POPULAR ENTERTAINMENT FARE FUELS HOPES FOR GIRLS' TOYS

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The elusive girls' toy market is suddenly heating up, prompting toy industry analysts to predict a record sales year.

A number of licensed products for girls is on the way, including those tied to Walt Disney Co.'s re-release of its 1988 blockbuster "The Little Mermaid." Toys linked to ABC's hit TV shows "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" and "Clueless" also are generating an early buzz as the American International Toy Fair gets set to open next week.

HOPES FOR SOFTWARE

Marketers also are hopeful computer software sales for girls will take off this year, following Mattel's runaway success over the holidays with "Barbie Fashion Designer," the first hit CD-ROM for girls.

"The market for girls' toys is looking brighter than it has in a long time, and licensing overall is going to be very strong. For the first time in many years I'm predicting double-digit growth for the industry," said Gary Jacobson, an analyst for Jefferies & Co.

Analysts say the toy industry is estimated to reach more than $22 billion in sales this year.

Dozens of marketers are betting on girls' toys tied to major films. In addition to "The Little Mermaid," Warner Bros. will market a special line of Batgirl merchandise tied to the June release of "Batman & Robin," starring teen idol Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl.

Playmates Toys has high hopes for toys designed around Paramount Pictures' summer film, "Fairies: A True Tale." That's aimed at the girls and women who have made angels a pop phenomenon.

A LONG WAIT

Marketers have waited a long time for the girls' arena to ignite.

"It's a very tough area because even though Barbie is perennially successful, girls seem to be growing out of toys at younger and younger ages. And, at the same time, it's been very difficult to translate girls' play patterns into the computer realm," said Sean McGowan, a toy analyst with Gerard Klauer Mattison.

Mattel isn't wasting any time attempting to repeat its CD-ROM success.

Its Mattel Media unit has licensed Paramount's fashion-oriented "Clueless" TV series for another fashion designer CD-ROM due this fall. At the Toy Fair, Mattel will show buyers "Barbie Ocean Adventure," featuring 3-D imaginative play for girls.

Mattel has created a line of Barbie-size dolls based on the "Clueless" characters Cher, Amber and Dione; they are being shipped to toy stores this month.

Hasbro is producing a "Sabrina" doll later this year incorporating the "magic" of the TV character, who has a talking cat and levitates off her bed.

Apparel, books, posters, bath and toiletries, and other products for both properties are on the way later this year, said Andrea Hine, president of

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