Thursday, December 10, 2009

All I Want For Christmas Is Zhu (Zhu)

Every year at about this time parents run amok at toy stores trying to find that one "must-have" toy to appease that ungrateful brat little darling of theirs. You know the toy that has become so ridiculously expensive due to a frenzy of heavy marketing and a suspiciously low availability just before Christmas time?

For years we’ve watched with a mixture of amazement and pity as grown adults waited hours in lines and charged toy counters pushing old ladies to the floor and trampling little kids in the process of trying to get their hands on some silly toy that their child would be bored with in a week or two anyway. Parents that went through this with Cabbage Patch Dolls, Furbies, Tickle-Me-Elmo’s or Beanie Babies can back me up on this.

This year's "I-absolutely-gotta-have-it-or-you-totally-suck-as-a-parent-and-I-just-don't-want-to-live-if-I-can't-have-one" toy of the year is called a Zhu Zhu, and it is a small robotic pet hamster that, for around $30, does the same kind of stuff a regular hamster does, but doesn’t require a regular cage cleaning. Just an occasional battery replacement is all.

Originally selling between $8 and $10 apiece, they have really caught on with the moppet crowd and their popularity is soaring almost as quickly as are their prices. Even a report claiming that the fuzzy robo-rodent was tainted with a toxic antimony compound (which was later found to be false) did little if anything to slow its demand. Why? Well, the Zhu Zhu are cute and furry, make funny squeaky noises and move - all three criteria necessary for a sensational splash in the toy world.

If you haven't gotten yours yet then you are probably screwed as most stores are out of stock on them and won't have them in before Christmas. This just leaves Amazon and the other price-gouging jackals selling theirs online on E-Bay or on Craig's List. And believe me, there is no shortage of sellers on the internet. I checked Craig’s List for just my local area and there were over a hundred listings for Zhu Zhu and Zhu Zhu accessories. “Have yourself..a merry little profit…” Actually there’s nothing little about 300% or more! And yet ticket scalping is illegal. Oh well. God bless capitalism.

There are five of the Zhu Zhu Pet Hamsters, and each one differs from the other primarily by it’s color, it’s unique squeak and the way it moves. The five are named Mr. Squiggles, Pipsqueak, Num Nums, Patches and Chunk. Patches comes with some of the accessories and is not available separately. Originally the manufacturer (Cepia) had named them Go Go Pet Hamsters, but later changed the name to Zhu Zhu, and the rest was marketing history. The Go Go Pet Hamsters are still available, but they are now labeled as rare and “collector’s pet hamsters” and sell for about double the price of the Zhu Zhu.

(Momentary pause while the author screams at the computer screen. Okay, good.)

In addition to the five Zhu Zhu pet hamsters themselves, there are a number of Zhu Zhu accessories that the discerning robot hamster owner can’t live without. For example, if you have a Zhu Zhu pet hamster, he’s going to need a place to sleep. The Zhu Zhu Bed with two blankets is around $20. Next he’s going to need a place to crash after a day of squeaking and moving to and fro. The Zhu Zhu Hamster House Starter Kit will set you back about $60. Starting to get the picture?

And of course you wouldn’t want to deny your pet hamster some fun times, right? Add to your shopping list the Zhu Zhu Funhouse, the Hamster Wheel, the Hamstermobile and Garage, the Adventure Ball, the Spiral Slide and Ramp, the Bathtime Play Set, the Surfboard and the Sleep Dome for starters. Kaa-Ching! I’m not going to say it’s an expensive proposition keeping your child’s toy entertained, but what it boils down to is you can either succumb to your child's incessant whining and shell out big bucks for two pounds of colored plastic and wires or you can pay the mortgage. Your choice.

