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‘Toy Story’ Sparks Demand for Classic Toys

December 1, 1995 GMT

ROSEMEAD, Calif. (AP) _ Old-fashioned has become fashionable.

Sparked by the popular animated film ``Toy Story,″ parents across the country are revisiting the often-forgotten classic toys they played with as children.

The computer-animated film highlights such childhood chestnuts as Mr. Potato Head, Slinky and Etch A Sketch, and the toys’ manufacturers say sales are zooming as the movie takes off at the box office.

At the Toys R Us in this suburb 15 miles east of Los Angeles, the ``Toy Story″ section of playtime graybeards was nearly cleaned out by 11 a.m. Thursday.

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Among the shopping throng was Martha Rodriguez, buying Mr. Potato Head for 6-year-old son Matthew, who really wants video games for Christmas.

``They get too hooked on video games, and I would prefer them to play with these kinds of toys,″ Rodriguez said. At $11, Mr. Potato Head is also cheaper than most electronic toys.

Behind another shopping cart, Carol Roberts was loading an Etch A Sketch for her 7-year-old son Mitch. ``If I hadn’t seen the movie, I would have forgotten all about it,″ said Roberts, who twisted the dials of the drawing toy when she was her son’s age.

``Toy Story,″ which debuted over the Thanksgiving weekend as the nation’s No. 1 movie, features toys that come to life when their young owner leaves the room. The lead characters, Woody and Buzz Lightyear, share a toy chest with a variety of old-fashioned toys, from Barrel of Monkeys to Twister to Slinky.

Betty James, whose James Industries has made Slinky for 50 years, said she is rushing to satisfy demand for the coiled toy.

The tiny Pennsylvania company (120 employees) is making a new $14.95 Slinky Dog copied from the film. The initial order is for 50,000 Slinky Dogs, but James said the toy probably won’t be available until after Christmas.

Hasbro’s Mr. Potato Head, which debuted 45 years ago, also has a special movie version. The standard Mr. Potato Head sells for about $6, but the new ``Toy Story″ model _ featuring more parts and a bowler hat _ sells for about $11. Hasbro expects Mr. Potato Head sales to rise at least 25 percent.

``Most of the buyers are parents who played with Mr. Potato Head when they were children,″ said Sharon Hartley, a Hasbro general manager.

Sales at Toys R Us and Wal-Mart are up more than 200 percent from a year ago, said William Killgallon, president of Etch A Sketch maker Ohio Arts. The toy came out in 1960.

``Mothers are our market _ and mothers are being reminded by the movie about that nostalgic feeling of playing with an Etch A Sketch,″ he said.

The drawing toy first hit toy stores in 1960. Ten years ago, new models _ such as a pocket version _ were added to the product line. But like Mr. Potato Head and other classic toys, Etch A Sketch could not fend off new high-tech toys, particularly video games.

Several weeks before ``Toy Story″ premiered, advertisements for the film appeared, many featuring the Etch A Sketch. Business accelerated immediately.

``In the past three weeks, there has been a noticeable jump for the classic Etch A Sketch,″ Killgallon said.

Unsure about the film’s prospects, Disney did not create an extensive ``Toy Story″ merchandise line _ turning out a fraction of the items linked to ``Pocahontas″ and ``The Lion King.″ One of the best ways to get a Buzz Lightyear or Woody toy, consequently, is in Burger King.

The fast-food chain says its ``Toy Story″ promotion is outpacing similar campaigns for ``Pocahontas″ and ``The Lion King.″ ``This is a huge blockbuster for both Burger King and Disney,″ spokeswoman Kim Miller said.

Burger King ordered 35 million ``Toy Story″ action characters and 15 million puppets. The supply was supposed to last 5 1/2 weeks but may be exhausted earlier and require reorders, Miller said.

Video games haven’t been completely overshadowed by the ``Toy Story″ success. Disney Interactive, the studio’s new computer and video game division, released a ``Toy Story″ game for the Sega Genesis game system one day before the movie opened and is rushing out a Nintendo version.

Disney declined to release sales figures, but ``demand has been extremely strong,″ said Hope Neiman, marketing vice president for Disney Interactive’s entertainment division.