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Miniature World

You gotta have the right wheels to seal the deal when you're cruisin' the sand in Jamaica, right?

By Novella Carpenter

My favorite dive bar has a glass display case featuring action figures of all the bartenders. There's Tonya, the retro '50s glam gal with her carefully combed bangs and lacy skirts; Todd, the curly-haired regular guy's guy wearing a button-down; and Buck, the pierced and tattooed fella wearing black Carhartts and a ripped T-shirt--all in miniature. It's the details that count, and their ability to capture the essence of a person in molded plastic is eerie.

This is why, when I found myself outside of Toys "R" Us, I couldn't help but go in. What molded plastic toys are kids playing with today, I wondered. And more importantly--what are these dolls driving?

My visit began benignly, in the age 2-plus section. Here, the kids are still playing with dump trucks and race cars. A company called Shelcore Toys sells a line of Light 'N Sound toys that kick butt. My favorite was the Chunky Farm Rig: it comes with a horse and cow on the trailer, and when a button is pressed, the headlights flash and you hear either a cow moo, a horse neigh or the belch of a diesel rig coming to life.

But as I moved into the older-kids section, everything started to get just a little bit too mature for me. There were things called My Scene dolls. The vibe is late-1990s hipster, with dyed, streaky hair and decadent retro furniture featuring lots of red velvet. My Scene's cars are very specifically geared toward cruising. The black convertible--Cruisin' In My Ride gift set--has leopard-skin seats, water bottles, sunglasses and a gold cell phone.

Remember Barbie's 1962 Austin Healy convertible? Total deathmobile. The My Scene dolls also can drive the My Beach Ride. It's a gold dune buggy with water bottles and towels. Note that for some reason, water bottles now spell fun. The ad copy on the box of the car is hilarious: "You gotta have the right wheels to seal the deal when you're cruisin' the sand in Jamaica, right?" Wow, what deal are we talking about: drugs or sex? I rechecked the age group on the box three times: 6-plus.

Then I moved on to the Bratz. Bratz dolls have names like Dana, Yasmine, Jade and Cloe. They've only got one car, but boy is it a doozy: the FM Cruiser. The FM comes with one-of-a-kind license plates that have interchangeable license plate frames. The horn beeps, and the brake and front lights flash. It's got black furry seats. It has a real FM radio, cup holder and moveable shifter. Though it isn't "branded," it looks like a '63 convertible Lincoln Continental. It's an icy color of pink. In short, it's a total pimpmobile. The dolls that drive the car wear leopard-skin pants and have exposed midriffs; they come with tons of night-life accessories like blush, earrings, hair baubles. I found myself wondering, where's the coke straw?

Moving down the aisle, never in my life did I think I'd feel relieved to see Barbie. But I was. Not only did she look positively dowdy compared to the Bratz or My Scene dolls, she's got some very unhip-looking friends named Midge and Alan. Midge and Alan not only have terrible hair, they've been squeezing out babies like crazy. Their car? The Volvo Happy Family, of course. It's a turquoise hatchback with a sunroof and a pink baby seat with a baby who makes three sounds.

A real human mom saw me taking notes and approached.

"Don't these seem kind of ... er, mature for 6 and up?" I asked her.

"Yeah," she said, "Thank God, I have boys." We both observed a moment of silence for all the little girls who worship Britney Spears.

"So, what do your boys play with?" I had barely skimmed the military-heavy boys' section, noticing a lot of Army jeeps and a Transformer that changed from a red convertible into a red robot that used the engine as a gun.

"Hot Wheels."

At about $3.99 for five little cars with brands like Corvette, Smart Car and BMW, this seemed so sedate. So appropriate. I gasped a sigh of relief and tousled her boys' hair in my mind.

Despite being freaked out by it, Novella covets the My Scene's Funky Party Lounge; email her at [email protected]

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From the May 12-19, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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