I had a hamster when I was a kid. He was noisy and smelly and sometimes he bit me pretty good. Now and then he used to escape from his cage and chew up my stuff. But he helped teach me about responsibility and how to properly care for a pet. And finally, he taught me about death and dealing with grief. Not bad for a $10 investment. But I totally see the benefit of getting a robot pet too. Some kids are not as loving to animals nor as careful to keep them from harm. They often grow up to become serial killers, in fact. It's better that some have a buffer between real living creatures and a plastic toy to weed out those with killer tendencies or too whacked out to know any better. (I'm surprised their marketing department doesn't exploit this obvious benefit.)

For example, I had a cousin once that used to love cartoons as a kid. One day after watching an episode of Tom and Jerry he grabbed a hammer and whacked the cat on the head, killing it. He was so surprised that there were no stars hovering around its head, no eyeballs rolling back with the words "TILT" and especially that the cat didn't get up a minute later to go grab a hammer of his own. Nope, just a dead cat. Ahhh, but maybe there was something wrong with this cat. So he found another cat and did the same thing. Nope. Another defective cat. I think he eventually learned his lesson. Although he is working for the stockyards, so...who knows?

I guess I've finally reached grumpy old man status when I preface sentences with "Kids today have it so easy..." But it's true in a way. Toys are becoming more high-tech all the time with voice activation, artificial intelligence and now the ability to read brain activity. As kids we were happy just riding our bikes and playing baseball. Today's kids would rather play baseball on a Playstation. Our G.I. Joes were powered by our imaginations, not by microchips. When do you ever hear of a kid playing chess or Monopoly anymore? No, they are too busy blasting zombies and annihilating murderous alien scuzzballs. You have to wonder if something simple as a Frisbee will ever be able to find a place with this next generation. Maybe a flaming, shrieking Frisbee that throws ninja stars at holographic images of monsters? Ah, but then it wouldn't really be a Frisbee, would it? Alas, the times are a-changing, my friends.

Technology is leaping ahead all the time and it seems that artificial intelligence is the next wave to crash on our shores. I shudder to think what's going to happen to old Fido when Dog 2.0 hits the stores. Really, how long before our dogs are replaced with cybertronic canines with artificial intelligence and programmed personalities with a variety of barking options and the ability to wirelessly download first run movies and project them onto a wall with the specially designed lenses in their eyes? Oh, and you will be able to use them to play video games and MP4's too. How wonderful that you never need to feed them or clean up after them or walk them and when you get bored you can just deactivate them? They don't run away, chase cats, shed hair, bark at the neighbors or pee on the furniture. Just the perfect pet you say? Until one turns on you, I suppose. That dang Chaos theory again...

Now I don't necessarily see the arrival of the Zhu Zhu as some warning of apocalyptic destruction where animals and people eventually all become replaced with some type of robot beings and the world becomes ruled by computers with artificial intelligence. No, about the only thing these furry little guys will destroy is your checking account. But after that, it's all good right? Yep. At least until the manufacturer releases their Spring line with five new Baby Zhu Zhu's, all new accessories and a full line of pet hamster clothes (can't have hamsters running around naked can we?)

Too all of you lucky enough to find a Zhu Zhu for your kids, or to call your own, I say good for you. I hope it gives you all the joy and comfort you want out of a pet gizmo. For those of you that missed out this year, I am sorry for your loss. It will truly be a blue Christmas without Zhu.

Sorry. That was bad.


  1. I wonder if they have a Zhu Zhu mouse trap?

  2. Tom... Reason #365. Don't have to buy toys for anyone else!

  3. Cute...but, I suspect, the flavor of the moment....until the next "must have" comes along. Even when I was a kid, I was thrilled to receive the latest toy...only to retreat to old standbys or pure imagination, by the time the long doldrum of winter break was drawing to its conclusion.
    Also, and I think you will agree, Tom, real pets will NEVER go out of fashion... there is something special about the bond that develops between animals and those who have the capacity to grow close to them...and no amount of pet- shedding or cleanup one must endure will ever replace the singular relationship one can have with a real animal.


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