MAYBE ALL the saccharine sentimentality being sprinkled...


MAYBE ALL the saccharine sentimentality being sprinkled over the toddlers of America by Barney the dinosaur will reverse a trend that's as old as Cain and Abel, but we doubt it: Boys will always love fightin' toys.

GI Joe, of course, is going on its second generation, and has been one of the most durable characters in the doll world (along with Barbie). But Fightin' Joe is not alone; some of the hottest products on toy shelves this holiday season reflect the feeling that nothing warms a child's heart like a good karate chop or a flying wedge kick.

Among the most popular video games for the teen-age set is one called "Mortal Kombat." Virtually every teen in America knew when it hit the market last September. It comes in various forms, including one in which the "victor" rips the heart out of his victim, and holds aloft the decapitated head. Just makes you want to sing, "O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum," no?

And, for younger children (mostly boys) the hottest product is an action figure called the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. They're characters from a Fox television show about a group of high school kids who get recruited by a higher-level being to save the earth from some evil moon goddess. In short, the kids get transformed into "power rangers" and use dinosaur robots to save the planet. The plot is mostly benign, but there is an awful lot of punching going on.

Toys R Us, Inc. -- the only "category-killer" in the toy biz left in this region now that Lionel Kiddie City and Children's Palace have gone belly up -- reports that the Power Ranger toys have been so successful nationwide, it can't meet demand. The shortage might not spark the Cabbage Patch Doll mania of a decade ago, but we have seen many frantic parents waiting by the loading docks at local Toys R Us stores awaiting this toy. A manager of the Essex store said he needed a tractor-trailer's worth of Power Rangers simply to meet orders from shoppers who reserved the toy pre-Halloween.

So while parents may be tiring of happy, sappy, old Barney the dinosaur, it could be worse: Toy makers might be developing a "Ninja Barney" for next year.

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