Toy Story

What will prove this year's Tickle Me Elmo? Here's how three companies are taking on the notoriously fickle holiday toy market--and what their prospects are.

The FLY

(LeapFrog, $99)

The first pen-based computer aimed at kids--though its design is oddly bulky and bland. Writing on "dot-enabled" paper, the FLY announces written words aloud, translates them into Spanish, and plays games and music.

The sell: LeapFrog hired 50 tweens to help design and develop the FLY. It launched a dedicated Web site in July 2005, attracting 2 million visitors as of this past September. Then it splashed print ads on 8 million Mead notebooks and 150 million milk cartons in schools, in addition to TV spots and a four-page dot-enabled spread in the November/December issue of Disney Adventures magazine that lets FLY penholders interact with the ad.

Expert take: "This is a neat product, and it has a lot of versatility," says Chris Byrne, who covers the toy industry via his Web site, TheToyGuy.com. "But I'm not convinced it's a toy, especially at the $100 price tag."

Lowdown: Cool, but not as fun as a box of crayons.

Twinkle Lights Cinderella Doll

(Mattel, $19.99)

Hooray! Disney's Cinderella turns 55 this year. To celebrate, Mattel brings us a doll (really, a Barbie snatching Cindy's look) whose dress and faux-glass slippers light up in time to dreamy harp chords.

The sell: Why wish upon a star when you can roll out the big guns? Mattel teamed up with Disney and Buena Vista Home Entertainment, distributor of a special DVD. "Leveraging the message as early as possible was critical," Stephanie Cota, Mattel's VP for girls marketing, emails. The doll arrived in June with packaging that flagged the forthcoming DVD.

Expert take: Fairies and magic are still hot, says Reyne Rice, trend analyst at the Toy Industry Association. Plus, "adult moms remember Cinderella. It's something they'll want to share with their daughters."

Lowdown: Sorry, no Cinderella story here.

The iZ

(Zizzle, $39.99)

From the folks who dreamed up Furby, the bizarro-looking iZ lets kids layer wacky sounds by pressing its belly, yanking its ear, or flicking its antennae. It doubles as a desktop speaker for iPods or other external audio devices.

The sell: Originally aiming for 2006, Zizzle ramped up production after rave reviews in early June and promises from big retailers to reserve shelf space. It launched teaser campaigns in July on sites like iPodLounge.com. To come: TV ads and myriad licensing deals, one of which is rumored to be with a fast-food chain. Says chief marketing officer Marc Rosenberg, "We just have to put it in front of the right people."

Expert take: "When you're looking for hot items this year, you're really looking at electronics," says Jim Silver, whose "Hot Dozen" list in Toy Wishes magazine is widely respected. "I expect toys like the iZ to be sold out by December 1."

Lowdown: Couldn't keep our hands off it. Monster hit.

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