These Baby Dolls Really Deliver

Dolls, these days, do some pretty amazing things: They walk. They talk. They turn from a whiter shade of pale to a Malibu tan. Filled with hot water, they can feel all wiggly and warm like a real baby. They can even roller skate--if you feed them a handful of C batteries. But a pregnant doll?

It may be the most unlikely and controversial toy hit of 1992: Called The Mommy-To-Be Doll, this 11 1/2-inch figure comes with a protruding abdomen that lifts off to reveal a baby boy or girl--anatomically correct, of course. The mommy, however, is not: Remove the baby, and her flat stomach instantly pops back into place. No stretch marks!

PUPPY LITTER. Since introducing the doll last August, Danish toymaker Villy Nielsen has sold more than 1.5 million in Europe. Its exclusive U.S. distributor, Judith Corp., in Lake Forest, Ill., has been struggling to keep up with demand. F.A.O. Schwarz's 26 stores started selling the toy--at $20 apiece--on Mother's Day and ran out of stock twice in the first week. Says Senior Buyer Ian McDermott: "It's doing far better than we ever imagined."

Mommy-To-Be won't be the only toy to visit the maternity ward this year. Hasbro Inc.'s Puppy Surprise is a stuffed dog whose Velcro-sealed tummy opens to reveal a litter of three to five puppies. First appearing in late 1991, Puppy Surprise has bounded into the top 10 on toy charts. Hasbro plans to add Kitty Surprise later this year. At $30, Puppy Surprise alone could fetch $50 million to $100 million in sales this year, figures Paul Valentine, toy-industry analyst at Standard & Poor's Corp.

For 4-year-old Kara Edmark of Mundelein, Ill., the appeal of Puppy Surprise has less to do with pregnancy than with surprise. Kara couldn't wait to find out the size of her litter. "I really wanted it because I thought I was going to get five puppies," Kara confides. Five it was: Holly, Michael, Ariane, and two to be named later.

BIRDS AND BEES? Not to be outdone, Mattel Inc. will roll out Bundle Baby by the end of summer. The toy, expected to retail for more than $30, features a doll that kicks and squirms at the touch of a heart-shaped button. Stephen Sandberg, president of distributor Sanco Toy, thinks Mattel could sell as many as a half-million Bundle Babies.

Like Mommy-To-Be, the Bundle Baby is one of the "reality-based" dolls that have helped revive the $1.5 billion market in recent years, notes Valentine. But not everyone appreciates Judith's take on reality. "With teen pregnancies, it may be sending the wrong message," frets Mary Flaherty, a Los Angeles mother of two who expects a third child in June. Others are outraged. "Are we trying to create another generation of breeders?" fumes Barbara Otto, program director at 9 to 5, National Association of Working Women. Judith President Egil Wigert replies: "I don't think we're promoting pregnancy." Alexander Sanger, president of Planned Parenthood of New York City Inc., thinks the toys give "parents an opportunity to discuss reproduction with their children."

Maybe adults shouldn't worry too much--a new fad may render "reality" toys obsolete. Already, kids are snapping up a '60s throwback: trolls. Sales of these squat, spiky-haired uglies could surpass those of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures at their 1990 peak of $400 million, says Valentine. That's the kind of reproduction toymakers love.

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