This holiday season, you might find yourself pushing, scratching, biting or pulling the hair of your fellow shoppers for a giggling, gyrating furry monster, a dancing Barbie, a chatty, bilingual cash register, a kid-proof digital camera or even — and this might be the most humiliating of all — a set of plastic cups.
T.M.X. Elmo, Let's Dance! Barbie, Dora's Talking Cash Register, the Kid-Tough Digital Camera and a game called Speed Stacks are topping the toy popularity charts — and many kids' wish lists — this year.
The latest, 10th-anniversary edition of Elmo sits down, rolls over onto his stomach, slaps his knee, stands back up and laughs hysterically — all when the child tickles him on the chin, stomach or toe.
"He's resonated with both adults and kids," said Fisher-Price spokeswoman Brenda Andolina. "Adults are buying him for the office, goofing around with him, and parents are trying to find him for their kids."
The $40 T.M.X. Elmo was kept totally under wraps in the months leading up to his September release in stores, with Fisher-Price playing up the "top secret" element to generate more buzz.
Apparently, the ploy worked: The new Elmo sold 250,000 units its first day out, and people are on waiting lists to buy him, according to independent toy consultant Chris "The Toy Guy" Byrne, a contributing editor at Toy Wishes magazine.
Let's Dance! Barbie, inspired by the latest Barbie movie "Barbie and the 12 Dancing Princesses," is interactive and can teach her owner dance moves from the film as well as imitating those the child does. She sells for $54.99.
"It's Barbie, it's princess, it's ballet — it's the unstoppable triple threat for little girls," Byrne said. "Barbie is having a great year."
Dora's Talking Cash Register and Diego's Talking Rescue Center, which are both $39.99 and represent the latest offerings in Fisher-Price's Dora the Explorer line, are part of the continuing trend of bilingual toys that began in the last few years.
The educational interactive toy company LeapFrog has its own contribution: the $19.99 Learn & Groove Alphabet Drum, which sounds out letters in English and Spanish when babies tap it.
"There are a lot of bilingual toys out there," Byrne said. "They're not necessarily going to teach kids languages, but it's good for the Spanish-speaking market. Understanding Spanish is going to be a very important part of our culture."
Other treats for babies and infants: Fisher-Price's Baby Gymnastics Bounce & Spin Zebra for $39.99 and the Amazing Animals Sing & Go Choo-Choo Train for $27.99.
Child versions of Mommy and Daddy's gadgets are more popular than ever this season. Fisher-Price's Kid-Tough Digital Camera and FP3 player — which is an MP3 player for little ones — both sell for $69.99 and are among the favorites. Play laptops, like VTech's Nitro Notebook, aren't doing as well, according to Byrne.
On the other end of the technological spectrum is a $29.99 game called Speed Stacks. The Play Along game — which is just a set of colorful, plastic cups that players pile up in different ways in the least amount of time possible — is not only flying off the shelves, it's being used in thousands of schools across the country and has caught on as a competitive sport.
"You race, and it's good for eye-hand coordination and getting your heart rate up," said Byrne.
The big news in the video game world is Nintendo's $250 Wii and Sony's $500-600 PlayStation 3, both of which have motion sensors in their controllers and, in the PlayStation's case, top-of-the-line graphics.
Other mentionables: Crayola's Wonder Sprayer for $24.99 and cutter for $22.99; SpinMaster's Lil Luvables Fluffy Factory, a stuffed animal-making kit that retails for about $21.99; Hasbro's FurReal Friends $300 moveable plush pony Butterscotch; the $30 "Pirates of the Caribbean" playset by Zizzle; Fisher-Price's very realistic Power Wheels Ford Mustang for $259 and Power Wheels Jeep Hurricane for $399; and Lego Mindstorms, a remote-controlled, robot-building kit with Bluetooth wireless networking technology that costs $249.99.
Gurus say the toys kids and parents are clamoring for have reached new levels of innovation because they aren't just impressive in what they can do, but also in the kind of play they inspire.
"There's a lot of creative stuff out there, not just in terms of the toys themselves but in terms of the experiences kids have with them," said Byrne.
But not everyone has gone gaga over what have been billed by the industry as the sizzling must-haves of the 2006 holiday season.
"I'm not in favor of what's hot because hot gets cold really fast," said independent toy consultant and child psychologist Stevanne "Dr. Toy" Auerbach. "I'm not looking for what's hot. I'm looking for what's good for each child."
Auerbach recommends alternatives like Folkmanis' two-headed Dragon Duo puppet for $48; the I Spy Eagle Eye board game by Briarpatch for $17.99; KAPLA wooden blocks for $66; the b.dazzle Swimming Champions Scramble Squares for $9; and Dora the Explorer Tangle Toys, a set of twistable, plastic, snap-together rods for $4.99. Auerbach publishes an annual list of what she deems the top 100 children's products on Drtoy.com.
Some kids aren't tuned into the buzz-generating toys, either. Four-year-old Brett Haas of Vienna, Va., for instance, is obsessed with "The Backyardigans" line from the TV show on Nickelodeon and has asked Santa for the CD, toy radio and dolls.
His mom, Liz Haas, said Christmas shopping for Brett and his 1-year-old brother Colin gets overwhelming.
"We've made a list of what we wanted, and we don't add to it when we've seen another commercial," said Haas, 37. "I feel like it's limitless. There are so many things out there."