Zhu Zhu: "Who you calling 'Pipsqueek'?"

Zhu Zhu: "Who you calling 'PipSqueak'?"

Elmo will have to find someone else to tickle him this year: the holidays’ hottest toy this season is a faux-hamster. Zhu Zhu Pets are artificial rodents with appeal for all ages: kids love the way they run around randomly and purr (or it that cooing?). Parents find appeal in that they lack the smell of the real thing, nor do they run around their cages making noise in the wee small hours, or chew through household wiring. And with a retail price tag of $7.99 apiece, they’re easy on cash-strapped family budgets. Naturally, there’s a catch. Zhu Zhu Pets have become so popular that retailers can’t keep them in stock. Wal-Mart, Toys “R” Us, and Target, routinely sell out of them, although more will hit store shelves on Black Friday, the hyper-busy shopping day after Thanksgiving, when consumers get up early for holiday bargains. For those needing instant-gratification, the critters are selling – at a premium – online. Toy industry analysts say the five different hamster ‘models’ — named “Chunk,” “PipSqueak,” “Mr. Squiggles,” “Num Nums,” and “Patches” — are sought after by girls, which makes sense, since girls also own most live hamsters. It looks like boys this year are lining up for Bakugan Battle Brawlers, a game utilizing cards and action figures hidden in small spheres. (The name derives from the Japanese words “baku,” which means “explode,” and “gan,” or “sphere.”) The object is to be the first to capture three of your opponent’s “Gate” cards. Even so, the Zhu Zhu Pet hamsters reign supreme this in Toyland this season. (The hamsters name “zhu zhu” means “little pig” in Chinese.) The nation’s retailers are familiar with these sorts of stories, and are doing their part to ensure there’s enough supply of the critters to feed the heavy demand for the holidays. Toys “R” Us plans to ship tens of thousands of Zhu Zhu Pets to stores for sales the day after Thanksgiving. But here, too, there’s a catch: Toys “R” Us stores open at midnight on Thanksgiving, and the first 100 shoppers at each location will receive a ticket for a Zhu Zhu Pet – limit one per household. (In December, Toys “R” Us will offer an exclusive $100 set that will include two Zhu Zhu Pets, a funhouse, an exercise wheel, an adventure ball, a car – and garage – and a sleep dome.) Bakugan, a Japanese brand compared by toy industry professionals to the Pokémon phenomenon several years ago, was a success last season. A hit Bakugan Battle Brawlers animated television show has helped fueled sales. This year’s must-have addition to the toy line is Bakugan 7-in-1 Maxus Dragonoid, which lets kids connect several game pieces to form one large creature (retail price: $39.99). Toys “R” Us has an exclusive 7-in-1 Bakugan, New Vestroia Maxus Helios ($34.99). A word of warning to potentially ‘naughty’ children: analysts say shipments of coal are up by 6% over last season. Put that in your stocking.