Foul Play : Today, the Sweetest Little Girls and Boys Pick the Most Vile, Gross and Disgusting Toys

Times Staff Writer

Welcome to the contemporary kingdom of "Toy land, toy land, little girl and boy land. . . ."

Where, in an "evil pit of gruesome ooze . . . horrible goop turns trapped warriors into Slime monsters." (Slime included.)

Where, with the Mad Scientist Dissect-An-Alien kit with plastic scalpel, youngsters can "yank out alien organs dripping with flowing alien blood!" (Warning: Alien blood sticks to fabrics and hair and is impervious to dry cleaning).

Where, with a Nintendo and a Millipede game, boys and girls can get "lost in a dark, perilous and enchanted forest (where) dark dangerous mushrooms push up through the squishy forest floor, snaring you on every side. . . ."

Where, taking aim with their Glooper Game gun, children can "fire globs of oozing, slimy gloop up to 25 feet!" (Goop comes in easy-to-load cartridges).

Where, by depressing the plunger on Gooper Ghost's backpack--which comes with twin Nutrona Blasters--youngsters can make him ooze purple Ecto-Plazm kisses.

And they can do it all while munching Boogers, a gummy green candy that has spawned its own cult humor, as in: "What's the difference between school books and boogers? You put your school books on top of the table."

Guns have peaked, ditto high-priced talking dolls and animals. Barbie, who just turned 30, was never more popular, with Mattel expecting 1989 sales to surpass 1988's 40 million worldwide. And gross, it seems, is always good in the selling of toys.

"The more the parents scream, the more the kids want it," said Tom Berquist, a Connecticut-based idea man who brought "Boogers" to Confex candy company in New Jersey.

"I wouldn't call it a trend," said Bruce Apar, editor of Toy and Hobby World in New York, of the proliferation of gross on toy shelves. Because the toy business is a low entry-level business, he explained, it is easy for someone struck by inspiration to market something that is "either tasteless or totally inappropriate" as a new toy.

For the most part, he noted, these come from companies that "come out of obscurity and usually go back in, and justifiably so." Many, he added, never make their way into stores.

A 'Hall of Shame'

From his "Hall of Shame" folder Apar culled a sampling: A "Brat on Board" doll, face contorted, designed to look as though it's hanging out a car window. Marty Toy Co.'s genuine replica of Freddy's Glove from "A Nightmare on Elm Street," complete with plastic blades extending from the fingers.

There is nothing inherently unwholesome in ooey, gooey, slimy toys, said Dr. Jerome Karasic, a psychiatrist specializing in children and adolescents and a clinical associate psychiatry professor at USC.

"There is a fondness for the dirty, the ugly, or whatever, the detestable, in the very young infant," he explained. "As the infant matures, he learns that it's not acceptable and gives up his fondness. The slimy, ooey, gooey toys are like a bad joke, or maybe a good joke. If it helps a child to express something inside, what could be wrong with it?"

Grown-ups, recognizing the necessity for acceptable and hygienic behavior, react to a child's fondness for the dirty by saying, " 'Ugh! Yuck!' and the children quickly adopt those attitudes," Karasic said. Nevertheless, he observed, adults' own childhood attachments are not easily shaken: "Grown-ups sometimes like to go out in the garden and get mud on their hands."

'A Sadistic Toy'

"Threatening" toys are another matter, Karasic said. He includes in that category Freddy's Glove: "I don't think that glove has any place. I think it's a sadistic toy."

The real trend from this year's Toy Fair, Apar said, was that "there were no trends, and there haven't been for a couple of years now. . . . There's nothing really distinguishing itself from the rest of the pack."

The exception: Nintendo, which in 1988 sold 7 million playing machines and 32.5 million video games.

But, look for: "Trump, The Game," coming in May from Milton Bradley, the Monopoly people. The object is to be the player with the most money, a la New York real estate magnate Donald Trump. More Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures. Electronic baseball cards where the players talk to you.

