Buyers Have an Early Adventure in Toyland : Industry Show Previews Talking Teddy Bears, Cuddly Dolls, More Rambos

Times Staff Writer

Rambo, made famous as a violent warrior in recent Sylvester Stallone movies, will become a loyal, reliable fellow we can turn to in time of trouble, in the form of a 6 3/4-inch plastic children's doll to, be available this summer, backed by a $22-million advertising and promotion campaign.

The Rambo "action figure," to be produced by Coleco Industries Inc., epitomizes the vast range and strange juxtaposition among toys being produced this year. Many emphasize the combination of play and violence, while others rely on being cuddly and lovable.

New toys that seem sure to be big hits are as diverse as Coleco's Rambo action figures, which are being touted by their manufacturer as "the Force of Freedom," to a computerized doll that talks, won't "sleep" if it's noisy, and moves its cheeks while making sucking sounds when a bottle is stuck in her mouth.

Updated Toy Guns

Two companies are selling a new toy guns that emit infrared beams to be aimed at targets strapped to children. The concept was so offensive to two other companies that they decided not to produce similar gun and target sets, despite having gone to the expense of developing them.

Buyers for stores and for wholesalers showed enthusiasm for those toys and others this week and last at the 83rd annual American International Toy Fair, where they gathered to select merchandise for toy store shelves. Most of it will be sold in the fourth quarter, when cash registers will ring up about 55% of the nearly $13 billion that Americans are expected to spend on toys in 1986, said a spokeswoman for the Toy Manufacturers of America Inc., the trade association that sponsors the Toy Fair.

About 17,000 buyers from the United States and more than 60 foreign nations spent an often frenetic 10 days trying to pick winners from tens of thousands of toys offered by about 1,000 manufacturers. Some of the toys already are available, but most of the new ones won't be in stores before spring.

Small plastic dolls called action figures have been popular for several years. Perhaps the surest winner among new action figures--although some buyers question its chances for enduring--is the 6 3/4-inch Rambo character.

Obviously sensitive to anti-war, anti-violence groups' reaction to Rambo movies and toys, Coleco Industries Inc., which will make the Rambo figures, is emphasizing loyalty and reliability rather than violence in its promotional efforts. "He will be the kind of person we can all turn to in times of trouble . . . his sense of fair play, compassion and caring will make him a special kind of hero," a Coleco spokesperson said.

Allies and Enemies

Rambo, who in action-figure land bears only minimal likeness to Sylvester Stallone, will sell for about $6. So will his several allies and enemies.

A veritable flood of Rambo-type items can be expected in stores well before Christmas. They range from Rambo bicycle horns that look like hand grenades to "Rambo Peanut Butter Action Cups," which are chocolate peanut butter cups.

Toy Fair buyers predicted big sales for the two gun sets that require children to strap on targets so their buddies can shoot them and vice versa. Presumably, if enough children buy the toy, large numbers of them will have guns and targets, and whole neighborhoods can go to infrared war.

Photon gun and target sets made by LJN Toys Ltd. will sell from about $56 to about $120, depending on the equipment selected.

Worlds of Wonder, which calls its gun and target game Lazer Tag, will sell a single set of gun, target and belt to hold the target on for about $39.95. A helmet with an infrared target on top will be available for another $39.95.

Two other toy companies--Coleco and Axlon Inc.--developed similar toys, but decided not to produce them. "I don't want to make a product where a kid shoots another kid in the head," said Tom Zito, Axlon's vice president for marketing.

Besides Rambo, several other new action figure dolls were seen by Toy Fair buyers as likely characters to appear under this year's Christmas trees.

They include Centurions, new 7 1/2-inch action figures that "combine man and machine into a sophisticated weapons system." The articulated figures use weapons that meld with their bodies. Kenner Products Division of Kenner Parker Toys, Inc. makes Centurions, which will sell for about $12.50 or $13.

Kenner also makes a new Chuck Norris action figure. Norris, a karate expert and star of numerous adventure films, is the model for these spring-loaded, karate-oriented dolls whose martial artistry and weaponry literally spring into action when the dolls are properly manipulated. They will sell for about $5.50 to $5.70.

More Stallone Clones

Sylvester Stallone-related action figures that buyers give a good chance for success are Lewco Corp.'s six Over the Top arm wrestlers. They are based on a Stallone arm wrestling movie due for release before Christmas. Modeled on Stallone and five professional arm wrestlers, the 7-inch figures will sell for less than $10 each. Their right hands will interlock, and children can operate knobs on the dolls' backs to "arm wrestle" with their friends.

