Santa delivered for the toy industry last year. After several years of decline, U.S. sales turned around in 2010 and grew about 2 percent from the prior year to about $21.87 billion, according to market researcher NPD Group.
The holiday season is a critical time for the industry, because that is when it rings up the bulk of its annual sales.
This year, many toymakers are sticking to tried-and-true formulas to win customers, but these classic themes often have a new twist that makes them fresh.
We’ve scanned the hot holiday toy lists from retailers, trade publications and blogs, and did a little digging ourselves to bring you a collection of toys that is sure to please.
Click ahead to see the hottest toys of the holiday season.
By Christina Cheddar-Berk
Posted 1 November 2011
Ages: 18 months to 3 years old
Why is this Elmo toy one of the hottest of the holiday season? Because Elmo Rocks.
Not only does this toy feature the much beloved Elmo from the "Sesame Street" TV show, but it is very interactive. Elmo can play a variety of instruments as children sing and play along with him. He sings six different songs. Young children will be amazed that Elmo can recognize when they are playing the Let’s Rock guitar, keyboard, or microphone.
Prices: $6 to $22
Ages: 4 years to 6 years old.
Looks like Cepia — the company that brought us the last truly smoking hot holiday toy, the Zhu Zhu pet — may have another hit on its hands. Xia-Xia (pronounced Sha-Sha) is a line of bright, colorful hermit crabs.
Xia-Xia has some of the characteristics that made Zhu Zhu so popular: It’s a collectible toy, and each is fun to watch as it walks around. But similarities may end there. Xia-Xia is a little more slick than its furry predecessor, even down to its packaging.
Kids also can have the Xia-Xia crabs share shells, and they will likely use the shells to store little things as well. The little critters are on store shelves now, but the playsets won’t arrive until early November, so you might want to move fast if you want to get your claws on them.
Ages: 4 years to 9 years old
If you’re uncomfortable handing your four-year-old your iPad, here’s a solution. The LeapPad Explorer is designed to look and work like an iPad or other tablet, but it has age-appropriate software that will help teach your children a variety of skills — from phonics and math to geography and science.
The LeapPad includes a built-in camera/video recorder and a microphone, and it has two gigabytes of memory for storing pictures. Kids can download apps or use Leapster cartridge games, which is especially handy if they already own those games. And, like a tablet, kids can operate it using their finger or tap the pad with a stylus. It also has an accelerometer, which is used in some of the games kids can play.
Vtech makes a similar product, the InnoTab, which is slightly less expensive. It has some the same capabilities, but it does not have a camera/video recorder. It does have a SD slot and a MP3 player, which are both nice features.
While both products will have their share of fans this holiday season, there is one drawback: Kids who are truly familiar with their parents’ devices will recognize the difference.
Ages: 4 years to 10 years old
How do you take a brand that’s more than 40 years old and make it new again? Mattel’s Hot Wheel Wall Tracks has tackled one of the age-old problems associated with track-and-car sets: It takes a long time to set up the track, and then kids have to listen to Mom telling them they have to clean it up, forcing them to start all over from scratch the next time they used it.
Now, the tracks can be hung on the wall, behind a room door, on a closet door. The combinations are numerous, and the tracks can even go around corners. But Mom shouldn’t be worried about the tracks leaving a mark. They are attached using 3M command strips and they come down without a trace.
Ages: 5 years old and up
More than 12 million people worldwide have downloaded Rovio’s best selling app "Angry Birds." The board game version plays pretty much like the app. The object is to get revenge on the pigs for stealing the birds’ eggs by destroying the structures where the pigs are hiding. Misson cards tell you how to build the structure. Then you load the Angry Birds onto the launcher and fire away. Up to four players can join in the game.
In addition to the Angry Birds game, there are other items that have been inspired by the popular app that will be hot gift items for the holidays this year, including plush toys, backpacks and more.
Manufacturer: MGA Entertainment
Ages: 4 years to 6 years old
The Lalaloopsy brand was a hot seller last holiday season, and this year should be no different.
Classic rag dolls inspired the brand’s look, but the dolls are made of molded plastic. Since girls love to play with their dolls’ hair, MGA Entertainment has put out Lalaloopsy dolls that allow kids to do just that. The doll has long strands of bendable, plastic hair that girls can style and decorate. Curl it, twist it, straighten it, or add beads to make it fancy.
There are two versions the doll Jewel Sparkles, which has pink hair and a pet cat, and the doll Crumbs Sugar Cookie, which has a pet mouse.
MGA also has introduced a line of Lalaloopsy plush dolls. Ed Crotty, of the Toy Spy Blog, said parents were asking for soft versions of the popular dolls so their kids could snuggle up with them in bed, and it looks like the company listened.
Price: $14 to $50
Ages: 8 years to 10 years old
Nerf is out with a new line of play guns that shoot greater distances and are more accurate, thanks to the round foam discs. There are four different guns in the line: the Vigilon, Nitron, Praxis, and Proton. They range in price and have different features, but all pack a lot of power.
