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Baby Dolls Raise a Stink In More Ways Than One

Corrine Vigna, 4, of Alexandria, left, whispers to her mother, Nancy Vigna, about her No. 1. Christmas wish: Baby Alive Learns to Potty, above. The doll talks, eats and answers nature's call. Mistakes can happen, though:
Corrine Vigna, 4, of Alexandria, left, whispers to her mother, Nancy Vigna, about her No. 1. Christmas wish: Baby Alive Learns to Potty, above. The doll talks, eats and answers nature's call. Mistakes can happen, though: "Uh, oh, I had an accident" is in her repertoire of programmed phrases, along with "I'm hungry," "Mmm good," and "I made a stinky." Critics of such realistic toys wonder if some things are best left to the imagination. (By Dominic Bracco Ii For The Washington Post)
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By Brigid Schulte
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 22, 2008

So long, Betsy Wetsy. Baby dolls just got a whole lot more real.

Put her on her little pink plastic toilet. Press the purple bracelet on Baby Alive Learns to Potty. "Sniff sniff," she chirps in a singsong voice. "I made a stinky!"

This season's animatronic Baby Alive -- which retails for $59.99 -- comes with special "green beans" and "bananas" that, once fed to the doll, actually, well, come out the other end. "Be careful," reads the doll's promotional literature, "just like real life, sometimes she can hold it until she gets to the 'potty' and sometimes she can't!" (A warning on the back of the box reads: "May stain some surfaces.")

The mess made by the $39.95 Little Mommy Real Loving Baby Gotta Go Doll, ("Over 60 phrases and fun sounds!") is more hypothetical. Once she is placed on her little toilet, a magnet triggers a presto, change-o in the plastic bowl: "The 'water' in the toilet disappears, with the expected 'potty waste' appearing in its place," says manufacturer Mattel. "Your child can then flush the toilet. The 'water' will reappear, while the toilet makes a very realistic flushing sound!" And then comes the applause.

The dolls, which are being heavily advertised on television, are expected to be the season's big sellers. Since the dolls were introduced to stores this fall, managers at Wal-Mart, Target and Toys R Us have reported trouble keeping them in stock. And Baby Alive, listed as one of the Hot Toys of 2008 by Hottoys2008.com, was sold out at Wal-Mart, eToys.com and the AOL shopping site a week before Christmas.

But not everyone thinks dolls need to be this real. Some things, they argue, are better left to the imagination. This battle over whether pooping dolls are an appropriate toy is only the latest skirmish in a long war between child development experts and toymakers. Psychologists say the best toys encourage children to pretend and use make-believe (witness the fact that children often love the boxes their expensive toys come in more than the toy itself). But toymakers want to use the latest technology to make and sell ever-more realistic toys. (Baby Alive's movements are the result of sophisticated robotics controlled by the same kind of microprocessor that navigates satellites and runs nuclear power plants.)

"Retailers have bought heavily into these dolls," said Reyne Rice, trend specialist with the Toy Industry Association. "They feel that these are some of the more popular items for girls this year." Although most baby dolls are sold in the last six weeks of the year and firm sales figures won't be available until early next year, Rice said indicators look good for big Christmas sales.

The buzz is on parent online discussion groups across the country. As with the Tickle Me Elmo and Cabbage Patch Kids crazes of Christmases past, one mother was so distraught that the pooping dolls were sold out online just after Thanksgiving that she prepared to rise at 5 a.m. to scour stores in a 100-mile radius of her house.

At a Toys R Us in Northern Virginia last week, Salma Bangoura filled her shopping cart with stainless steel pots and pans for her 7-year-old daughter's play kitchen. Her daughter desperately wants the Baby Alive, she said, and Bangoura is considering buying it for her for Christmas. "She wants the toilet," she said, shrugging. "It's so interesting. It comes with its own food. It's not gross, as long as it's not real."

But at a Target not far away, Gay Hee Lee, shopping for her 2-year-old niece, picked the Baby Alive box off the shelf only to quickly put it back. "That," she said, "is just so wrong."

Perhaps here is where one needs to ask a question: Does a toilet -- and what one uses it for -- make a good toy?

And, given the boundaries of good taste, is it even a good idea?

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