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Tuesday February 13 01:23 PM EST

Toy Fair 2001 Goes Bananas

Toy Fair is going ape.

At the annual merchandising shindig in New York going on this week, industry retailers are absolutely bananas over a slew of new action figures, and the one line that has buyers buzzing most is based on Tim Burton's upcoming re-imagining of the sci-fi classic Planet of the Apes.

Starring Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, Helena Bonham Carter and Michael Clarke Duncan, Planet of the Apes is expected to be the 800-pound gorilla of the summer for 20th Century Fox and the toy industry.

Wasting no time in launching a wholesale media blitz for its would-be blockbuster, Fox hopes Planet (currently wrapping its five-month shoot) will follow past event flicks such as Independence Day and last year's X-Men and rake in millions in merchandising.

"We have a dream team of creative cinematic talent reinventing one of the greatest film franchises of all time," says Steve Ross, president of Fox's licensing and merchandising division. "And, our partners in the licensing arena are tops in their respective categories, which will result in a worldwide merchandising campaign for Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes, that will appeal to collectors and an entire legion of new devotees alike."

Along with showcasing some prototype Planet of the Apes playthings and a trailer of the upcoming film, the studio also flew in F/X whiz Rick Baker to offer a sneak peek at Burton's simians at the Apes booth.

"It takes about three hours to do the makeup, plus beauty makeup after that," explains Baker, who admitted to coming up with hundreds of different ape faces for the upcoming film. (How many Hasbro action figures that translates into is anybody's guess.)

Other monkey businesses piling on the bandwagon include Buster Brown with a line of Apes footwear and Dark Horse Comics with a line of Apes comic books and graphic novels. There were also the standard issue posters, lunchboxes, knit caps, trading cards, T-shirts, backpacks, underwear, scooters and even inflatable furniture, all set to be ready for the Apes debut in July.

But Apes weren't the only Hollywood-related toys filling booths at the trade show.

There were action figures and toys for such anticipated summer releases as DreamWorks' animated Shrek (featuring the voices of Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy and Mike Myers), Josie and the Pussycats and The Mummy Returns. An animatronic T-rex and lifelike dinobots were unveiled as part of Universal's big marketing push for Jurassic Park III.

Looking ahead, Hasbro showed off toys based on Disney-Pixar's upcoming Monsters Inc., the computer-generated feature from the makers of A Bug's Life starring the voices of Billy Crystal and George Wendt. And faster than you can say "Muggle," a whole slate of toys and games based on the upcoming Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is on the way. Both films are set to be released around the Thanksgiving holiday, with toys in stores for Christmas.

With The Phantom Menace come and gone and Episode II not out until 2002, the usual Star Wars toy frenzy was more subdued. However, Hasbro did unveil a less brawny Han Solo ("When He-Man came along, all the action figures got puffed up, but they're moving toward being more real now," says a Hasbro rep) and a sneak peek at some of the laser-scanned faces for Episode II characters. Among the upcoming actors-turned-action figures: Christopher Lee as a sneaky politician, Hayden Christensen playing the teenage Anakin Skywalker and a bearded Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Meanwhile, for the teenyboppers, Tiger Electronics' has introduced HitClips, an MP3-like device featuring prerecorded music from such artists as 'N Sync and Britney Spears. Mattel also revealed its 'N Sync-themed Uno game.

Additionally, Tiger is launching a line of robotic toys based on Comedy Central's Battle Bots--allowing you to build your own killer toy to take over the neighborhood.

Speaking of robots, there's more than meets the eye with the return of Gen-X favorite, the Transformers, featuring a new and improved Megatron who shape-shifts into five creatures. And G.I. Joe is back in full force with special edition figures to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

And for the older doll collector, a line of seven-inch tall figures from Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs will debut this year.

Finally, for you Survivor fanatics, Mattel is bringing out a new board game based on Survivor: The Australian Outback. And Survivor refugee Rudy Boesch was prowling the grounds with his very own action figure, in full Navy SEAL battle gear, due later this year.