By Jason DeRusha

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It’s not even October, but it’s the most wonderful time of the year for toy manufacturers and retailers.

Already, Toys R Us has released its “Fabulous 15” list of top toys for the 2011 holidays. So, how do they decide which of the dancing robots and remote controlled cars to highlight?

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“We’re in the toy business 365 days a year,” said Bob Friedlab, Toys R Us corporate spokesman from headquarters in New Jersey.

According to Friedlab, “As soon as Christmas ends, the first thing toy buyers do in January is get on a plane and go to Hong Kong for the toys show.”

Over the first several months of the year, they “test toys, they track which are doing well, and they pick out a few hundred,” said Friedlab.

The list ends up with the CEO of the company, the head of U.S. operations and the toy buyers.

“We test in many ways, including testing with kids, we do advertising testing, making sure we understand which toys are the most popular,” he said.

The list-making is a marketing exercise as well. Some of the “Fabulous 15” are exclusives to Toys R Us, including Moshi Monsters and Air Swimmers, which is a 4-foot-long flying inflated fish.

“It’s really always about what the kids are looking for already,” said Friedlab, rather than coming up with a list that drives the hot toys.

Among the items on the Toys R Us list, LEGO Ninjago Lightning Dragon Battle, My Keepon, Fijit Friends, Playskool Poppin’ Park Elefun Busy Ball Popper, Nerf Vortex Vigilon and Air Hogs Hyperactives.

“I looked at the 15 toys on the list,” said Barry Kudrowitz, who teaches toy design in the Design School at the University of Minnesota. He came up with three trends in the list.

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“The first thing is cute. Cute always sells,” said Kudrowitz. “My Keepon is on top of that list,” he said, comparing it to toys like Sing-A-Ma-Jigs, Zhu Zhu Pets and Squinkies.

“If it’s cute, we want to cherish it, hold it, own it. Look back at Cabbage Patch Kids, Pound Puppies,” he said.

The next factor is a theory in toy design “called M.A.Y.A. Most Advanced Yet Acceptable,” said Kudrowitz.

The idea is there’s advancement in an old friend. Let’s Rock! Elmo fits that standard, according to Kudrowitz. So does Nerf Vortex Vigilon, a Nerf toy that shoots soft discs instead of soft pellets. And Air Hogs Hyperactivess takes remote control cars to a new level, as they can go 20 mph.

“We like incremental innovation,” he said.

The third factor is about technology.

“The last factor is the tech wow! There’s always something you look and say ‘Oh my gosh, I have no idea how that works and I have to have it,’” said Friedlab, who said this year, it’s the Air Swimmers.

Kmart also released its top 15 list Tuesday.

“As a parent, you don’t know what your kids really want. Instead, you pick off the list, think ‘Oh, that must be hot’ and it’s the right price point,” said Kudrowitz.

Toys R Us’s Fabulous 15 toys:
1. Air Hogs Hyper Actives from Spin Master
2. Air Swimmers eXtreme from Animal Planet
3. Lalaloopsy Silly Hair dolls from MGA Entertainment
4. LeapPad Explorer from LeapFrog
5. Monster High Fearleading 3-Pack from Mattel
6. Moshi Monsters Moshling 3-Pack Mini-Figures from Spin Master
7. My Keepon from WOW! Stuff
8. NERF Vortex Vigilon from Hasbro
9. Ninjago Lightning Dragon Battle from LEGO Systems
10. Poppin’ Park Elefun Busy Ball Popper from Playskool
11. Power Wheels Dune Racer from Fisher-Price
12. Radica Fijit Friends from Mattel
13. Sesame Street Let’s Rock! Elmo from Hasbro
14. Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure from Activision
15. The Trash Pack Garbage Truck from Moose Toys

Toys R Us has other picks, broken down by age.

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Kmart’s Fab 15 Toy List:
1. Let’s Rock Elmo
2. Fijit
3. I am T-Pain Microphone
4. Barbie Designable Hair Extensions and Doll
5. Lite Sprites Lite Wand, Prisma and Pod
6. Redakai Championship Battle Tin
7. FurReal Friends Cookie My Playful Pup
8. Nerf Vortex Nitron Blaster
9. Mini Lalaloopsy Treehouse Playset
10. WWE Colossal Crashdown Arena
11. Transformers Mechtech Ultimate Optimus Prime
12. LeapPad Explorer Learning Tablet
13. Lazer Stunt Chaser R/C Vehicle
14. Simon Flash
15. Dora Fiesta Favorites Kitchen

Jason DeRusha