- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 19, 2006

EAST AURORA, N.Y. (AP) — He’s still red, fuzzy and really ticklish, but now Elmo’s laughing fits have him slapping his knee, falling to the floor, rolling over and pounding his arm.

Fisher-Price, a unit of Mattel Inc., yesterday took the wraps off T.M.X. Elmo, ending months of unprecedented secrecy that’s had the toy industry abuzz. Until the unveiling, only about 50 people had seen it.

Predicted to be a big holiday seller, the new and improved Tickle Me Elmo made its debut on ABC’s “Good Morning America” as customers lined up at Toys R Us, Wal-Mart and KB Toys.

The “X” in T.M.X. stands for extreme.

“When I originally saw a picture of how it moves, I really thought there were some sort of wires, like a puppet, moving it,” said Jim Silver, editor in chief of Toy Wishes, a trade publication. “We’ve never seen a stuffed animal that has this type of movement.”

The debut of T.M.X. Elmo was timed to coincide with the 10th anniversary of Tickle Me Elmo, the must-have toy of Christmases past that giggled when its stomach was pressed. In the new version, Elmo’s squeaky laugh and body movements grow more pronounced with three successive tickles.

Mattel President Neil Friedman had been president of Tyco Toys, now a unit of Mattel, when it launched the original Tickle Me Elmo, which had parents of preschoolers elbowing each other in the aisles.

“With today’s technology, this one is even more incredible,” Mr. Friedman said. “You really have to see it to believe it.”

Executives at KB Toys Inc. and Toys R Us Inc. said pre-orders for the toy, which retails for $39.99, have exceeded expectations.

Mr. Silver expected demand to be high, not only because of the buzz and novelty, but also because the advanced technology could limit the number produced.

“If there are Elmos around December first, I will really be surprised,” said Mr. Silver.

He said the excitement built by the stealth marketing will be good for the entire toy industry, which has struggled in recent years as children have sought out video games and other gadgets at a younger age.

Before yesterday, the Fisher-Price Web site pictured T.M.X. Elmo only in shadow. Much of East Aurora-based Fisher-Price’s own sales staff had not been allowed to see T.M.X. Elmo, even when they pitched it to retailers.

Each year since the original Tickle Me Elmo came out, the company has come up with another incarnation with a new skill like doing the chicken dance or hokeypokey or singing rock ‘n’ roll.

Mattel Inc., the world’s largest toy maker, in July reported a second-quarter profit because of reduced tax expenses. Gross sales for the Barbie brand slipped 1 percent, while Hot Wheels sales fell 7 percent and Fisher-Price sales rose 10 percent.

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