20 years later, same toys

Care Bears, My Little Pony, and He-Man are flying off the shelves, thanks to Gen-Xers, who grew up with the toys in the 1980s.

Parents who thought they'd left Bedtime Bear in the 1980s, along with parachute pants and impossibly huge hair, may be surprised to find his groggy face and decorated belly on toy store shelves this year.

Twenty-years after their introduction, the rest of the Care Bears are also back. My Little Pony is winking at shoppers and at a sweet-smelling Strawberry Shortcake.

And if trouble erupts among the new crowd of toys under the tree, let He-Man handle it.

What's going on - is this 1983 or 2003? With "retro" items all the rage with consumers, maybe it isn't surprising that the toys of the '80s have made an encore appearance.

Yes, 1980s plushies and action figures are now considered "retro." And they're creating a buzz among several generations.

Industry magazine Toy Wishes included Bedtime Bear Lullaby Friend, "Built to Rule" Transformers, and the My Little Pony Celebration Castle on its "hot dozen" list of the most sought-after toys this holiday season.

By year's end, more than $100 million worth of Care Bears merchandise will have been sold to retailers,according to Toy Wishes copublisher Jim Silver. "That's a huge number," he says. Strawberry Shortcake and My Little Pony won't lag far behind, with sales of each anticipated to reach $50 million. And the Transformers are expected to pull in nearly $150 million wholesale.

Mostly it's because Gen-Xershave been swept up in nostalgia for the toys and play of their '80s youth.

"They want to return to their childhood, or at least some element that brings back the safe feelings that their childhood provided them," says Cynthia Engelke, manager of research and trends at Youth Intelligence, a New York group that tracks consumer trends among young people.

And those who grew up in the '80s want to share these toys and memories with their children. Far from objecting to this as being uncool, many youngsters are delighted to play with the same toys their parents once did.

Since parents recognize these characters, they feel comfortable buying them, says Stephanie Oppenheim of www.toyportfolio.com, an independent reviewer of children's toys and media.

Care Bears and their cohorts are seen by Gen-Xers to hark back to a warmer, fuzzier time.

The Care Bears dwell in a fluffy cloud world of caring, sharing, and love that's rarely troubled by, well, much of anything. Even Grumpy Bear's mission is to help others see how silly it is to let grumpiness go too far.

My Little Ponies have pranced back onto the shelves with the same silken, brushable hair they sprouted 20 years ago. A few newcomers, their names easily confused with scented lotion - Wysteria, Sweetberry, Minty - have joined the herd.

Yet these are not just your parents' toys. They are riffs on the originals - designed to appeal to today's more tech-savvy kids.

At the squeeze of a paw, Lullaby Friend, offspring of the classic Bedtime Bear, lights up and sings a lullaby. Then he implores someone to give him a hug.

The plastic coats and synthetic manes and tails of My Little Ponies have been refurbished. Vamped-up colors range from aqua to hues of shocking pink.

He-Man, Skeletor, and other Masters of the Universe are bulked up for the new millennium with sinewy bodies. A new Battle Sound He-Man bellows, "I have the power!"

Still, whether they're buying He-Man or Strawberry Shortcake, some of those who are snapping up toys from the '80s are doing it for unexpected reasons.

On a recent afternoon at Newbury Comics in Boston, an oversized Cheer Bear peered down at customers.

Darren Goldman, assistant manager, says many customers combing the store for retro toys don't have toddlers in tow.

They're women in their late 20s who, when they catch a glimpse of Care Bears, exclaim: "Oh, I remember that." And then they buy the toys for themselves. The same goes for 20-something men and the Masters of the Universe action figures.

Maybe the most surprising fans of the new-old toys have been middle and high schoolers. They simply think they're funky. "I think kitschy [merchandise] is definitely a favorite of tweens," says Ms. Engelke of Youth Intelligence.

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