And a generous dollop of slime and ooze and blood and monsters.

The Garbage Pail Kids craze, which started in 1985, is "pretty much finished" in the United States, said Norman Liss of Topps, its New York-based manufacturer. Now they're in Holland, the United Kingdom, Germany, Israel and in France, where they are being marketed as "Les Crados."

But, Liss said, Topps is bringing back Garbage Can-dy, which he described as "a miniature pail filled with pieces of candy in the shape of things you'd find in the garbage--fish heads, old shoes. . . ."

Noting that toy land trends tend to be cyclical, with four years a "real long life" for most new toys, Liss said, "We have a product now called Dinosaurs Attack, in which dinosaurs go wild and attack people and eat them up . . . years ago we did Mars Attacks. Very similar."

'Always Been In'

As for gross, he said, "Gross has always been in with kids . . . I think gross will continue, yeah."

Hawthorne-based Mattel, which gave the world The Mad Scientist series including the Monster Lab Set to make "gross skeleton and flesh monsters . . . then sizzle the flesh off their bones!" is no longer making that line, though it's still in stores. Mattel has entered the gross sweepstakes with "Soggy Boglins" sea monsters and Food Fighters action figures.

"The trend in yucky toys seems to be just that," Mattel spokeswoman Candace Irving said. "A lot of them are on the market place for a short time and then they go away," whereas Barbie and Hot Wheels endure.

For the uninitiated, Boglins are a family of grotesquely mutated, rubberlike hand puppets including the Slobster, which has eyes on stems, a snapping claw and gets "madder than a mermaid on a sand bar" if kept out of its aquarium.

The Food Fighters line includes Private Pizza, described by Irving as "a piece of pizza with human traits--eyes, nose arms, legs," a soldier in the war between the bad guys, the Refrigerator Rejects, and the good guys, the Kitchen Commandos.

Some in the toy industry have questioned whether children should be encouraged to wage food fights but Irving dismisses the criticism: "This isn't meant to replicate kitchen or dining room behavior. This is just a silly, wacky toy. And children understand that."

As for those "Boogers," sort of Gummy Bears gone soft, creator Berquist (who also gave the world granular bubblegum mixed with candy ants), said the idea popped up in dinner talk about "kids and why they get grossed out."

"Boogers," now available in Los Angeles, debuted in the fall on the East Coast and, Berquist said, "It just literally blew right off the shelves, if you'll pardon the pun."

Let parents scream, he said, but "Hey, let's let kids be kids." The typical response, he added, is, "It's gross. It's disgusting. I love it."

Berquist, 42, who once designed smoke alarms for General Electric and watches for Timex, compares "Boogers" and their "harmless fun" (at about 40 cents a package) with candy cigarettes, and figures "Boogers" is a wholesome product.

"A kid's life is full of sanctions," he observed. "You can't do this, you can't do that. This is a way for him to exert his independence."

Confex's John Sullivan acknowledged, "We have had one very large Southern California drug chain take a little exception to Boogers. . . . There's always some people who don't have a sense of humor."

The people at Ultra Software Corp. in Illinois do. "Turn Your House Into a Sewer," promises their advertisement for a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles interactive video game for Nintendo.

A $43.95 Quest

Ultra spokeswoman Lynn Hejtmanek explained the sewer game, due in stores by early June at a suggested retail price of $43.95 and targeted at boys 8 to 15: "It follows the escapades of the four characters who are in search of their Ninja Master, Splinter" and trying to rescue television reporter April O'Neill and defeat the bad guy, Shredder. "The turtles live in the sewers."

Jodi Levine, spokeswoman for the Toy Manufacturers of America in New York, suggested that Inhumanoids and Ghostbusters (very hot) and their ilk notwithstanding, "the trend has been away" from gross toys. But, she said, kids grow up fast and "certainly gross will be back shortly."

Meanwhile, she noted, what sells best--besides Nintendo--is preschool stuff, board games, dolls, match box toys, "basically the kind of stuff you and I played with as kids. . . ."

