Toy fads that turn into toy controversy have become an annual holiday tradition rivaling fruit cake. So when this year's hot new toy, the Zhu Zhu Pet, seemed embroiled in a scandal all parental eyes were glued to the Internet for updates.
Zhu Zhu Pets, the mechanical hamsters that zoom around on wheels, came under allegations from the California based consumer group GoodGuide that they carried unsafe levels of heavy metals. But the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) cleared the Zhu Zhu pets Dec. 7, saying GoodGuide did not follow standardized testing criteria. GoodGuide later apologized for the incident.
The Zhu Zhu Pets scare appears to have a happy ending, but they briefly became another in a long line of celebrity-status toys that have had caused parents to question their safety.
Magna Man magnetic toys were like the boy's answer to Polly Pocket. Both figurines come embedded with powerful magnets that add a new dimension to the fun.
Polly Pocket could be dragged around through her house with her magnet giving (presumably) little girls the full illusion that Polly was standing on her own. Magna-Man magnetic toys made by MEGA Brands could be even be disassembled and reassembled, magnetic body part by body part.
But come March 2008, CPSC issued warnings that the Magna-Man "Futuristic Warrior" or "Ancient Warrior" themed toys had magnets that could become dislodged and swallowed -- much like the 2006 recall of Polly Pocket toys.
"If things are held together as part of the toy or the game parents have to be really aware, especially with magnets," said Dr. Garry Gardner, chair of chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics committee on injury, violence and poison prevention. Gardner said magnets found in toys pose more danger than the kind often found on a refrigerator.
"They're not just regular magnets, they're really strong magnets," he explained.
CPSC reported no injuries from the Magna-Man toys, but the government organization did receive 25 reports of magnets coming loose on items sold between 2005 and 2007.
"Magnets found by young children can be swallowed or aspirated. If more than one magnet is swallowed, the magnets can attract each other and cause intestinal perforations or blockages, which can be fatal," warned CPSC in the official recall.
In 2007 the Thomas the Train sets reached fad status only for parents to discover some of the little toy trains were hauling lead paint into their homes.
Thomas the Train had made a modern day comeback. Young audiences first say Thomas the Train when he appeared as Thomas the Tank Engine in the 1946 book by Rev. W. Awdry.
Awdry designed the toy train for his son and made up a story to go along with it that he eventually published as a series of books. The entire collection of railroad-themed books became internationally popular.
Although Awdry's book series stopped, the classic toy trains never went away. By the 2000s, Thomas and his friends soared to new popularity through TV, toy and Web site marketing.
Children may be fans, but not all toy experts were.