Mickey Mouse is dancing. Pups are popular. Barbie is still in fashion. And trolls are back. That's right; it's Christmas toy list-making time, says The Toy Guy, Christopher Byrne.
Byrne, who is the content director for TTPM (Toys, Tots, Pets & More), calls "Star Wars" one of the hottest themes for toys for boys this holiday season. "Coming off a very hot year last year, 'Star Wars' is going to continue to do very well. In action figures, the Elite Series, exclusively from the Disney Store, is truly amazing," he says. "The Black Series, from Hasbro, is excellent, as well. The Smart R2-D2, from Hasbro, is going to be hot. Lego Star Wars always does well, and there is more great stuff this year."
Older boys might like Zing's Firetek Zyclone. "Blasters are always popular, but there's a real cultural sensitivity toward them right now," Byrne says. "However, Zing continues to deliver the excitement in different forms. I personally love this toy because it's so versatile, and now they've added a light-up feature, so you can even play in the dark."
If educational toys are on your child's gift list, Byrne says VTech is doing an amazing job right now. "They're able to deliver an excellent amount of age-appropriate curriculum in an engaging play experience at a very good value. Kind of a triple threat. The Touch & Learn Activity Desk is really pretty great."
Sometimes basics are really awesome, too, says Byrne, mentioning Peppy Pups. "I fell in love with this simple but delightful stuffed dog when I first saw it as a model about two years ago. No batteries, just kid power and imagination to bring it to life, but it has realistic walking that's totally fun."
Pretty much anything featuring Paw Patrol is selling out right now, Byrne says. "We tend to like the playsets a lot because they reinforce classic, narrative-based play. But the Zoomer Marshall, a robotic dog, is proving to be very popular, too."
Grandparents and parents may remember playing with trolls. Well, guess what. They're back! "DreamWorks," Byrne says, which made the new movie "Trolls," "is hoping lightning will strike for the fourth time." Trolls from the early 1960s have been reimagined. "Since trolls traditionally have been about hair play, we feel that the basic toys and styling stations will be the hottest in the collection."
However, nothing is hotter than Shopkins in the collectibles category, says Byrne. The newest series, called Chef Club, was just released. "They're cuter than ever and likely to be in short supply by the time the holidays roll around."
Girls may be wishing for a Christmas standard -- an American Girl doll. "The top two products that we're anticipating to be a hit this year are our new WellieWishers line, for girls 5 to 7, and our new BeForever historical character from the 1960s, Melody Ellison," says Stephanie Spanos of American Girl.
The WellieWishers, a sweet and silly group of girls dressed in colorful garden boots, are named Camille, Emerson, Willa, Kendall and Ashlyn. Melody is a lovely African-American doll whose motto is: "Today, I will lift my voice and sing out." She comes dressed in a "mod" green and blue plaid mini dress that can be accessorized with a pillbox hat, blue sunglasses and a proper blue purse.
Of course, girls continue to love Barbie. "Barbie Fashionistas are dolls that are addressing issues of diversity head-on -- or, rather, body-on -- with four new body styles," says Byrne. "They've done amazingly well at retail all year, and they're going strong into the holiday season. This is one of those times when an ongoing cultural conversation is reflected in the toys, and they demonstrate the many ways in which today's world is different than in 1959. Toys always reflect the culture, and this is a prime example of that."
Byrne adds that Elena of Avalor, a Hispanic princess, "has really taken off in the couple of months since it has launched. The kids have really responded to the adventures."
"And speaking of Disney," Byrne says, "Just Play continues to do a great job with animatronic plush -- with lots of features and a reasonable price. Hot Diggity Dancing Mickey is blowing out of stores."
Byrne, who has been in the toy business for over three decades, gives the same advice for 2016 as he has for many other years. If your child has requested a toy that's on the "hot" list, purchase it earlier rather than later. That way, your youngster won't be disappointed with what Santa has left under the tree.