Hot toys 

Every fall, parents try to predict what will be the coming holiday season's hot toy. Not because they want their tykes to have the newest, best and brightest gifts. Not because they're hip to the latest trends, and just can't help wanting novelty.

Noooo. They're playing the futures market.

Guided by hopeful clues from toy manufacturers, parents (and avid toy collectors worldwide) eyeball the season's new toy offerings, hedging their bets against a frenzied dash to Toys "R" Us at the 11th hour of Christmas Eve.

The annual toy craze has become such a ritual (let's not say tradition, not yet) that it was even lampooned in a 1996 Arnold Schwarzenegger film, Jingle All the Way, in which Arnie plays a dad who's just gotta get his kid the superhero action figure that even Santa can't provide.

According to Gary Cross, in his book Kid's Stuff (Harvard Univeresity Press, 1997), it wasn't always like this. But after toy manufacturer Mattel realized, in the late '70s, that it could market the heck out of Star Wars action figures (the first toy-film tie-in), the possibility of creating massive hype around toys set in.

The early 1980s brought toys linked with television shows instead of movies. "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" and "Care Bears" served as half-hour advertisements for the plastic versions of their animated characters. Kids had to have them. Parents had to buy them. Toy companies had to make lots of money. Hmmm.

But it wasn't until Christmas 1983 that all hell broke loose and parents (and kids, and single women, and celebrities such as Diana Ross and Burt Reynolds) went crazy for Cabbage Patch Kids dolls, which came with birth certificates and had to be "adopted" by their owners.

A season and a half later, the first Furby-like toy came on the scene. A beta-version of the '90s My Interactive Pooh, the Teddy Ruxpin talking teddy bear jumped on the Cabbage roll and made shopping parents crazy once again.

Since then, almost every holiday season has had its must-have toy. Transformers, which clicked inexplicably from robot to space vehicle, followed on Teddy Ruxpin's high-tech heels. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers dominated the universe of toys between 1988 and 1994, with television and movie tie-ins to strengthen their marketing domination.

In 1995, Pogs, a game played with milk caps, looked like a surefire winner for a while, but the madness didn't really take off again until 1996, when the cute, cuddly and ever-giggly Tickle Me Elmo hit the talk show and bad joke circuit. A small, furry orange monster was born, and it was called the hot toy of the year.

Last year, it was Beanie Babies and Tamagotchi virtual pets. This year, well, Furby might be on top, but you can bet that come February, it'll have joined the ranks of the toys that went before: at the bottom of the toy box.

The Apex of Demand:

Strawberry Shortcake dolls

1980

He-Man and Masters of the Universe action figures

1982

Care Bear stuffed toys

1983

Cabbage Patch Kid dolls

1983

My Little Pony figurines

1984

Teddy Ruxpin teddy bear

1985

Transfomer action figures

1985

Little Mermaid dolls, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

1990

Power Ranger action figures

1993

Pogs milk caps

1995

Tickle Me Elmo stuffed toys

1996

Beanie Babies stuffed toys

1997

Tamagotchi virtual pets

1997

Furby stuffed virtual pet

1998

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