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Toy Comeback

Ultimate Frisbee players warm up at Franklin Park. Classic toys such as the Frisbee and Hula-Hoop are regaining some popularity.
 (File/ / The Spokesman-Review)
Ultimate Frisbee players warm up at Franklin Park. Classic toys such as the Frisbee and Hula-Hoop are regaining some popularity. (File/ / The Spokesman-Review)
Jenee Osterheldt Knight Ridder Newspapers

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Walking down a toy aisle lately is a lot like walking down memory lane, circa 1985.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen old-school favorites such as Cabbage Patch Kids, My Little Pony, Transformers, Strawberry Shortcake and Care Bears make waves as they splash back into toy stores.

The ‘80s are experiencing the biggest toy comeback so far, but even older mainstay toys, such as the Hula-Hoop, Frisbee and quad skates are seeing a rise in popularity. (Quad skates are roller skates that have four wheels arranged in two rows, while inline skates have them in one line.)

As long as there are parents who remember the toys of their childhood, the retro trend will continue, says David Mansour, toy collector and author of “From Abba to Zoom: A Pop Culture Encyclopedia of the Late 20th Century.”

“As a collector, it is the toys of the ‘80s that are real big right now. The original Smurfs, Strawberry Shortcake and Care Bears are all big.”

BackPack Toys is counting on the nostalgic demand for the fall release of Teddy Ruxpin. The company expects it to be so high that they’ve made Teddy available for preorder through the end of August at

The cuddly, talking teddy bear has changed since his 1985 debut. The cassette player that once allowed him to double as toy and a stereo is no more. The upgraded bear has cartridges and storybooks instead of cassettes. But his price hasn’t changed; he’s still $69.99.

The play value and wholesome nature of Teddy Ruxpin and vintage toys are part of the reason so many of them are making a comeback, says William Rosenberger, executive officer of BackPack Toys.

Play value, Rosenberger says, is the amount of interest you can spark in a child and how long you can maintain that interest. He says classic toys are a lot more developmental than today’s techie toys and offer a lot more imagination.

Movies and cartoons help, too. Transformers, the Hulk, Scooby-Doo, Spider-Man and Star Wars all came with toys and games that brought new life to old stories.

According to the NPD Group, Spider-Man and Star Wars are among the top five toy licenses for boys so far this year, while Care Bears and Winnie the Pooh are among the top five for girls.

“What I think is funny is that these kids think that what they are playing with today is new and try to explain what the toys are and how they work,” says Ryan Gerding, 32, a father of three boys. “And we have to say, `Yeah, I played with those 25 years ago.’ But it`s amazing the number of conversations me and my 5-year-old have had about `Star Wars.’

“When I see my 2-year-old or 5-year-old playing with a Star Wars toy, it brings me back to when I used to sit on my bed playing with my Star Wars toys. And, quite honestly, I still don’t mind playing with them.”

Another element to the resurgence is that children and teenagers of the `80s are becoming the parents of today, Mansour says.

Dana Williams, 28, says that buying the toys of her time allows her to share stories with her children and play along with them, and it’s also a good option to some of the edgier and sometimes violent toys of today.

“Old-school toys were innocent; they had a story to them and involved more imagination,” says Williams, a mother of two children. “These toys they have today, you just turn them on and everything is already done.”

One nostalgic activity Williams is particularly happy to see in the limelight is something she has always loved: roller-skating. While Hula-Hoops and Frisbees are being remixed into new versions, the classic roller skates are getting serious pop culture love.

They are being featured in commercials for soda and the iPod, and two jam-skate movies are in the works, including the fall release of “Roll Bounce,” starring Bow Wow and Nick Cannon.

“Skating has never gone away, but it’s on an upsurge like we haven’t seen in years. Every area of the country is going nuts for the quad skate,” says David Jacobs, vice president of National Sporting Goods/Chicago Skates.

While Jacobs agrees that pop culture plays a part in all of this, he says the rise of old-school toys and activities has a lot to do with people wanting to get back to good, clean family fun.

There will always be toys that are timeless, such as skates, the Hula-Hoop, Silly Putty, Slinky and Mr. Potato Head, that we can count on to be there for every generation, says Mansour, who thinks the Bratz dolls of today will be the hot commodity in 20 years.

Some people might think today’s generation is too high-tech to enjoy such dated toys, but Adrienne Citrin, spokeswoman for the Toy Industry Association, says it’s the opposite.

“I think that kids, just as adults, are drawn to a variety of different forms of entertainment. The classic toys provide them with an opportunity to use more imagination and their role-playing skills,” Citrin says. “Kids today are so much more technologically advanced that the classic toys without all the bells and whistles are new and exciting to them.”

“All in all, kids are kids … whether a toy was introduced five or 50 years ago, if it’s fun, kids will enjoy playing with it,” she says.

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