Jonathan Takiff: This Elmo really rocks

Leah is all smiles when playing with "Let's Rock! Elmo."
Leah is all smiles when playing with "Let's Rock! Elmo."
Posted: November 02, 2011

THE GIZMO: Gizmo Granddaughter previews Sesame Street "Let's Rock! Elmo," one of the hottest toys hyped for the holidays.

HER FIRST REVIEW: If Leah could type, I'm sure she'd give "Let's Rock! Elmo" a rave notice. She loves it when the parental units put on music. (Don't know where she got that.)

And although her mom (my daughter) and dad won't let her watch TV, not even Elmo's home base on "Sesame Street," Leah somehow knows and loves this big, red, furry creature, speaks his name (over and over again) and gravitates to anything with his likeness, including her first Halloween costume this year.

She's at the bottom end of the toy's "appropriate for 18 months to 4 years" target audience, but how could I not let her test out the latest and most musical of Elmo animatronic toys (now licensed to Playskool/Hasbro)?

OUT OF THE BOX: She's not big on words or able to turn on Elmo herself (maybe a good thing) with his bottom-mounted power switch and top-of-the-foot squeeze to activate a song. But the wide-eyed look in Leah's eyes, the broad smiles and her persistent interest in dancing and playing along haven't dimmed even after a month of interaction with the guy. I'd call that a ringing endorsement.

PLAY VALUE: "Will You Sing with Elmo?" he asks politely, mouth in motion, before launching into one of six pumped-up songs, including the instructive "Rock and Roll Alphabet," "Elmo's World" and (Poppy's favorite) "What Elmo Likes About You," his variation on the Romantics' hit.

Elmo's arms are moving all the time, and probably shouldn't be disturbed much if you want him to last. And with all the mechanical/electronic guts inside, it shouldn't surprise that this fuzzy-coated monster's not "squeezably soft."

Ah, but what a cool guy. He'll ask you to slip a rattling tambourine onto one paw and a nonfunctioning microphone on the other. Truth is, Leah prefers to play along with those things herself.

Niftier still, anchor a special pair of plastic bongos in front of Elmo and he bangs away in reasonably accurate time with the music.

BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE MAGIC! "Let's Rock! Elmo" isn't cheap, priced at $55-$60. But if you're willing to invest in extra band instruments ($20 each), the dude gets way more interactive. And each of the other music makers can also be played solo. Elmo really comes alive and seems smartest when the "Let's Rock Grover Microphone" is activated, playing one of three built-in songs.

UH-OH, ELMO! On the down side, the guy sometimes gets out of sync because he missed the audio cues embedded in the music (sounds mere mortals can't hear).

Your kid can also sing along into the self-amplified Grover Microphone. The human sounds emitted out of the tail-end speaker are way too quiet, though, diminishing the child's sense of participation.

LIVING LARGE: There's no sound-level issue with the other two accessories, the "Cookie Monster Keyboard" (which declares, "Me so hungry for music") or "Let's Rock! Elmo Guitar" (which asks, "Ready to rock with Elmo?"). Leah's mom had a question, too: "Where's the volume control?"

The keyboard and guitar feature multicolored buttons that light up during free play, in the play-along mode or in the most magical, interactive "Band Mode." With the latter, keyboard and Elmo sync up for "Rock 'n' Roll Alphabet," while guitar and Elmo duet on "Elmo's World."

Tapping just one note at a time in free-play mode on either instrument while animatronic Elmo does his thing almost always sounds harmonious. Hitting several buttons at once - Leah's current pleasure and level of expertise - can be painful.

SHOPPING TIP: Buy "Let's Rock! Elmo" at Toys "R" Us for $59.99 (limit two per customer), and the companion guitar is tossed in for free.

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