The Nitron is the priciest of the bunch and has a 20-disc magazine, as well as onboard storage for additional rounds. It also has an electronic scope that helps to aim more precisely at a target.
The Praxis Blaster is half the price, however, and that might make it the most popular one of the bunch.
Manufacturer: Jakks Pacific
Ages: 7 years to 14 years old
There will be plenty of “autotuning” microphones being wrapped up this holiday season. In addition to Jakks’ T-Pain Mic, pictured here, WowWee has added a microphone to its popular Paper Jamz line, and First Act Discovery has introduced Voice Rockrz.
Each microphone has its own list of pros and cons, but since Grammy Award-winning rapper T-Pain helped popularize the auto-tune pitch correction effect, the T-Pain Mic may have an edge in this race.
Ages: 9 months to 3 years old
Playskool’s Poppin’ Park Elefun Busy Ball Popper plays 10 tunes as it blows balls up into the air. This toy helps young children develop hand-eye coordination and motor skills, and helps teach them about cause and effect.
The toy’s trunk turns to adjust the direction of the balls that pop out, and is sold in either pink or blue.
Price: $15 to $50
Ages: 4 years old and up
WowWee has created Lite Sprites, a line of fairy dolls. The magic of this brand rests inside the Lite Wand, which can be used to collect and share color among the Lite Sprites and the objects in their world. The wand holds as many as 50 different colors, and it can capture virtually any color — not just primary ones.
There are several different characters in the Lite Sprites collection, including the evil Bleak, who tries to rob the world of its colors, and a number of playsets so that kids can create their own world. The Lite Wand, Prisma, and Pod comprise the basic Lite Sprites’ starter set. The other four sprites Brooke, Bleak, Meadow, and Astra are sold separately.
Ages: 8 years old and up
Legos are a classic holiday staple, but this year the brand has two really hot lines, Alien Conquest and Ninjago.
Alien Conquest includes several pieces, the Alien Mothership, the Earth Defense HQ, and the UFO Abduction. Kids can use the toys to pretend a large invasion of aliens is attacking Earth and attempt to destroy them. Introduced in May, it’s the first time Lego has used this premise in any of its toys.
Ninjago, also introduced this year, is based around a ninja theme. The toy also adds another element of fun, as children can build pieces for a game known as “Spinjitzu.”
Ages: 8 years to 10 years old
Razor changed the way people think about scooters, now they’re doing the same for the pogo stick.
If you are looking for a toy that will get your child moving, this may be the one. Razor has developed a pogo stick, the Bogo, with wide foot pegs to offer stability when going for height. It also is easier to maneuver thanks to its frame, which is crafted from aircraft-grade aluminum. The real attraction, though, is its bow-assist spring, which adds a boost of power and will make bounces higher than a traditional pogo stick, and likely, much more fun.
Manufacturer: Spin Master
Ages: 12 years to 15 years old
Spin Master is once again raising the bar on affordable, micro radio-controlled vehicles. How fast is the Air Hogs Hyper Active? It can reach a scale speed (the speed it would reach if it was life-sized) of more than 450 miles per hour.
It also has a long range, which is essential for a speedy car like this one, and it has multiple bands so that kids can race their friends. As many as 10 cars can be run at the same time.
For a younger set, say kids between the ages of 4 years and 7 years old, there is Thinkway Toys’ Lazer Stunt Chaser Dragon fire. This car may not be as fast as Hyper Active, but it still is very quick and can flip over and keep on going. It is sold with a ramp that helps kids perform a number of stunts. Two transmitter settings allow it to be raced against another car at the same time.
The car is directed using light control technology, not an actual laser, which means it will automatically chase after light that is projected on a wall.
Ages: 6 years to 9 years old
Each Fijit friend has its own personality, and soft, squishy skin that reacts to touch. The robots dance to the beat of music and have voice recognition software that allows them to recognize 30 different words and phrases. They also have more than 100 responses to recognized words so that they can interact with a child.
Manufacturer: Wow! Stuff
Ages: 6 years old to 11 years old
My Keepon is a Toys ‘R Us exclusive and the toy retailer says it is out of stock on supplies of the toy’s “presells” at this time.
On its surface, My Keepon isn’t impressive as far as toy robots go, but based on its large Internet following, this guy has a lot of charm. A video of it bopping to Spoon’s “I Turn My Camera On” has more than 2.7 million views on YouTube, and there are enough competing videos to allow you to waste a good chunk of the afternoon if you so desire.
A tiny microphone embedded in My Keepon allows it to hear the music you play or rhythms you make yourself and respond. My Keepon also reacts to poking, patting, squeezing, and tickling.
The toy is based on Keepon Pro, a research robot created by two BeatBots scientists and used in playrooms to study social development and autism. A portion of the proceeds from My Keepon will be distributed to researchers and practitioners investigating the use of robots in autism therapy.