Cuteness reigns this holiday season

It’s getting crowded in the race to
succeed Zhu Zhu Pets as the next hot holiday toy.

From plush dolls that harmonize to
tiny people and animals stored in bubbles in toy vending machines,
collectability and cuteness are off the charts for this year’s toys.

But with so many toys vying to win
“Most Adorable,” it remains to be seen if any will duplicate the
runaway success of the Zhu Zhu Pets, toy hamsters that squeak, zoom around on
wheels and sell for just $10.

Toys R Us is betting on a few
contenders for the cute crown. Those include Blip Toys’ Squinkies, tiny figures
that fit inside a toy dispensing machines and come in 16 packs for $10; Mattel
Inc.’s $12.99 Sing-a-ma-jigs, colourful plush dolls that harmonize; and $19.99
Pillow Pets, stuffed animals that convert into pillows.

There are some signs that the total
focus on low prices, ever-present over the past two years, is easing.

Toys R Us plans to open 10
temporary stores for its higher-priced FAO Schwarz brand. And for the first
time Hasbro is offering an “Ultimate Gifts” line, including a $299
Furreal Friends Butterscotch pony and a $119.99 Scrabble premier wood edition,
online only.

Still, the majority of toys this
year will be under $25, particularly collectibles.

Cepia LLC introduced new lines of
Zhu Zhu pets this year, including hamster babies and a Kung Zhu set of hamsters
that battle in an arena for boys.

Hasbro is pushing Furry Frenzies,
animals that skitter around, that retail for $8 each.

Another cute collectible: Zoobles. The line includes brightly
patterned creatures that fold up into a ball but pop open when placed on top of
a magnetized stand. They sell for $5.99 for one and $9.99 for a two-pack.
They’re made by Spinmaster, known for its Baukugan Battle Brawlers game that
uses similar balls that pop open magnetically.

While it is too early to tell if
there will be a true breakout this holiday season, analysts are already taking
note that Zoobles have been scarce on store shelves.

Squinkies have been scarce as well.
Bill Nichols, president and co-founder of Squinkies maker Blip Toys in
Minnetonka, Minn., said he was inspired to create Squinkies by dispensing
machines found in grocery and convenience stores. Squinkies toy dispensers
double as play sets for Squinkies, which each come in a plastic bubble.

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