Stocking stuffers you might want to pass over this Christmas season probably include a toy reindeer that poops candy, a vaguely incestuous father-daughter doll combo and a pack of realistic-looking explosives.
You also might want to turn up your nose at two dolls that scream when children stretch or shake them, a Lord of the Rings Orc action figure that whips newborns and a tongue-wagging wrestler character who sticks his head between a female wrestler's legs.
All these dubious-sounding toys are the prize winners in the annual Warped Toys List issued by Grace Episcopal Church in Hartford, Conn., which for some 15 years has been warning parents about potential holiday gifts that will do their kids more harm than good. Toys are flagged for perpetuating stereotypes, encouraging violence, desensitizing children to other people's pain, or being inappropriate for children for sexual or scatological reasons.
"Even a secular Christmas is about peace, goodwill, kindness, and affection, and elicits the best kinds of values in us as human beings," the church's Rev. Chris Rose said. "That's why people wait in lines at malls and stores, because they want to do something nice.
"Why then would you give your child a nightmare toy, toilet humor, a doll that takes the hero of this lovable movie Monsters, Inc. and turn it into something a child can beat up? I mean, how sick can you get?"
Rose was referring to this year's No. 1 most warped toy, "Bounce n' Shake Wacky Mike." Children are supposed to shake or bounce the toy version of the green eyeball hero of the movie, causing him to yelp out phrases like: "Youch! That'll leave a mark!" "Yikes! Be careful, I bruise easily!" and "Ouch! Thrown around by children. Just perfect!" The $29.99 toy is listed as safe for children ages 3 and up but intended for children who are 4 and older.
"The toy encourages them to shake the monster until it screams. It cries in pain, it says, 'Don't hit me,'" Rose said. "It sounds like child abuse. But you wouldn't know it by the packaging. Unless you read the fine print, parents aren't going to get [what this toy is about]."
Disney spokeswoman Maria Gladowski said Rose was reading way too much into a harmless kid's toy.
"The 'Wacky Mike' toy portrays the slapstick character of Mike from the movie Monsters, Inc. and was created solely for fun," she said.
And Rose is also all wrong about the other Monsters, Inc. toy on his list, the "Splatter Dome," in which children mold small teddy bears, toys and bugs out of a gel and then squish them, Gladowski said.
"Construction and deconstruction play patterns are very typical for this age group," she said.
At $24.99, the dome is intended for children 5 and up. Rose said it, like the other Disney toy, allowed children to act out violently without consequences.
"Because kids play with 'Wacky Mike,' will they shoot kids like in Columbine?" Rose said. "No, but does it mean he'll want a more violent society or be more violent? Sure, that's going to be an outcome. If you're taught to shake a doll, why not shake up a baby and hear him cry?"
The same goes for toys like Mattel's "Max Steele N-TEK Adventure Pack: Explosives" set, with realistic demolition equipment, and the Manley Toy Quest "Electronic Stretch Screamers," where children stretch rubbery monster toys until they scream and goo pops out of their skulls, eye sockets or mouths.
Both companies said Rose was taking their toys out of context.
Mattel spokesman Danny Salazar defended the explosives set as merely one part of a larger, four-piece set in which children are encouraged to use their equipment for good.
Manley Toys' Allyson Serino said the monster screamers, which come with a screams-off button, were meant to help children overcome their fears, not cause fear in others. And the company is hardly getting any complaints from kids, she said.
"Boys like gore and that kind of scary thing," Serino said. "It's selling hugely now, so I guess we're doing something right."
The kinds of toys Rose says he does want to see under people's Christmas trees are those that develop kids' creativity, that engage children for a long time and that are "sheer fun" – like Lincoln Logs or Legos, he said.
"How many times can you play with an Orc and whip the newborn?" he said. "Ten, 15 minutes? What kind of toy will a kid play with on a rainy day? Not the Orc Overseer or 'Shake Mike.'"