Barbie's moving up in the world, and Elmo's back in a big way, as is Furby, according to toy experts who are predicting what kids across America will be listing on their letters to Santa this holiday season.
"You know, everyone always asks, 'What's the next Elmo?'" says Christopher Byrne, known internationally as The Toy Guy. "This year, there is one: Big Hugs Elmo. I'm not sure if it's going to the cultural phenomenon that it was in 1996, but this is the most interactive Elmo ever."
Hug Elmo to have him hug back. Move him to see him dance. Lay him down to hear a lullaby and sleeping sound effects. Kids will love him, Byrne predicts.
This year, Wal-Mart let a team of kids pick their top-20 favorite toys and Big Hugs Elmo came out a winner there, too, as well as the new robotic pet Furby and a new Barbie Dreamhouse play set, among others.
"Barbie's newly renovated, three-story Dreamhouse will debut as every girls' dream," says Margaux Vega, public relations representative for Fisher Price and Mattel. "The new house features six fabulous rooms and luxury details that any doll will appreciate with pink 'stainless steel' appliances and not one but two elevators. It also features the ultimate closet and a bathroom for quick outfit changes."
For older girls, Monster High continues to be a big hit in the form of Monster High 13 Wishes doll assortment, she says. Among the dolls are Twyla, Gigi Grant and Howleen Wolf. Dolls come with a pet, diary, brush, doll stand and character-specific accessories.
For girls who want to craft their own fun, Byrne says the Shimmer 'n Sparkle Cra-Z Loom rubber band bracelet maker is totally popular. "This is probably the hottest arts and craft toy out there," he says. "Rubber band looms are huge!"
Little girls are going to request Doc McStuffins toys, he predicts. "Doc McStuffins continues to be the 'it' girl for the preschool set," says Byrne, who is director of content for TimetoPlayMag.com. The Doc McStuffins Get Better Check-up Center will be extremely popular, so get it early.
Batman continues to be fun for boys ages 3-8, says Vega. "The best-selling Imaginext Batcave has been fully redesigned for 2013," she says. The set features a Bat computer, a Bat pole, a secret button to open the jail door and two turn disks -- one that opens the Bat door so that Batman can ride out on the Batcycle. The set comes with Batman, Robin, a Bat flight suit, a Batwing, a Batcycle and two projectiles.
Younger boys who liked the Disney movie "Planes" will have fun recreating the movie's action with Wing Control Dusty Crophopper Radio Control Plane. The plane moves when they do -- just push the button to set its propeller spinning and move it forward. Then use the two controllers -- one for each wing -- to tilt the wings and control its movement through mimicry.
For another flying toy that really takes off, Byrne suggests EB Brands Iron Man Flying Remote-Controlled Extreme Hero. "This is a real innovation in flying toys," he says. "It's a tad expensive and for outdoor use only, but we were really impressed by how easy is it to fly."
Of course, it wouldn't be a modern Christmas season if kids didn't ask Santa for electronic games. Byrne suggests the LeapPad Ultra tablet. "There have been lots of tablets for kids, and LeapFrog really invested heavily in updating theirs for this year," he says. "It's a bit more expensive, but for younger kids, I think it's definitely worth it." Two video games to watch are "Disney Infinity" and "Skylanders Swap Force," he adds.
And who says toys are just for kids? For Christmas, Byrne always picks a game that a family can play together. For 2013, he's suggesting Spin Master's Boom Boom Balloon, which allows each player to take turns throwing a dice while attempting to keep a balloon from popping. The person who pops the balloon loses.
"This is my favorite game of the year," he says. "It is so classic and fun. Also, it has been a hit in more than 35 countries before finding its way here." Be sure to order extra balloons, which are available through Spin Master.
Finally, if you know an adult that is still a kid at heart, help him or her remember a favorite Christmas past. Byrne recently published a book called "Toy Time: A Look Back at the Most Beloved Toys of Decades Past" (Crown Publishing Group) that he has written "for the grown-up who has never seemed to grow out of his or her toys."