This holiday shopping season, parents aren't scratching each other's eyes out "Tickle Me Elmo"-style for that one must-have, gotta-get-it toy.
Instead, a mish-mash of kiddie gifts is on wish lists this year, from retro items like "Cabbage Patch Kids" and "My Little Pony" to new versions of old favorites like Barbie and Elmo.
“The one thing they’re all going for, the Holy Grail, so to speak, of this Christmas, is hard to find,” said Peter Nason, spokesman for Marz Distribution (search), which distributes toys to retailers, storeowners and online companies. “There’s so much to choose from.”
Among the many toys generating buzz this season: Fisher-Price’s "E-L-M-O" Elmo (search), for $29.99, which disco-dances and spells out his name to the tune of “Y.M.C.A.” Mattel’s duet-singing Barbies as "Princess Anneliese" and "Erika" (search), character dolls from the straight-to-DVD Barbie movie “The Princess and the Pauper,” are also in demand among little girls ($19.99 each).
In the high-tech aisle, WowWee’s "Robosapien" (search), a programmable robot that sells for about $100, is pushing kids' buttons.
“Robots are always popular,” said Chris Byrne, a contributing editor to Toy Wishes magazine (search) and an independent toy consultant who calls himself “The Toy Guy.”
"It’s got that ‘Wow!’ factor of being the newest thing, the kind of thing families are enjoying together. It appeals to that tech-head in all of us.”
A couple of years ago, the surprise robotic hit of the season was the "FurReal Friends" (search) cat, a cuddly kitty that purrs and responds to touch. This year, the new “friend” is the $29.99 “Luv Cub,” a baby bear that hugs, whimpers and burps.
Video games and systems are still top-sellers, with the dual-screen, wireless Nintendo DS (search) for $149.99 an especially coveted item.
Maureen Dwyer, a Somerville, N.J., mom of six kids 9 months to 13, got her hands on one of the scarce Nintendo DS systems for her 13- and 11-year-old sons to share.
“They’re so popular and you can’t get them anywhere,” she said. “I feel like I’m trafficking drugs.”
Other techie toys tempting gear geeks this season: Hasbro’s "Videonow Color" (search), a $75 handheld video player for tots; Jakks Pacific's "Ms. Pac-Man TV Games" (search), a $20 system that plugs into the television and allows users to play five classic video games; "Vtech V.Smile" (search), a portable, interactive video game system for preschoolers for $59.99 and the latest version of Bandai's virtual pet "Tamagotchi" (search) for $14.99.
And be warned: It's not a toy, but many little boys and girls are pining for an iPod digital music player (about $250 for a mini) this year.
As for grown-up toys, board games are doing well, especially DVD games like Mattel’s film trivia game "Scene It" (search) and TV-themed creations like the "Sopranos" and "Sex and the City" games. Chess boards are on adults' and kids' lists, too.
“Chess is really hot this year,” Byrne said. “Kids are playing a lot of chess.”
Movie-inspired toys are big, from films like “SpongeBob SquarePants,” “Spider-Man 2” and “The Lord of the Rings.” And blast-from-the-past toys such as “Cabbage Patch Kids” dolls, “My Little Pony,” “Care Bears” and “Hot Wheels” go-karts are once again a hit with little ones.
In the doll department, the "Bratz Tokyo-A-Go-Go Dance N' Skate Club" (search) by MGA, $89.99, is a popular item. The playset has a dance floor, roller rink, DJ station and even a sushi bar."American Girl Nellie" (search), for about $90, is the latest favorite for the ponytailed set in the “American Girls” line of dolls. And "Dora the Explorer's Talking Dollhouse" (search), by Fisher-Price for about $50, has sold out in some stores.
But other than a bit of hunting for Nintendo, Dwyer said she hasn’t felt any pressure this year to buy that one elusive treasure that every child is whining about.
“I don’t feel like there’s one hot toy out there," she said.