"I'm a nurse," says Jenni Hanson, 23. "Do you want to hold the newborn?" Only Hanson's not really a nurse. And she's not offering the children who crowd around her a real baby. Dressed in a white uniform, Hanson works at an adoption center--for dolls. Here, in New York's FAO Schwarz, girls gather behind a glass window to peek at newborns in a hospital setting. Once they choose whom they want to adopt, "Nurse" Jenni pretend-listens for a heartbeat and hands over an adoption application with questions like "Will you provide clothes for your baby to wear?"
More adoption nurseries are on their way. The Middleton Doll Co. plans to open a handful this spring in the Saks Department Store Group, and 100 in the next three years. "We want these babies [which retail for $89] to be just like a newborn," says Tim Voss, the company's president. It's part of the trend for doll makers--to make their dolls more real, to compete with new gadgets targeted at kids. "Doll manufacturers are squeezed to find a point of difference," says Reyne Rice, a toy-trend specialist.
Later this year, Zapf Creation will unveil a new Baby Annabell doll that lets out a burp and sheds tears if she gets a stomachache. Corolle is introducing its first interactive doll to the U.S. market; it laughs, coos and makes a sucking noise. Middleton offers dolls with bendable joints and rooted hair. By next year the company hopes to make them move. But, Mom, if Chucky gave them nightmares, stick with the Cabbage Patch Kids.