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Blockbuster toys

This summer's movies have inspired some must-have toys. By Teri Goldberg

If “Spider-Man 2” is anything like the first “Spider-Man” movie, the buck will not stop at the box office. Toy manufacturers will pull in millions more with toys and merchandise inspired by this summer’s hot flick and others. And for you dear parent, that means a summer of blockbuster toys, and parting with even more of your hard-earned dollars.

Of all the blockbuster films this summer, “Spider-Man 2” will sell the most merchandise, says Jim Silver, co-publisher of Toy Wishes magazine. The first “Spider-Man” movie took in more than $800 million worldwide in ticket sales and more than $1 billion in sales of related merchandise, according to Spider-Man Merchandising, a 50/50 partnership between Marvel Enterprises and Sony Pictures Consumer Products.

Spidey's best bets

“When you think of Spiderman, you think of his web” says Silver. (He means a spider web not the World Wide Web.)  So naturally Silver speculates that this summer’s best seller will be Toy Biz’s  Triple Action Web Blaster ($17.99, ages 5 and up), a new improved version of the Dual Action Web Blaster, the most popular toy last summer.

The triple action blaster comes with three types of ammo that fits onto a plastic launcher, which straps onto a red kid-sized, Spider-Man-like glove. The trick is getting the toy out of the box in the first place (toy manufacturers like to secure any potentially moving part with individual wire ties) and then figuring out how to assemble and use it. I had to contact the company representative several times to successfully load the launcher with the ammo provided — a 5-ounce can of web fluid (silly string), a water blaster and foam or suction darts. I’m told kids instinctively get it.

Another toy that made Silver’s hot list is the 18-inch Spider-Man Action Figure ($24.99, ages 6 and up), also from Toy Biz. Once set free, the jumbo action figure, which arrives strapped down to the box, can strike more positions than any action figure currently available, says a Toy Biz company representative. The toy manufacturers credit Spider-Man’s flexibility to its 67 points of “articulation.” It’s a fancy word people in the toy business came up with to describe flexible points on action figures, say the toy rep. A typical action figure bends or “articulates” in about 10-12 spots, similar to joints in the human body, he adds. Spider-Man is all muscle but his lower body seems a bit stiff. Maybe he needs to stretch a little before plunging into action.

Marvel and Sony Columbia Pictures are not the only companies taking advantage of this summer’s hot flicks. LEGO also jumped on the “Spider-Man 2” bandwagon and released a new building set Doc Ock’s Hideout ($49.99, ages 7 and up). The play here, at least, surrounds constructing the 480-piece set. Detailed step-by-step instructions help. But “each kid has their own strategy. Some very methodically sort the pieces first, by size and color, to make it all easier,” says a LEGO toy representative. Others “find the fun in searching for the right piece and dump everything together in one pile and go piece diving with each instruction.”

Potter pleasures
LEGO also introduced three new kits to coincide with the release of “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” A new version of the HogwartsCastle ($89.99, ages 8 and up) has 100 more pieces than the original castle set (released in 2001). The new castle features a clock tower, which has a wind-up motor that makes the pendulum swing. Less expensive and equally cool are construction kits for the seat-less Knight Bus ($29.99, 7 and up), a triple-decker transport for witches and wizards, and Professor Lupin’s hideout, the Shrieking Shack ($49.99, 8 and up).

Quidditch, anyone? This summer, Mattel makes it easy for fans of the competitive wizard game to play a few matches with its Harry Potter Championship Quidditch ($24.99, ages 7 and up) court. There’s no bludgers (black balls) to avoid but an enthusiastic crowd cheers (pre-recorded electronic voice) every time a team scores points by shooting quaffles (red balls) through one of the spinning hoops. The game ends when someone catches the golden snitch, which is randomly hurled out of the plastic play tower mounted in the middle of the field.

Embrace the ogre
Summer blockbuster “Shrek 2” also inspired some toy making. (In its fourth week, “Shrek 2” became the top-grossing animated movie ever with ticket sales of $354 million. Previously, “Finding Nemo” held the record at $339.7 million.) Hasbro introduced a line of plush and talking toys based on characters in the summer sequel.

The Wise Crackin' Donkey ($29.99, ages 4 and up), an interactive plush donkey, beat out Shrek himself on Silver’s hot list. And I’m not sure why it’s on the hot list at all. The donkey is “trained” to respond to a limited number of phrases or questions. No reflection on Eddie Murphy, who voiced the toy, but the responses are neither wise nor crackin’. The sad-looking donkey is also a sedentary beast, and looks like it can topple over at any moment because its oversized head is barely supported by its wide body and short legs. The bottom-line: Hasbro’s Wise Crackin’ Donkey is just no Elmo. Remember hokey pokey Elmo, the bright red toy that shakes it all about?

Other top toysOther blockbusters toys this summer include Hasbro’s Super Soaker Monster Rocket ($29.99, ages 8 and up), Hasbro’s Transformers Alternators ($19.99, ages 5 and up), Mattel’s Cali Girl ($5.99, ages 4 and up) and MGA Entertainment’s  Splash ‘N’ Dance Pool ($49.99, ages 6 and up), according to Silver.

The rocket and transformers mostly appeal to boys.  The 7-foot rocket shots up to 100 feet and in the process, sprays water on everyone on the ground. This summer’s transformers morph from cars to robots.

Girls favor Mattel’s Cali Girls and Bratz Splash ‘N’ Dance Pool. Cali Girls are a new line of fun-and-sun seeking beach babes and boys. Six dolls make up the collection, which includes a blonde Ken and Barbie, Afro-American Steven and Christie, and brunettes Theresa and Lea.

California girls (and boys) are not the only ones to have fun this summer. The Bratz are back and will be hanging out at the Bratz Splash ‘N’ Dance Pool, a new play set with a real working pool, a smoothie bar, a balcony, a fashion runway and a sundeck, which doubles as a dance floor, and more 30 cool accessories, from a boom box to Tiki torches.

As always, shop around (see chart below) and watch for sales in the Sunday paper. Walmart.com beat out major toy retailers by a few cents on all the movie-themed blockbuster toys. In general, toy retailers strayed little from the suggested retail price. If anything, some toys were overpriced. Harry Potter Championship Quidditch cost $10 more than the suggested price at the KB Toys in midtown Manhattan and at the “wizard shop” at Warner Brothers. Now that’s magic!

While playing outdoors, keep in mind these tips from the Toy Industry Association:

  1. Keep plenty of water or sports drinks on hand before, during and after outdoor play. Studies show that children do not always experience thirst before dehydration, so it is important that they drink regularly even when they do not feel thirsty.
  2. Always have children wear sunscreen when playing outside. They should apply an SPF of at least 15.
  3. Constant adult supervision during play is crucial.
  4. Keep toys, tricycles and other playthings away from pools so a child is not tempted to play near the water.
  5. Always have children wear helmets, and other protective gear when using bicycles and scooters. Also make sure the gear is secure and fits comfortably.
  6. When playing outside, clothing should be light colored as well as lightweight.
  7. Children should avoid playing in areas where insects may be found, such as standing water and flower gardens.
  8. Ensure that play never takes place near traffic.
  9. Ride-on toys should only be used on smooth surfaces.
  10. Children should learn the proper turn and stop hand signals when riding bicycles etc.