Levine explained that "young parents want to know the kid is going to like (the toy) past the birthday, past Christmas. Most of the things in the gross category would almost be considered novelties."

She noted that stuffed animal sales are down 40% but "I don't think that means that all of a sudden people hate teddy bears." Rather, she said, it reflects a resurgence in dolls and a spurt for board games. "The bottom line is that total retail sales are about the same.

"Demographically, there aren't that many more kids in the world."

What happens when a respectable company like Integ of San Jose, creator of the new and educational, "JC, The Junior Computer" and family-oriented basketball and football Action Mat Games, comes up with a novelty alarm clock that looks like a bundle of dynamite and "explodes" instead of buzzing?

Well, for one thing, it comes under attack from Toy and Hobby World's Apar, who considers the idea "offensive. A rather strange toy. . . . With terrorism rampant, I'd think the last toy a parent would want their child to have is an alarm clock that looks like a bomb."

But Integ defends the Dynamite Alarm Clock ($49.95) as a humorous takeoff on the old gag, "It takes an earthquake or an act of Congress to get her/him up in the morning." In English, French or Spanish, the clock tells the snoozer, "You have 20 seconds to get up," then begins a countdown. At the end, there is an explosion-like sound.

Integ President Ted Wong, informed of the criticism, said, "The last thing we would intend the product to do is to even hint that it might promote something like (terrorism). We have always looked at it merely as a comical type situation." Now, he said, he plans "a complete re-evaluation" of the product before deciding whether to introduce it this year.

'No Goop and Glop'

Meanwhile, let others deal in ooze, says Sarah Englander of LJN Toys, creator of Entertech's The Glooper Game. "Right now we're just into straight water. No goop and glop (though) I think the boys are still into major slime."

Coming soon from LJN: Non-threatening water guns molded into characters, including a gorilla on a surfboard. Of course, Englander said, "We're doing a lot of 'Friday the 13th,' but I don't think that's out of the ordinary revolting."

Kenner is discontinuing its Bone Age series featuring dinosaur bones that can be rearranged to build launchers and jet fighters and attack cars, but, spokeswoman Carol Varnas said, the company will play the game of gross with The Real Ghostbusters Fearsome Flush, which she described: "It's a toilet. It has wheels. As you roll it, the seat of the toilet opens and a tongue comes out and then the top of the toilet tank opens and two eyes pop out."

Also added to the Ghostbusters line will be classic monsters, including a mummy. Said Varnas, "You press his arm and his head pops off and then he'll begin to unravel. . . ."

"Yuckiness isn't as bad as tastelessness," said Ann Brown, chair of the Consumer Affairs Committee, Americans for Democratic Action, which each year evaluates new toys. "Slime and ooze are yucky. Then there's something that's tasteless, that preys on kids. That's a whole different thing."

In testing toys for quality and safety, Brown said, "You have to walk a thin line. You can't just use grown-up standards for taste for kids or you risk being called a purist or a prig.

"Kids are fascinated with anal things at certain stages, oral at others. You just have to accept that. But it's a shame that grown-up manufacturers take advantage of this to sell kids. Kids believe truly in toys."

ADA's 1988 toy report concluded of Mattel's "Boglins" that "toys that may appear repulsive or worthless to parents are sometimes funny or useful to kids in getting rid of their fears." Of Entertech's Glooper gun, the report said, "We can only assume that there was a surplus of 'slime' left over from some other toy line, and they had to find a way to sell it. This is a truly horrible toy."

Mattel's "Mad Scientist" line got the ADA "trash box" rating. It found Dissect-An-Alien not merely gross and disgusting but, more important, boring. Of "Monster Lab" it concluded: "You really have to be mad (as in crazy ) to buy this toy."

As for "Boogers," Brown said in an interview, "I think . . . that is truly tasteless. I don't think there's any justification for that. It doesn't help a kid come to terms with the world. It doesn't do anything but put some dough in a manufacturer's pocket."

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