Animated dolls, such as teddy bears that move and talk, were cited among this year's hot toy categories by Leslie Mendelsohn, vice president and buyer for Federal Wholesale Toy Co. in La Mirada, one of the nation's biggest toy wholesalers.

Talked-About Talker

Perhaps the most talked about computerized doll at the Toy Fair was Baby Talk, the 18-inch plastic doll that won't close her eyes until it's quiet. When it is quiet, Baby Talk declares, "I'm tired." Then she blinks her eyes, murmurs "Night-night," and closes her eyes. The $65 to $85 toy made by Lewis Galoob Toys, Inc. of South San Francisco, responds to a human voice by moving her mouth and uttering any of her 16 phrases, such as "I like to be picked up," which she says when she is picked up, "Let's play," and "I love you," a sentence Baby Talk accentuates by batting her eyes.

Galoob has another animated toy that buyers look upon as a possible winner: Smarty Bear, a cuddly $60 to $75 fellow who responds to spoken questions with positive answers and comes with a video cartoon to which he reacts verbally and physically.

Other new bears seem sure to be Christmas hits too, notably those from the den of Axlon, a 5-year-old Sunnyvale company.

Axlon's Grandpaw A.G. and Grandmaw A.G. respond to questions and comments with unintelligible "bear talk" that varies according to the tone the bear "hears"; ask a question in a gruff tone and it results in gruff bear talk, a gentle tone gets a gentle answer. Plug the bespectacled bears into cassette players, and their mouths move in synchronization to any tapes. The toys will sell for about $60.

Axlon also will feature PetSters: $40 fluffy animals that come to you, back away, and turn depending on how many times you clap your hands, and a fuzzy little $25 hamster who lives in a clear plastic ball that rolls around a room bouncing off walls.

Worlds of New Characters

Worlds of Wonder Inc., the company that started the computerized, animated toy craze last year with its Teddy Ruxpin bear, will have a variety of new animated characters ready for Christmas, including Pamela, a $49.95 sound-activated doll with a 64K memory. Pamela will combine about 40 words to create 60 random responses like, "Do you want to go for a ride with me?" and "Will you give me a hug?" The doll will have a series of $12.95 "voice cards" to slip in a slot in her back and give her special vocabularies about specific subjects, such as going to the zoo, the beach or a birthday party.

Worlds of Wonder also will introduce a $59.95 fluffy white goose whose mouth and eyes move as she tells taped Mother Goose stories, and a similar $79.95 Snoopy who, for another $49.95 will acquire a Charlie Brown friend and a wire to join the two so they can have taped, animated conversations.

A child's answer to the adult fashion watch market is a Watchimal, a new Hasbro, Inc. item that straps to the wrist of a child--or an adult who doesn't take life too seriously--and looks like a brightly colored plush fantasy animal. Lift the Velcro closure on a Watchimal's face and a digital watch is revealed. The timepiece costs about $10, and is available in six varieties: toucan, teddy bear, butterfly, elephant, mouse, peacock.

Even in 1986, toys don't need computer chips and motors to be successful.

Softness Counts

Buyer Armen Bahadurian, vice president of King Norman's Toy Stores, a six-store Northern California chain, observed that buyers are "going for the soft feeling" dolls.

Pound Puppies, the soft cloth dolls that were a big success last year, soon will have litters of Newborns, which will be under-$10 miniature versions of the original canines. Super Pound Puppies, for about $35, will be larger than last year's pups. For cat lovers, next Christmas and less than $20 will bring feline versions of Pound Puppies dubbed Pound Pur-r-ies.

Mattel Inc.'s Popples created a lot of Toy Fair excitement. The furry fantasy dolls can disappear into their own pouches and become little fur balls, or a child can partially hide them in the pouches so they seem to peek out or wave their stubby arms. Popples come in three sizes--6, 11 and 15 inches--and cost from $12 to $24.

Another good bet for Christmas is Wrinkles, Coleco's hand puppet dolls that look a lot like Shar-Pei dogs. Their faces and legs are possessed of more wrinkles than a box of prunes. A 28-inch Wrinkle will run abut $60, or you'll be able to get one 11 inches shorter for $30 to $35. Wrinkles were invented in Canada, where last year the Canadian Toy Testing Council named them "Doll of the Year."

Do-Nothing Dolls

Buyers at the Toy Fair literally were talking in the elevators about Puffalumps, the new Fisher-Price Toys dolls that will sell for about $20. The stuffed animals, made of parachute material, don't do a thing but look at you whimsically, which was enough to charm a lot of buyers. In market testing, 95% of the mothers surveyed felt the dolls were attractive for infants, 60% said they would also buy them for a child older than 10, and 25% considered them good for persons older than 18.

