ice Creame Shoppe
($12.98, marked down from $19.99)
As the economy has slowed, toy manufacturers have entered an era of sober realism, producing playsets that recreate fast-food kitchens in an effort to prepare young people for a lifetime funland of dispiriting wage slavery. The most notable of these is intended for no less than Barbie herself, with a box depicting the apron-clad beauty standing near a cash register, a deep fryer, an apple-pie oven, and a soda dispenser urging kids to "Enjoy Sprite." Barbie has always represented a fantasy world of beauty and wealth, but today, she's reduced to telling homeless men they can't get refills after leaving the restaurant. At least Barbie hasn't taken a second job at the Dairy Queen Ice Creame Shoppe, though she's missing out on the chance to use scented Fun Dough™ to make simulated Hot Eats™ and Cool Treats™. It looks like food, it smells like food, and, just like real Dairy Queen food, it's simultaneously non-toxic and inedible.
Shape Shifters Punisher
($6.99, marked down from $12.99)
In the beginning, he is ruthless vigilante The Punisher. When his transformation is complete, he has become a kick-ass Power Pistol. In between, a photo on the toy's box indicates, his legs fold back to reveal a hideous, Cronenbergian silver phallus.
Blue's Clues Soft Talking Steve
($12.99, marked down from $27.99)
Making Barney sound as take-no-prisoners tough as a giant-phallused Punisher figure, Blue's Clues star Soft Talking Steve utters such milquetoast affirmations as, "You are such a great friend!" and "Wow! You are great!" While it's important to boost children's self-esteem, it's hard not to notice that Soft Talking Steve is kind of a big wuss.
Hot Wheels Radical Rides: Anfernee Hardaway
($2.99, marked down from $12.99)
NBA Court Collection Jams '99/'00: Corliss Williamson
($0.99, marked down from $2.99)
America's love affair with wisecracking basketball star Anfernee Hardaway seems to have abated, or at least failed to extend to the mass purchase of an oversized Hot Wheels car from which his likeness emerges. Also faring poorly in the basketball-toy marketplace are mini-statues representing a large-headed, tiny-necked incarnation of former Sacramento Kings power forward Corliss Williamson: Dozens of Williamson figures were available at one store for a mere 99 cents each. Even though Williamson is an effective player coming in off the bench for the Detroit Pistons, memorabilia from his storied Kings days has yet to burn up the collectors' circuit.
Road Gear Jr. Light-N-Sound Emergency Playset
($5.99, marked down from $9.99)
After Sept. 11, many in the toy industry speculated that kids would buy armloads of toys commemorating the nation's heroic firefighters and rescue workers. Unsurprisingly, toy manufacturers met the demand quickly, churning out a wide array of cheap, public-domain fun. The Road Gear Jr. Light-N-Sound Emergency Playset lets kids live vicariously through America's heroes, by using the set's cheap plastic fire engine, cheap plastic ambulance, and cheap plastic helicopters. Meanwhile, the Road Gear Jr. corporation celebrates American heroism, capitalizes on a trend, and avoids paying licensing fees.
Mandy Moore doll
($9.99, marked down from $19.99)
The eBay treasures of tomorrow can be found for a pittance today, as virtually every pop star exists in doll form. Scour the clearance racks and outlet malls, and you'll likely encounter the appropriately plasticized likenesses of S Club 7, LFO, Brandy, Sisqó, Aaron Carter, and many more. 'N Sync dolls, produced by the billions, may not disappear from store shelves until they're 99% off—a fate likely to greet doll-sized versions of Britney Spears, who is herself a human-sized incarnation of a hideously ill-proportioned plaything. In the meantime, enjoy a play-friendly doll vaguely resembling Mandy Moore (or "mandymoore," if her logo is to be believed), the faintly remembered teen star behind such timeless classics as "Candy." The doll itself looks quite a bit like the also-discounted Vitamin C doll, but exclusive bonuses include a "Stylin' Slap Bracelet," a "Cool Keychain Purse," and such crucial biographical information as Moore's "Fave Flick" (Beaches).