Buyers gave good marks to Furskins, a family of 14-inch stuffed bears made by Coleco. Each of the eight little stuffed bears, created by Xavier Roberts, who dreamed up Cabbage Patch Kids, is identified by a hard-to-achieve ambition: Hank Spitball wants to be a Chicago Cub, but has no idea where Chicago is, Persimmon wants to write a cookbook, but doesn't know how to read or write, and so on. The bears will sell in the $30 range.

Last year's hottest selling dolls, the ubiquitous Cabbage Patch Kids, have new relatives that seem to be sure successes. The name of each Cabbage Patch line extension relates to its character, which is identified by costumes the doll wears: Circus Kids, Young Astronauts, Baseball All Stars and Babies each will sell in the $30 to $40 range.

My Buddy dolls for boys, which were a success last year, have pigtailed Kid Sisters in 1986. Like her brother, Kid Sister is intended for children 1 and older who want a doll they can cuddle sometimes and play with roughly other times. Playskool, a division of Hasbro, Inc., expects the dolls to retail for about $22.

Tucked away in an obscure 15-by-15-foot room crowded with Toy Fair buyers was Brian Hersch, a 35-year-old Los Angeles businessman whose new game, Out of Context, was a major surprise item at the trade show.

Something for Adults

The board game for adults is the first toy product from Hersch & Co., a Century City family investment business that concentrates on real estate and crude oil.

Out of Context, which will sell for about $30, requires players to select quotes by famous people ("Don't be humble. You're not that great"--Golda Meir. "He who hesitates is last"--Mae West.) from among quotes by obscure people or quotes Hersch invented ("Bad weather always looks much worse through a window," "American men don't mature until they have exhausted all other possibilities.")

A toy that seems sure to attract both children and adults is the $59 Etch a Sketch Animator, The Ohio Art Co.'s computerized cousin to the traditional Etch a Sketch that this year enters its second quarter century.

The high-tech Etch a Sketch Animator is designed for users 6 and older to "draw" a computerized picture on a screen, then call up a blank screen and draw another picture, and so on a dozen times. The 12 pictures can then be viewed in various sequences of 96 frames at seven different speeds to create animated cartoons.

Interactive video games, in which players respond to what they see on a TV screen, is a category that includes VCR tapes for adults and for children.

Parker Brothers has a new $40 video game called Eyewitness.

Doorways to Adventure and Doorways to Horror, two Pressman Toy Corp. video games are slated to sell for less than $30 each.

Mattel has four new video games for adults and three for children that will sell for between $25 and $30 each.

Mattel's Barbie fashion dolls are 27 years old this year, and they have some new friends available for between about $5.75 and $12.50: Dee Dee, Dana, Diva and Derek are The Rockers, Barbie's new musical group. There is also a new Magic Moves Barbie, who combs her hair, and a new Astronaut Barbie, who comes dressed for interplanetary travel in a clear plastic bubble helmet and a pink space suit.

Barbie's musical ambitions are expected to get some competition from Jem, the Holograms and the Misfits, a major new Hasbro doll entry designed to compete with Barbie.

Punk Styles

While Barbie is purity personified, Jem and her friends come on with more of a punk image. The Holograms are Jem's backup group. The Misfits are Jem's rivals. Each figure will retail for about $13 to $14.

Matchbox Toys (USA) Ltd. has a unique new entry in the fashion doll category: three Robotech women and a man who interact with the smaller Matchbox Robotech action figures. The four fashion dolls, which will sell for about $9 each, fit into the Robotech fantasy intergalactic story line in which the heroes defend scientific information from marauding aliens.

The Robotech toys also include numerous articulated, 3 3/4-inch to 6-inch action figures for from $3 to $5, plus weapons, vehicles and a space fortress.

In the Motorized Field

The most innovative motorized toy vehicles this year come from Galoob and the Tomy Corp. Galoob's $20 to $25 Flex has tires that literally change shape to suit the terrain it's crossing. The Cross Boss, which will sell for about $16, carries its own bridge that allows it to climb 3-inch steps and cross 6-inch "chasms." Most impressive of Galoob's toy trucks is the articulated, 32-wheel Giant, whose 24-wheel drive and two electric motors power the toy over 17-inch vertical obstacles like a wheeled snake. Its price tag will be in the $65 range.

Tomy's 16-wheel, all-wheel drive Monster Machine uses three electric motors to power its 5-section flexible chassis over obstacles or up stairs about 10 inches high. It will sell in the $30 range.

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